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The best credit cards for planning a college solo trip

September 16 2021
9 min read
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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.

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Best credit cards for planning a college solo trip

Comparing the best credit cards for a college solo trip

Credit cardBest forRewards rateAnnual fee
Chase Sapphire PreferredAll-around travel credit card5x 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 cardNo-annual-fee travel credit card1.5x on all purchases.$0
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit CardTransferable rewards1.25x on all purchases.$0
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express CardFree checked bags on Delta2x 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 you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from 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 assistance services and auto rental insurance. Benefits only available to accounts approved for the World Elite Mastercard. Terms apply.

How to use this card for solo travel: With this card, you'll have access to Capital One's airline and 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: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first three months of account opening.

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 Photo by Ramdan Authentic on Unsplash
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees