With a short credit history, a travel credit card might not be the best fit for your first card. But there are opportunities you can take to build your way to the right travel credit card for you in the future. Getty Images
Maybe you love to travel and the thought of a shiny, metal card that gets you free flights is dazzling. Maybe you’re a pragmatic college student planning to study abroad and searched “best travel credit card.” Or perhaps you’re new to the U.S. and don’t have a credit history, but you want to book international flights to visit family and old friends back home regularly without going broke.
The good news is that it’s never too early to get in the travel rewards game. The bad news is that a travel credit card might not be a smart move if you’ve never had a credit card before.
Regardless, there are some other steps you can take to start building your credit and your cache of points toward almost-free flights and hotel stays. Here’s why your first credit card will likely not be a travel credit card.
Get a cash-back or student card
OK, Extra resources so your first card won’t be the most popular travel card. It’ll probably be a more pragmatic card that can still teach good credit card management habits – not to mention give you insights as to what you want in your next one. After all, you’ll need to make sure you pay your credit card bill on time, every time, and know what categories you spend the most on to be able to pick the best travel credit card for yourself down the road.
We’ve compiled a list of the best credit cards for college students (including a pick for international students) and for people with no credit.
Pro tip: If you opt for a cash-back card, budget those returns for your travel purchases. It’s essentially getting a free flight or accommodation.
No matter what type of credit card you get, you should pay off your credit card bills every month to avoid high interest rates. According to data from the Federal Reserve, the average APR on credit card accounts is a steep %.
Get added as an authorized user to a travel card
Another way to build credit is to get a credit card in your name with your parents or legal guardians. When you get added as an authorized user to their account, it’ll help you build your credit, but your parents or guardians will ultimately be on the hook for the bill.
- Make sure that the primary cardholder pays their credit card bills on time so it won’t hurt your burgeoning credit score.
- Talk to them about how much – and when – you’re allowed to spend on the card. Should it only be used in emergencies? Or are you allowed to put certain expenses, like books and school supplies, on the card?
- Do you have to pay them back?
Note that any points or miles earned on authorized users’ cards will likely be deposited into the primary cardholders’ account. Would your parents or legal guardians be willing to book flights for you with the points you helped earn?
Pay your student loans and car loans on time
If you’re already paying any type of loan, you’re already building your credit score. Student loans and car loans are just two types of installment loans and account for about 10% of your credit score. If you pay them on time, it’ll show you have a good payment history, which accounts for 35% of your credit score – the biggest chunk.
Lastly, the longer you’ve been paying them, the longer your length of credit history will be. That’s another 15% of your credit score. The remaining 30% of your credit score is based on your credit utilization.
Ways to earn points and miles without a credit card
Between now and when you snag your first travel credit card, you can still make progress on earning points and miles to redeem for free travel.
Join loyalty programs
Join the loyalty program of the airline or hotel you use (or aim to use) the most. These programs are free to join and there’s no age requirement, so some people even start earning miles for the flights they take as babies if their parents enrolled them.