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Your campus decor could help you score a free flight — here's how

Aug. 15, 2020
7 min read
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Heading to college this year is likely going to look very different than we're used to. Some colleges are sticking with online courses while some are encouraging in-person classes with increased social distancing. But whether your upcoming classes are mostly online or completely in-person, many college students are still planning to move back to campus or to a nearby apartment for the duration of the school year.

Back-to-school shopping will likely also look different this year. Rather than browsing Bed, Bath, & Beyond and Target with a shopping cart to outfit your dorm or apartment, you might be looking at an online shopping trip instead.

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The writer's dorm room. (Photo courtesy of Liz Hund/The Points Guy)

During my freshman year, I was determined to have a comfortable, cute and welcoming room to help ease any homesickness felt from moving across the country for school. On top of it all, I was going to a Southeastern Conference school, a conference with colleges famous for elaborate dorm room makeovers. Although I wasn't planning to convert my room into a boutique hotel, l did want it to feel homey.

First, my roommate and I coordinated our bedspreads and figured out the rest of the decor from there. Since I was coming from out of state and she was an in-state student, I got most of my things once I arrived and she brought some of the bigger things, such as the mini-fridge and microwave. To ease some of the stress and to dodge the move-in shopping madness, I pre-ordered a majority of the things I knew I would need. When I got to college, all I had to do was go to a store's online pick-up counter. As for things I forgot or wasn't sure if I needed, I took advantage of the six free months of Amazon Prime for students.

There are also a lot of opportunities to earn points and miles through your purchases. To help you put these dorm room purchases toward your Spring Break 2021 fund (let's hope), here are some ways you can earn points on dorm-room shopping.

Always use shopping portals

Though Rapid Rewards is a revenue-based program, you can still get a solid return by shopping online through Southwest's portal.

What I would give to go back in time and learn about the magic of online shopping portals sooner. Shopping portals are your best friend when it comes to racking up points on online shopping with minimal effort. These portals allow you to shop at your favorite retailers online and earn rewards. Most of the top airlines have their own portals, as well as many top issuers. You'll also find some cash back portals, such as Rakuten (formerly Ebates).

You can browse the stores and special offers directly through your choice of online shopping portals if you're hunting for points and miles for a specific loyalty program. But you can also check out an aggregator such as CashBackMonitor to see which portal is offering the highest rate at any given retailer.

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Those who use Google Chrome, you should install the Google extension of your preferred shopping portal directly onto your browser. From there, you will automatically be notified whether any site you're shopping on is eligible for points. By doing it this way, you won't miss out on points even if you don't check out a portal or aggregator. And believe me, there are some surprising stores that offer rewards, and those rewards can rack up quickly to help you save hundreds of dollars on future trips.

Related: The beginners guide to airline shopping portals

Apply for a Credit Card

Credit cards are another invaluable way to earn rewards across spending, including back-to-school dorm decor shopping, all while building up credit that will serve you well long past graduation your senior year.

I know that a credit card may sound scary to a college student — especially if you'll be taking out student loans — but it doesn't have to be. In fact, it can be rewarding by teaching you financial responsibility and paying you back for it. I didn't get my own credit card until my senior year, after being an authorized user on my parents' card (which is also something to consider asking your parents about).

(Photo by The Points Guy)

If you're just getting started with credit cards, consider cards such as the Capital One SavorOne Rewards Credit Card, which comes with no annual fee and earns cash back rewards across common spending categories in college — dining, entertainment and at grocery stores. You can also try out a college credit card, such as the Discover it Student Cash Back, which earns 5% back on the first $1,500 spent each quarter you enroll in rotating categories (then 1%). The information for the Discover it Student Cash cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: A guide to responsible credit card use for college students

Stacking rewards

Here's where all of this can come together to help you maximize your spending to earn enough rewards to help fund that spring break trip you're dreaming of (especially while we're all stuck at home). Online shopping portals allow you to double-dip if you are also using a credit card.

For example, if your family is loyal to Southwest and your parents have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, they could add you as an authorized user. This would allow you to not only earn points through the shopping portal, but also points on the card itself. To give you more perspective, this is what you could earn on dorm-room spending by using the plug-in and a credit card.

  • $602 spent x 1 point per dollar = 602 Rapid Rewards points for spending on the credit card
  • 700 shopping portal points + 602 Rapid Rewards points = 1,302 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points

You've nearly doubled the number of points you've earned and are well on your way to booking a rewards flight.

Whether you're an authorized user on your parent's account or have your own credit card to use, stacking rewards is a simple way to make the most of a smaller college spending budget.

Bottom Line

It's never too early to get into the points and miles game. In fact, the sooner, the better. If you understand the value of points early on, your vacations will become the envy of all your friends and family. What's better than taking a vacation? Taking a free vacation because of your savvy shopping habits.

Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor.

Featured image by (Photo by DGLimages/Shutterstock)
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.