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The college application process can be an exciting time, but also an expensive endeavor. Those application fees can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars, while college visits can tally into the thousands.
Here, we'll take a look at some tips to help you better solve how to save money on college tours.
6 tips to save money on college tours
1. Start close to home
Before you set foot on a college campus, consider taking a few virtual tours. Notice which aspects of the tours feel most important to you and jot down any questions you want to ask in person.
After that, warm up with a couple of practice tours close to home. This will give you an idea of what to expect, so you can be as prepared as possible when it comes time to travel (and visit your preferred institutions). You’ll be better able to maximize your time if you already know you prefer to do self-guided tours or skip the current student panels.
2. Prioritize visiting different types of campuses
It’s not necessary — and likely not practical — to visit every school you apply to. However, it’s a good idea to visit a mix of college types. If you or your kid are planning to apply both to large state schools and smaller private universities or liberal arts schools, try to stop by at least one of each to compare the vibes.
3. Book hotel nights with points or free night certificates
If you have a card that earns travel rewards, college visits — especially in smaller towns — are great ways to use travel rewards because booking a night usually costs less points than stays in more popular destinations.
To save on accommodations, consider paying for hotel stays with points:
Use or transfer hotel points. If you don’t have enough hotel points in your account to book a room, you can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards® points®, American Express Membership Rewards, Cit ThankYou points or Capital One miles to a partner hotel loyalty program.
4. Combine college tours with other trips
Are you planning to take a family vacation? Combine college visits with some family fun in a new city. Or, if you know other students who are applying to the same school, visit as a group and divide costs to save money.
Think creatively, and you’ll likely come up with even more cost-effective solutions.
5. Use companion passes to save on flights
If you’re flying to college tours with your student, you can take advantage of some very lucrative airline loyalty perks. One of these is the Southwest Companion Pass, which is basically a buy-one-get-one-free pass for all Southwest flights for at least a year.
In order to get this coveted pass, you’ll either need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 Southwest miles in a calendar year. Qualifying points include those that you earn through flying Southwest, spending on Southwest credit cards and other purchases with Rapid Rewards partners.
The quickest way to get thousands of Southwest points is to earn a welcome bonus on at least one of the three Southwest consumer credit cards:
These three cards all come with different annual fees and different rewards, but they all offer the same welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
In addition to these consumer credit cards, there are also two business credit cards:
The Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card, which has the following sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
The Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, which has the following sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
You can also have two Southwest credit cards at once in certain circumstances. For instance, if you qualify for both a personal and a business card in the same calendar year, the welcome bonuses “stack.” Depending on the cards you get, you could earn enough Rapid Rewards points to get the Southwest Companion Pass — and you’ll have 125,000 Southwest miles to use as well.
Another valuable option to consider is the Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card. The welcome bonus includes a companion pass as well (though it is only good for a one-time use instead of an entire year): Get 70,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
6. Plan ahead
College tours can fill up quickly, so it’s important to sign up early for tours and information sessions as soon as possible.
Make sure to book a refundable hotel rate so in case rates drop, or your kid changes their mind (it happens), you can always rebook. Typically, it’s a great idea to book award flights as early as you can — both because you’ll usually see better availability, and you’ll often need fewer miles.
In fact, getting an early start on planning college tours could be the best way of all to save money. If you plan ahead, you’ll have time to strategize which points and miles you need to fly and stay in your cities of choice without using cash. Then, you can start earning those points and miles months before so you’ll have them when you’re ready to book.
Saving on college tours comes down to being strategic and proactive
While traveling for college tours can be expensive, there are many ways to cut costs. Being strategic about which colleges to visit and using points and miles to cover hotel stays and flights are some of the best ways to save money on college tours.
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 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card