Booking on a budget: Get home for the holidays with these tips

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Being a college student is hard enough, especially when it comes to money.

Often students are juggling the costs of class materials, rent, groceries and any other necessities (not to mention impending student loans), all while studying, completing coursework and working a part-time job or two.

If you’re an out-of-state college student, the cost of getting home for the holidays can be an added stressor.

Whether you’re driving or flying, here are a few ways to save on your journey back home.

Do your research

“My first tip for college students would be to look at StudentUniverse for cheap flights,” says Eric Simonson, financial planner at Abundo Wealth. “There are some specific student discounts available when you sign-in and sometimes last-minute holiday flights can be found for cheaper via this site.”

With StudentUniverse, you can compare airfare deals and earn discount codes by creating an account. According to the site, StudentUniverse negotiates pricing with its 220+ airline partners specifically to help students and young adults fly home at a discounted price.

Before you book, you should also take into account any additional fees that might add to the overall price of your trip.

“Discount airlines like Spirit, Frontier, Sun Country, etc. will look like a great deal, but after baggage fees, seat assignment, etc., the costs can really add up. Also, discount carriers have been known to have greater rates of flight delays and cancellations which can carry significant hidden ‘costs’ to students travelling for the holidays,” says Simonson.

Spirit Airlines, for example, allows you to carry on one personal item for free (think: small backpack or laptop case). Additional carry-on items, such as a typical carry-on sized suitcase, are charged a fee. That fee increases for carry-on items added before/during online check-in or at the airport.

Get the right credit card

Depending on your preferred method of traveling, a gas, airline or travel credit card can help you earn rewards on getting home for the holidays.

“I would highly recommend that students apply for a travel credit card and put basic spending on it (gas, books, etc.). The benefits of this are that the student will start to build their credit quicker… and benefit from things like a free flight once they have enough points,” says Simonson.

Student credit cards

If you’re studying a few hours away and typically drive home for holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas, you may benefit from a student credit card that rewards you for gas purchases.

For students new to credit, the Discover it® Student chrome doubles as a student card and gas rewards card. The card has no annual fee and offers 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases per quarter, then 1%), and you’ll receive an unlimited 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

What’s special about Discover cards, including the Student chrome, is that they’ll match all of the rewards you’ve earned at the end of your first year of card ownership. The Student chrome, in particular, offers an added $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher (up to the next five years).

Though the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students isn’t necessarily marketed as a student travel card, you can earn 3 percent cash back in select categories like gas, travel or four other categories. You’ll also receive 2 percent back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1 percent on everything else (for no annual fee). It’s important to note that there’s a combined 3 percent and 2 percent category cap of $2,500 each quarter.

Airline credit cards

If you’re loyal to a particular airline (or at least fly one more often than others), opening a credit card with your preferred airline could earn you miles, travel perks and more.

Say you frequent fly Delta. With the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, you’ll earn 2X miles per dollar on direct Delta purchases, another 2X miles per dollar at restaurants worldwide and 1X miles per dollar on everything else.

The card also offers a 10,000-mile welcome bonus when you spend $500 in your first three months of card membership. You can redeem any miles earned toward Delta travel or transfer your miles to one of Delta’s 24 airline partners.

General travel rewards cards

If you don’t frequently fly with a single airline, a general travel rewards card can help you earn points or miles on everyday purchases, usually redeemable through the issuer’s travel portal or by transferring to a partner airline.

For anyone who often travels outside of the U.S. or anticipates to — maybe for study abroad or family vacations —  you’ll want a travel card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad. The Discover it® Miles, for example, offers an unlimited 1.5X miles on all purchases and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or an annual fee.

Consider being added as an authorized user

Travel and co-branded airline credit cards often have tiered product offerings, starting with more basic no-annual fee offers that include fewer perks and lower earning potential to luxury high-annual fee cards with lots of extra benefits. Some of the more premium airline credit cards offer perks like free checked bags, priority boarding and lounge access in exchange for a hefty annual fee or higher spending requirements. These cards may not be the best option for you, but if you have a parent that owns one, you might look into being added as an authorized user.

As an authorized user, purchases made with your card will still earn rewards. You’ll also have access to the same travel perks as the primary cardholder, yet any rewards earned will be attributed to the main cardholder (along with the monthly bill). This might be a good option if you’re looking to build credit but aren’t yet comfortable owning a credit card in your name.

Additional ways to save

Whether or not you end up with a travel or airline credit card, it’ll pay to sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer program before you purchase a ticket with them. Then, each time you fly with a particular airline, you can earn frequent flyer miles for doing so. After accumulating a certain amount, you can use them to pay for the cost of your airfare.

To save on airport parking, ask a friend to drop you off and pick you up from the airport. This can easily save you around $7 to $10 dollars a day in garage or long-term parking fees.

If you’re driving home for the holidays, consider carpooling with someone from the same general area as you. You might also consider taking a low-cost intercity bus service. Megabus, in particular, offers drop-off and pick-up options located on college campuses.

The bottom line

You don’t have to break the bank to get home this holiday season.

If you plan to fly home

  • Do enough research beforehand to snag the best deal possible.
  • Consider an airline or travel credit card or talk to a parent about being added as an authorized user.
  • Sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer program before purchasing a ticket.

If you plan to drive home…

  • Look into credit cards that reward you for gas purchases.
  • Consider carpooling with a friend.
  • Browse alternative transportation options like Megabus.

The information about the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card for Students has been collected independently by The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.