The best credit cards for planning a college solo trip

Sep 16, 2021

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My love for solo travel began when I was in college. Whether you’re an out-of-state student coming home for the holidays or you plan on studying abroad during your four years, there are a decent number of times when you may be flying solo.

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Marseille, France, was one of my favorite cities I visited while studying abroad. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

When this happens, you want to make sure you have the right credit card that checks off all the boxes: booking flights with points and miles, getting trip insurance protection in case something goes wrong and perks that will help lower your trip expenses.

In This Post

Best credit cards for planning a college solo trip

Comparing the best credit cards for a college solo trip

Credit card Best for Rewards rate Annual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred All-around travel credit card 5x on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3x on dining, online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs) and select streaming services; 2x on other travel; and 1x on all other purchases. $95
Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card No-annual-fee travel credit card 1.5x on all purchases. $0
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Transferable rewards 1.25x on all purchases. $0
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card Free checked bags on Delta 2x on eligible Delta purchases, at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets; and 1x on other purchases. $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99 (see rates & fees)

Chase Sapphire Preferred

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Earning rate: Earn 5 points per dollar on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3 points per dollar on dining, online grocery purchases and select streaming services; 2 points per dollar on other travel; and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Why we like it: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the best starter travel credit cards. While there’s a $95 annual fee, there’s a tremendous sign-up bonus that’s worth $1,200 for travel, according to TPG’s valuations. Not only does the Sapphire Preferred have a great rewards rate for everyday purchases and travel spending, paying for your trip expenses with this card will ensure you automatic travel coverages when a situation arises. For example, enjoy trip cancellation and interruption insurance, primary rental car coverage, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement and more. Holding these coverages will give you (and your parents) peace of mind when you embark on your solo travels far and wide. If you decide to travel internationally, this card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.  

How to use this card for solo travel: Each calendar year, you’ll enjoy an annual $50 hotel statement credit for reservations booked through Ultimate Rewards. You can also book various flights, hotels, rental cars, excursions and more through the Ultimate Rewards portal — and your points are worth 1.25 cents each. That means that $400 round-trip flight to Europe will require just 32,000 Ultimate Rewards points. For even more value, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 rate to Chase’s 10 airline and three hotel loyalty partners, including useful programs such as United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards and World of Hyatt. Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, there are plenty of opportunities to redeem your points for flights and hotels. By reading TPG’s guide on maximizing your Ultimate Rewards points, you could pay for multiple solo travel experiences with the points earned on the card.  

Keep in mind: The Chase Sapphire Preferred requires a good-to-excellent credit score. If you’re looking for your first credit card, you likely won’t qualify for this card off the bat. However, if you’ve held another student rewards credit card or have been an authorized user on your parents’ credit card for some time, your chances of approval are much higher.

Annual fee: $95.

Official application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. This can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward travel and dining purchases.

Earning rate: Earn 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases.

Why we like it: The Bank of America Travel Rewards card is refreshingly simple, as you’ll earn 1.5x on all purchases with no bonus categories to keep track of. With no annual fee, this card will fit the budget of many college students. There are also no foreign transaction fees on this card, making it an economical option for those who want to start earning travel rewards. Your points also never expire so long as you keep your account open.

How to use this card for solo travel: When it comes time to redeem your points, you can redeem them as a statement credit toward any travel and dining purchases. This means your points can be used at a rate of 1 cent each to offset flights, Airbnbs, baggage fees, restaurants, takeout and other related purchases that you charge to this card.

Keep in mind: This card doesn’t come with travel coverage benefits, so you want to make sure you purchase independent travel insurance for your solo adventures.

Annual fee: $0.

Official application link: Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/ThePointsGuy)

Sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.

Earning rate: Earn 1.25 miles per dollar on all purchases.

Why we like it: If you like the idea of the Chase Sapphire Preferred but paying an annual fee is out of the question, the Capital One VentureOne is a fantastic alternative. For starters, that 20,000-mile bonus is much easier to achieve and is worth $340 based on TPG’s valuations. The card’s other benefits include no foreign transaction fees, travel accident insurance and secondary rental car insurance. Benefits only available to accounts approved for the Visa Signature card. Terms apply.

How to use this card for solo travel: With this card, you’ll have access to Capital One’s 16 airline and three hotel partners. You can transfer your Capital One miles at varying ratios to these programs, spanning airlines from all major alliances. If simplicity is the name of your game, redeem your miles at a rate of 1 cent each for travel purchases made with your card.

Keep in mind: While the earning rate is lower than other cards on this list (1.25x on all purchases), your miles never expire as long as you keep your account open.

Annual fee: $0.

Official application link: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Welcome offer: Limited-time offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Offer expires Nov. 10, 2021.

Earning rate: Earn 2x on eligible Delta purchases, at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets; and 1x on other purchases.

Why we like it: The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card offers great benefits for frequent Delta flyers. If you’re flying from your college town to your hometown for holidays and breaks, you likely will have to check your luggage. Thankfully, this card offers a free checked bag (a $30 value) when you fly Delta. The savings add up the more you fly. Not to mention, you’ll enjoy other perks such as a 20% discount on inflight purchases, secondary car rental insurance and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

Keep in mind: If you spend $10,000 or more on the card each calendar year, you’ll get a $100 Delta flight credit.

Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year; then $99 (see rates and fees).

Official application link: Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

Research methodology

Studying abroad can be one of the most formative experiences you’ll have in college. (Photo by swissmediavision/Getty Images)

In general, when it comes to the best cards for college students, we made sure to pick cards with annual fees under $100. This list only includes cards with no foreign transaction fees and lucrative earning rates that can help you travel on a budget.

After you graduate from college and can justify paying higher annual fees, you’ll find other travel credit cards that can provide even more perks. But for now, these are all terrific cards to start with, especially if you’re interested in solo travel during college.

Related: Capital One’s two new cash-back cards are the best for college students

Bottom line

There are many instances when solo travel is the only option, but I encourage you to embrace the opportunity.

From taking a train from Paris to Edinburgh, Scotland, to a fall daytrip in Boston, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of solo trips in college. They’ve allowed me to explore a new destination on my own time and spend my days exactly how I want. Plus, solo travel has helped me get out of my comfort zone and make new friends around the world. Best of all, the right credit card will level up your solo travel game thanks to the outsize value you can get from points and included benefits.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold, click here.

Featured photo by Ramdan Authentic/Unsplash.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

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More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.