I regularly get emails from readers who are college students asking me how they can begin racking up frequent flyer miles and start traveling for free.  My standard response was twofold:

1.  It is great that you are getting started so early (something I wish I had done) but…

2.  They most likely won’t get approved for all the best travel credit cards out there (those listed on the Best Current Deals page) because their income is too low.

However, longtime reader Mark emailed me and alerted me to a way that college students with low incomes may be able to bypass that step and begin getting the best travel credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase United Explorer….


He explains it perfectly, so I’ll let him take it away:


Quick update on something cool.

My daughter is 21 and a senior at the local university now.  She has never applied for a credit card before and I decided to roll the dice and apply for the Chase Explorer Card for her. 

So, we applied online and of course got the “we’ll have to review your app and we’ll send you our decision in writing with 10 business days” reply.

Well, a few hours later, I had my daughter call the Chase reconsideration line.  Before she called, I wrote out a “script” for her to follow once she got the chance to say something to the Chase rep.  

When she called, the lady initially told her “I’m sorry you were denied because of low income” (which we had listed $ 3,000).  I had told her to be prepared for an initial denial but to be ready for an opening to “tell her story”.   

When she got an opening, bam, she let our script fly and nailed it !!  The lady was so impressed with her high GPA, her major (Music Education) and her leadership areas that my daughter was in that she said  “wow, let’s revisit this here”. 

She then asked if my daughter would want to list any scholarships that she earned for school as income and also if she could add any income that she might get from her mom or dad and so we slapped 15 grand more onto to her income and so she now had $ 18,000. 

The lady put her on hold and then came back and said “great news, you’re approved and you have a $4500 credit line”.

We were stoked !!

Anyway, feel free to spread this info with your followers – that if they have a student who doesn’t even had a card yet that they can get one (if they are prepared to tell the rep why – and be positive, energetic, etc.).

Talk to you soon.


My first thought was “WOW, THAT IS AWESOME!”

My second thought was “I can’t wait to tell all the other readers!”

I’ve always hated not having a better answer to all those ambitious college students looking to get a head start on the world of free travel, feeling like I always burst their bubble by telling them they’d most likely get denied for the best travel credit cards.

Now, it looks like I have another message I can tell them.

Three Most Important Things to Consider

This doesn’t mean that every college student out there should go thinking that they can go and get approved for every travel credit card out there.  There are three important points to consider from Mark’s email:

1.  Mark’s daughter got approved for a Chase card.

From my experience, and the experience of a lot of readers, Chase is BY FAR the most lenient when it comes to reconsidering you for cards that you’ve initially been denied for.

This is because you are always able to talk to a real person who has power to make the decision to approve you right then and there after hearing your reasoning.  This is not always true for American Express, and almost never true for Citi.

If I was a college student with a low income, I’d definitely limit my applications to Chase because the odds of a successful reconsideration by most other lenders is small.

Luckily, most of the best cards out there are offered by Chase, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Marriott, so this isn’t too big of a deal.

2.  Mark’s daughter played up her strengths.

In her case, this was her high GPA and leadership in various clubs and activities.  In your case, it might be something different, such as a great internship you’ve secured, a proven track record of community service and volunteering, or good academic standing.

Whatever it is, think of it ahead of time and then SELL YOURSELF.

As I mentioned above, the Chase representatives have the power to approve you on the spot.  They are looking for reasons to approve you, so give them those reasons!

This is no time to be modest or passive.  Highlight your strengths and your potential going forward.

3.  Mark’s daughter was able to pad her income so that it looked respectable.

She was originally denied because she had such a low income, which makes sense.  Credit card companies can’t justify giving a credit card to someone who only makes $3,000 a year because they know that person can’t put much spend on the card, and if they do spend alot, they won’t be able to repay it.

However, it seems that if they like you (remember, sell yourself!), they’ll help you work around this small income by allowing you to pad your income to look much higher than simply the salary that you make working at the university cafe or refereeing intramurals.

Before calling, figure out how much money you actually bring in each, including scholarships that you get and also money that you may receive through other means, such as from your parents, grandparents, or other channels.

Then, if they ask about your income, you can tell them that you put down your “salary”, which is small, but that you actually have some additional income that will make you look much more attractive to the credit card company.

If they don’t ask, then suggest it to them by saying “I put down the actual salary I get from my part-time job, but I do have other areas of income” and list them, including scholarships.

A Word of Warning

While every single person should be constantly monitoring their credit score and making sure that opening cards isn’t affecting their score negatively, it is especially true for college students.

The credit score of a college student or someone with a very limited credit history will be even more susceptible to swings (both good and bad) based on their use of available credit and the amount of cards they open.

I’d strongly suggest that college students with a short credit history find the one card that they want the most and ONLY apply for that card.  Use it, always pay off your statement in full each month, and build up your credit for at least a year before considering another card.

While there are a number of people out there opening up card after card and pulling off App-o-Ramas, this type of behavior is not for people with a short credit history and/or a small income.

Don’t get greedy!

Realize that by starting in the frequent flyer mile game early, you are setting yourself up in a good spot to take advantage of free travel for the rest of your life…but only if you protect your credit and maintain a good score.

You’ve heard of the tortoise and the hare, right?  Just remember which one wins in the end!

Final Word(s)

Thanks so much to Mark for sharing the story of his daughter and for allowing me to pass it along to other readers who may be in the same boat.

Let’s hope that the experience of Mark’s daughter can be replicated by many other smart, talented, and ambitious college students who are on the ball enough to already be thinking about setting themselves up for free travel!

If you are a college student who has any experience with getting travel credit cards or if you know a college student or young person who has had experiences with applying for travel credit cards, I’d LOVE if you shared your stories, advice, and questions below!

That way, we can help even more people start traveling for free!

(pondering photo courtesy of striatic)

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