What I Wish I Had Known About Points and Churning Before College

Transitioning from high school into college can often be a difficult process. Having, at minimum, the illusion of independence from one’s parents opens up a whole new world of possibilities and possible dangers. In the financial and travel sphere, there are certainly a long list of things that I wish I would have known, especially considering that I spend three out of four years abroad.

After two years on the road, this is a small selection of what we wish we had known before started college.


That points and miles can actually have value. – Matt

Often it seemed like the messaging I got was that points and miles were just a scam and you could never accumulate enough to actually use them. To a certain extent, this is true. When flying once a year, in coach, on a discount ticket, mileage accrual is unlikely to ever add up to much. When traveling more for school as we do, these miles begin to add up quickly. Using credit card bonuses allows you to supercharge your earnings and begin to redeem those points and miles for near-free or heavily reduced cost travel. When leveraged properly, points and miles can spin off huge dividends for college students.

How to use miles and points to actually book travel. – Adrian

Accruing points and miles is only the first step. Using them can often be an entirely different ball game. A huge variety of resources exist for helping you ascertain and book redemptions at the best value possible. The key is to know that they are out there in the first place.

Accumulate miles, don’t throw them away. – Zitong

Perhaps one of the more important things to remember while being a poor college student. Each redemption needs to be viewed from a holistic perspective. If a cross-country redemption is 15,000 miles or $200, but a transatlantic is 30,000 or $1,200, those points are much more valuable when put to use crossing the pond. Make sure to adopt a much broader frame of thinking when evaluating travel options.

Banks give bonuses for opening accounts.  – Adrian

Bank accounts can seem mysterious to international and domestic students alike. I’ve often found that many have never had to manage their own cash and expenses prior to arriving at university. Before pursuing bonuses, a few key pieces of information are needed. People should generally always look for accounts that have no fees. Many banks offer fee-free accounts for students with proof-of-enrollment. (Bank of America, Charles Schwab, and Chase for example.) Be sure to take advantage of this benefit for as long as possible. Once you’ve established a solid, stable home base, then you can look to achieving bonuses. These often require more creative methods for depositing money in short-enough time periods and jumping through a variety of hoops. Make sure you have enough free cash to support yourself before locking any funds up pursuing bonuses. You can learn more about bank account bonuses here. Pro-tip: Always make sure and pay taxes on those bonuses even if you don’t get a form for it.

Budgeting Your Life and Paying Taxes – Anthony

Budgets are key to charting a stable and healthy financial course through college. It’s a pretty terrible feeling having to eat Ramen for three weeks until your next paycheck because you overspent. It doesn’t have to be strict, but make sure you know where your money goes in a given week. Even with this distant view, you can possibly trim out unnecessary expenses and help yourself towards a brighter future. Discipline is vital when pursuing credit card bonuses as well. Just because you have a $10,000 credit line does not mean that you need or can completely use it up.

Build credit history from the beginning. – Grant

Credit is indescribably important in the modern world. It affects which apartments you can rent, what your interest rate will be on an auto loan, and even what rate and amount you are offered for a home mortgage. Maintaining a clean record is only half the bottle. Credit history length is a rather important factor in the credit score calculus as well. Opening a credit account as soon as you’re 18 helps with your score even if it is not used. With this privilege, comes great responsibility. As much as it can help you, a mistake can hurt just as badly. Roughly two years of credit history is also required for higher-end rewards cards. Starting early pays dividends later on.

Finally,

Don’t fly on Spirit no matter how cheap it is. Just don’t.

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