The best credit cards for planning a college solo trip
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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.
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.
Best credit cards for planning a college solo trip
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best all-around travel credit card.
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: Best no-annual-fee travel card.
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Best for transferring rewards to partners.
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Best for free checked bags on Delta.
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)|
Sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 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 $1,600 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.
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.
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 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.
Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first three months.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.