4 Ways College Students Can Earn Travel Rewards

College students can earn travel rewards by holding the right credit card.
Meg Lee
Rachel Smith
By Rachel Smith and  Meg Lee 
Edited by Mary M. Flory
best student travel credit cards

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College students at four-year public universities spend an average of $35,551 each year for tuition and fees, on-campus room and board, books, supplies, and other expenses, according to recent data from university ranking resource BestColleges.

That’s a lot and could leave little wiggle room in budgets for travel.

So how can college students make travel accessible while living on a tight budget? The key is to build travel rewards through normal credit card purchases.

Here are four simple tips college students — from the first-year undergraduate to those considering a doctorate — can do to utilize their everyday spending to earn travel rewards.

1. Get rewarded when you buy textbooks

The average estimated cost of books and supplies for in-state students living on campus at public four-year institutions in 2022-2023 was $1,240, according to the College Board. Students and families often budget for this expense, and one way to earn rewards off this spending is to work toward the minimum spend bonus on your travel credit card.

For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card offers this: Earn 40,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

Textbooks can be a natural way to achieve this dollar amount, but make sure to have the money available to pay off the balance in full. Bonuses would not beat paying interest on a large purchase, and this tactic assumes that you do not need financial aid to purchase books.

If you do have the money set aside to pay for books, it’s nice to get rewarded in the process. And once the semester ends, you may be able to sell several books back.

2. Let your gas rewards add up

If you commute to school or travel home often, make sure your credit card offers gas rewards. Any time you fill up, you’re earning travel points.

Or if you decided to take an impromptu road trip for spring break or a long weekend with friends, even if you don’t own the car, offering to pay for the gas is an easy way to contribute to the trip’s cost and earn rewards at the same time.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for instance, offers bonus points for gas station purchases.

3. Pay the utilities

Students often live with roommates, and whether in a house or apartment, many rental situations require renters to pay at least some utilities separate from the rent cost.

If you are willing to put the bill in your name and card and make sure your roommates pay you’re their share each month, you can earn a lot of points for this everyday expense.

4. Earn and redeem points on study abroad trips

If you plan to study abroad, make sure to either book your ticket with a travel rewards card, or even redeem miles to get your ticket.

Also consider getting a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, such as the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, the United℠ Explorer Card, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. And if you aren’t sure what airlines will be needed to get to your study abroad location, a general travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card may be the best option.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.


Intro offer


Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

See more travel cards
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