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For recent high school graduates heading off to college in a few weeks, this is an exciting summer. It has its bittersweet moments— like saying goodbye to friends, family and home— but it’s mostly exciting. One of my favorite parts was dorm-room shopping.

I was headed off to school halfway across the country so I was determined to have a comfortable, cute and welcoming room to help ease any homesickness. On top of it all, I was going to a Southeastern Conference school, a conference with schools 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.

My dorm room in Johnston Hall at the University of Missouri. (Liz Hund/TPG)
My dorm room in Johnston Hall at the University of Missouri. (Liz Hund/TPG)

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 fund, here are the two main ways you can earn points on dorm-room shopping.

1. Shopping Portals

What I would give to go back in time and learn about these magical portals sooner.

Shopping portals are your best friend when it comes to racking up points on online shopping with minimal effort. There are two ways to use these portals:

The Old-Fashioned Way: You can browse the stores and special offers directly through the Southwest Rapid Rewards site or any other airline shopping portals, which means you will have to go back to it each time you want to activate the points. This is the more time-consuming route and can deter people from using this amazing tool.

The Modern Way: If you’re not already using Google Chrome, you need to download it ASAP. Once that’s settled, install the Google extension of your preferred airline directly to your browser. From there, you will automatically be notified if any site you’re shopping on is eligible for points. By doing it this way, you won’t miss out on points. And believe me, there are some surprising stores that offer rewards so this is friendly reminder really comes in handy.

Related: The Beginners Guide to Airline Shopping Portals

Just to give you an idea of the points that could be in play, here’s what I could have earned on my dorm decor — had I known about shopping portals back then — by buying items online or ordering them for pick-up.

Note that I picked the Southwest Rapid Rewards® plug-in as my poison because of the airline’s generous two-free-checked-bags policy, which makes travel to and from school more affordable. Here’s some of what I bought and the points I could have earned while shopping:

Together, all of this adds up to 700 bonus points just for shopping with the plug-in. And it doesn’t even include points earned if you also used a Southwest credit card to pay for everything. It also doesn’t include everything you’ll be buying, just the basics. Additionally, a lot of stores offer bonus points during the back-to-school shopping season. If you use this feature on all of your purchases, imagine the points you could earn.

2. Credit Cards

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 I was in my senior year, after being an authorized user on my parents’ card, which is also something to consider asking your parents about.

As I mentioned earlier, 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 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.

Beyond Southwest, there are a ton of other great card options. If you want to start building credit of your own, consider applying for a student credit card. Unfortunately, most student cards don’t offer very lucrative benefits when compared to more points-savvy cards, but it’s always good to start building credit. If your parents are willing to add you as an authorized user, the whole family could really benefit (as long as you don’t go crazy with the spending).

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.

Related Reading:

Know before you go.

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  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
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Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
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