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If you're a college student in the midst of planning your summer vacation or a semester abroad — or an international student in the U.S. planning to travel back home for the summer — you may be wondering if it's time to apply for a travel credit card. There are a lot of advantages to owning a travel credit card:
- A lower risk of theft and fraud thanks to the fraud protection that comes with most credit cards
- Earning rewards or cash back on your travel purchases
- Travel insurance, including car rental protection that can cover you in case of an accident
- Better exchange rates than you get with cash, a debit card or an ATM withdrawal (if you use a card with no foreign transaction fee)
Applying for a credit card with a limited or non-existent credit history can be daunting. Based on our research of cards available on ValuePenguin, as well as cards offered by major issuers, we've picked some of the top travel credit cards for students with limited histories (and less limited) histories, plus some tips for applying and using your card:
Best travel credit cards for students
International travel: Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students is one of the best options for students seeking to travel internationally with a credit card. Bank of America allows you to add a PIN to the card, making it easier to use in international terminals that require EMV chips and PINs. The card also charges a 0% foreign transaction fee — sparing you bundles of fees for using it on your travels — and it offers an exceptional rewards program for a card targeted to students with limited credit histories, including 1.5 points per dollar that you spend. You can use those points to fund future trips.
- 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases
- 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening
- 0% foreign transaction fee
- Chip and PIN technology for use in international terminals
No credit history: Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
- Receive one year of Amazon Prime Student on Deserve after your first purchase with your new Deserve EDU Mastercard (Lifetime Value of $59).
- Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases with your Deserve EDU Mastercard. Once approved, you'll automatically start earning cash back on all purchases.
- Feel secure with cell phone protection up to $600.
- No deposit required. No annual fees.
- No international transaction fees on purchases abroad so you can travel with confidence.
- No Social Security Number required for international students to apply.
- Refer A Friend Program: Refer anyone to Deserve using your personal referral code. Upon approval, card activation and use, you'll receive $30 and so will your referral. Referral bonuses are unlimited!
- Manage and track your spending, set automatic payments and securely freeze your card all through one easy to use app.
- See if you prequalify with no impact to your credit score in minutes.
- Deserve Mastercards are issued by Celtic Bank, Member FDIC.
- Enjoy Mastercard Platinum Benefits intended to make your life easier like Mastercard ID Theft Prevention™ and Master Rental®.
The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students joins this list as being one of the easiest options to qualify for. You can prequalify for the card in a few seconds with no impact to your credit score. Plus, the card doesn't require a Social Security number to apply, which means that international students who are new to the United States and haven't established an SSN or a credit history are eligible for the card.
Although there's no traditional sign-up bonus, cardholders can receive one year of Amazon Prime Student on Deserve after your first purchase with your new Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students (Lifetime Value of $59). Even better, the card comes with no foreign transaction fees. It also offers the ability to earn rewards: 1% unlimited cash back on ALL purchases.
- 1% unlimited cash back on ALL purchases
- Foreign transaction fees: None
Promoting good credit practices: Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
While the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One isn't quite as rewarding as the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students, what it does have in its favor are features that promote good credit habits, including its free CreditWise service and a bonus for making timely payments. You earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time, and you get a 25% boost on those rewards when you pay your bill on time.
The card also features good travel benefits, such as a None foreign transaction fee and car rental insurance, making it a good travel companion. One drawback: The card's APR is on the high side at 26.99% (Variable), so you'll need to make sure you don't charge more than you can afford to pay off.
- 1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time
- Foreign transaction fees: None
- Car rental insurance
- 24-hour travel assistance services
- Travel accident insurance
Excellent credit: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
- 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®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- 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 BackSM, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
While most of the cards in this list are targeted to cardholders with limited credit histories, some college students already have a strong credit record. If you're a student ready to step up your travel rewards card game, we have a great card for you: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
It offers a generous sign-up bonus: You can 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®. Plus earn a $50 statement credit towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening. In addition, the card offers 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide, and a bevy of travel protections and benefits, including up to $20,000 of trip cancellation/interruption insurance and primary car rental insurance.
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
- 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®. Plus earn a $50 statement credit towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- 25% travel redemption bonus when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- $0 foreign transaction fees
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022.
- Trip cancellation/interruption insurance, up to $10,000 per person, up to $20,000 per trip
- Primary rental car insurance
- Baggage delay insurance, up to $100 per day, up to five days
- Trip delay reimbursement, up to $500 per ticket
- Travel and emergency assistance
How to get your first travel credit card
Applying for a credit card with a limited or no credit history is a challenging task that's likely to lead to a few rejections on your first try. Here are some pointers to help you improve your odds of approval:
Find a card that matches your credit range
Before you start applying for credit cards, use a free service to find out what your credit score is. You should look for credit cards that accept users within your credit score range. According to FICO, scores are delineated by the following ranges:
- Poor: <580
- Fair: 580-669
- Good: 670-739
- Very Good: 740-799
- Exceptional: 800+
Look for alternative credit card products
Some issuers such as Deserve use alternative data in the application process to boost the approval odds for cardholders with limited credit histories. Some will even allow you to apply without a Social Security number.
Choose a bank you have a relationship with
If you already have a banking relationship with an issuer, they're more likely to approve you for one of their products. Try applying in-person through a branch. The bank manager may be able to help you with your application and can help you call the reconsideration line if you aren't approved.
Ensure that your credit card application is complete
Credit card issuers want to ensure that you have enough income to cover your charges, so make sure to include as much information as you can on your assets and sources of income.
Don't apply for too many cards at once
When trying to qualify for your first credit card, it's tempting to spam out credit card applications — you should avoid doing so. Sending many credit card applications at once sends out a big red flag to issuers and will negatively impact your credit score, lowering your odds of getting approved for a credit card. You should carefully select the cards that you want to apply for and make sure you meet the card's criteria.
Check for prequalified offers
Some issuers provide forms on their sites that will inform you if you're prequalified for an offer. While there's no guarantee that you'll be accepted once you apply, prequalification can lower your odds of being declined for a credit card and won't impact your credit score.
Become an authorized user before you apply
You should also see if a close family member — your parents or a spouse — would be willing you to add you as an authorized user to one of their credit cards. If the card's issuer reports authorized user accounts to credit agencies, the full history of the card may appear on your credit report once you are added. An authorized user account on a card with a long history of timely payments can significantly boost your credit score and pad out your credit history.
How to choose a card for travel
When searching for a travel credit card, you should use the following criteria to ensure that you have a practical card that won't end up costing you in fees:
- Acceptance — How large is the issuer's network, and will you be able to easily use the card where you're traveling? Certain issuers — American Express and Discover — have limited acceptance outside of the U.S.
- Foreign transaction fees — Does the card charge a 2% to 3% fee for purchases abroad? If you plan to travel outside the U.S., you should search for a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.
- Chip and PIN technology — Does the card let you add a PIN for international travel? In many countries in Europe, cards with EMV chips and PINs are often required in self-service terminals (e.g., to purchase tickets at a subway station). Cards with PINs are rare in the U.S., but if you can locate one, your card will be more practical abroad.
- Rewards — Does the card offer cash back or points on your purchases? Look for a card with travel-friendly bonus categories, such as dining or airfare, to earn more rewards on your travels — possibly enough for a future vacation.
- Travel protections — Beyond rewards and broad acceptance, does the card offer any travel protections? Car rental insurance is a common — and valuable — benefit. You can waive the rental car agency's insurance and, if the card offers primary rental car insurance, you can possibly avoid reporting an accident to your personal insurance.
Tips for using your card for travel
- Notify your card issuer that you're leaving the country to avoid having your account frozen while you are traveling.
- Bring multiple forms of payment and a backup credit card or two, if possible.
- If you are traveling to a country where chip and PIN is the standard, see if your issuer will allow you to add a PIN to your credit card.
- Keep a record of your card numbers and your issuer's phone number in case you lose your cards.
- Opt for credit card charges in the local currency to get a better exchange rate.
- For that matter, if your card doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee, consider keeping all your expenses on your card. You're likely to get a better exchange rate, plus you can take advantage of the card's fraud protections.
- Unless it's an emergency, avoid using your card for a cash advance, which can cost you a pretty penny in fees and interest.
The information related to Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students and Journey Student Rewards from Capital One has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.