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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 2020
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 doesn’t charge a 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.
- Earn 1.5 points per $1 on every purchase
- 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $250 statement credit towards travel purchases.
- No foreign transaction fee
- Chip and PIN technology for use in international terminals
No credit history: Deserve® Edu Credit Card
Deserve® Edu Credit Card
No Annual Fee
- No SSN required for International students-Available to students (enrollment verification is required)
- Amazon Prime Student on us (get reimbursed for subscription fees up to a lifetime total of $59)
- 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases
- Credit limits up to $5,000
- $0 annual fee & no foreign transaction fees
- No security deposit or co-signer required
- Helps students build credit history and gain financial independence
- Use anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted
- Includes Mastercard Platinum Benefits like Car Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Roadside Assistance, Travel Assistance Services, Price Protection, Extended Warranty and ID Theft Protection
- Complimentary cellphone insurance up to $600
The Deserve® Edu Credit Card 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.
The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and comes with a few good travel benefits, including car rental insurance. It also offers decent rewards, with 1% cash back on every purchase and a free membership to Amazon Prime Student in the first year of membership.
- 1% unlimited cash back on every purchase
- No foreign transaction fees
- Car rental insurance
Travel benefits: Deserve® Pro Credit Card
The Deserve® Pro Credit Card also doesn’t require an SSN to apply, and offers many of the same features as the Deserve® Edu Credit Card, plus more a generous cashback rate on travel, entertainment and restaurant benefits. And, it comes with one extra travel benefit: You Receive a complimentary one-year membership to Priority Pass™ Select after you make $1,000 of purchases with your new Deserve PRO card within the first 90 days after activation. This is an exceptional luxury for a card aimed at people with limited credit histories. If you plan to travel often in the next year, you might enjoy kicking back in an airport lounge or two and enjoying some complimentary snacks and beverages along the way.
- 3% back on travel and entertainment, 2% back on restaurants and 1% back on everything else
- Receive a complimentary one-year membership to Priority Pass™ Select after you make $1,000 of purchases with your new Deserve PRO card within the first 90 days after activation
- No foreign transaction fees
- Car rental insurance
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 every purchase, 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 no foreign transaction fees 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
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
- 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®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 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, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
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 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. This is worth around $750 in travel. In addition, the card offers 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining, 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 travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- 25% travel redemption bonus when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- No 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
Compare travel cards
You can use our card comparison tool to evaluate how each card works for your budget and spending habits. Browse the options below and click on the gear icon to adjust the spending inputs for each category.
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.