A Detailed Student’s Guide to Maximizing Travel Opportunities [2017]

Student Travel Resource Guide

If you’re like most young people today, you may have the time to travel the world, but you probably don’t have the money! This is why it’s important to maximize your travel opportunities by seeking out the best advice and using some great tools and resources.

The problem is, this process can be complicated, time-consuming, and confusing. The daunting task of learning about all those promotional codes, plans, and programs plus all the different redemption rules and credit card bonuses can be a real drain on your time!

Instead of throwing your hands in the air and giving up, here are some resources to help you quickly and efficiently pull it all together.

When To Book a Flight: The Basics From Barron’s

The travel gurus at Barron’s Next are often asked about the best time to book a flight. Although the variables are many and often change due to outside factors (like bad weather and mechanical issues), here are the basic rules:

  • The Tuesday Rule: Each Monday, airline officials return to work and look at how well seats sold over the weekend. They use that data to determine that week’s seat prices. By Tuesday, most airlines know what their competitors are charging, so they adjust their fares to make their prices more attractive. Prices slowly go back up to their peak by Friday afternoon.
  • The Inventory Rule: Seat availability and demand for a specific flight schedule also drives ticket prices. A limited number of available seats (or “inventory”) means higher prices. This means ticket prices before big holidays like Christmas or school vacations, for example, are going to sell for top dollar.
  • The Technology Rule: Prices also rise and fall in real-time thanks to technology. The airlines now use computer data to keep a closer eye on changes in seat demand and make their price adjustments accordingly.

Travel Maximizing: 4 Simple Tips To Get You Started

Ian Snyder, author of the Points, Miles & Life travel blog has long used reward miles and points to discover the world with his wife. He recommends these 4 tips to get the right start with travel maximizing:

  • Have a goal in mind. Have a specific plan or trip in mind, like exploring Europe with your fiance or seeing Rome. Look for the best cards to help you meet those goals.
  • Start slowly and build up as you learn. Start with 1 or 2 cards to learn more about points, rewards, and loyalty programs.
  • Know your own situation. Not everyone is a good candidate for travel maximizing because there is so much to learn. You may want to start using a simple card with a cash-back plan instead of a rewards card with annual fees, for example.
  • Do your homework. Don’t choose a card simply because someone recommends it. Make sure the card you choose is a good fit for your own needs and goals. Look at the various programs to find the one that will help you follow through with your plans.

Student Travel Discounts: Membership Cards To Explore

Here are some student cards you can sign up for to receive travel discounts in the U.S. and abroad:

  • International Student Identity Card (ISIC): The ISIC Association has provided students across the world with internationally-recognized proof of their student status since 1953. With an ISIC card, it’s easy for you to get student discounts, even when traveling abroad. The site breaks down benefits by region, type, and travel purposes.
  • Student Advantage Card: The SA card gives you discounts with travel providers and major retailers. On the Students page, you can view the discounts you will be eligible for when you get your card. You can use your discounts for both online and offline purchases. Unlike the ISIC and the ISEC, the SA card is meant for use within the U.S. or on U.S. websites. Nevertheless, the many discounts you get from travel and leisure providers makes this card attractive for saving money on travel.

Student Exchange Programs: Earn Credits and Experience a Different Culture

In a recent article on his travel blog “The Expert Vagabond,” Matthew Karsten described his trip to the White House for a summit on government initiatives to promote student learning, volunteering, and working abroad. The goal is to make exchange programs easily accessible and affordable for students of all backgrounds.

According to statistics, just 10% of today’s U.S. college students will study overseas. The following are the benefits of student exchange programs:

  • Enhances your resume and improves job opportunities
  • Helps you learn another language
  • Promotes personal growth and development
  • Allows you to acquire new skills
  • Enables you to create friendships and fond memories
  • Breaks down stereotypes and opens your mind
  • Teaches the ins and outs of a new culture
  • Gets you college credits and perhaps even an income

At the summit, they announced the creation of the government Study Abroad Office, which is part of the list of resources you can explore:

  • Study Abroad Office: This website contains a huge amount of U.S. government resources for students and parents, including student exchange programs and scholarships.
  • International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP): Since 1979, this non-profit organization has been helping students discover study abroad opportunities in more than 50 countries and over 300 universities. They offer study abroad guides, travel alerts,  country handbooks, communication help, health insurance assistance, and student visa information.

Student Travel Points or Rewards: Establish Your Credit While You Travel

Due to a lack of credit history, many students are unable to receive the most advantageous travel points cards. Here are some travel-friendly credit cards you may qualify for that can help you establish your credit, so you can start earning points and rewards:

  • BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students: There are hardly any cards intended for students that also provide the opportunity to earn travel rewards, but this Bank of America card is one of them. You can earn points on all your purchases and redeem them for statement credit to pay for travel expenses. Eligible travel expenses include vacation packages, hotels, flights, cruises, car rentals, and luggage fees. A big bonus for student travelers is that no foreign transaction fees are charged when making purchases abroad.
  • Capital One Journey Student Credit Card: Although the Journey card does not provide travel rewards, it is a student credit card that allows you to earn cash-back rewards. One feature that makes it particularly suitable for student travelers is the lack of foreign transaction fees. Other travel-friendly perks include travel accident insurance, car rental insurance, and travel assistance services. These all add up to a well-rounded card for student travelers who are trying to build up credit.
  • Chase Freedom® CardThe Chase Freedom card is considered to be an effective starter card for college students. That’s because there is no annual fee, and holding a Chase card gives you the opportunity to transfer points to more rewarding cards once you qualify later on. For example, you can transfer the points you earn with a Chase Freedom card to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is considered one of the best cards for racking up travel points and rewards. Using your Chase points for max value is a step you don’t want to rush!

Student Discount Flights: Apps and Alerts That Make It Easy

There are lots of resources for students who travel. To begin, here are some websites and apps where you can find travel deals; some will even send you an alert when prices drop!

  • STA Travel: STA Travel is a large student-focused travel agency offering discounted flights, hotel bookings, ground transport, insurance, and tours. The Student Hub is useful for students who want to explore different types of travel experiences like volunteering, gap years, and working abroad.
  • FareCompare: Provides travel planning tools, alerts, and fare comparisons.
  • StudentUniverse App: Dedicated to serving students with good travel deals, they offer a mobile app that can help you find discounted bookings for flights, hotels, and tours.
  • Hopper: This award-winning app has a 95% accuracy rate for predicting the best times to book flights or wait.
  • Skyscanner App: The Skyscanner app for Android and iOS alerts users when ticket prices to their dream destinations go down. Users can ask Skyscanner to find the cheapest month for travel, which allows visitors to plan future trips based on the lowest-cost destinations and dates.

Hot Tip: For many more travel resources, apps, and great sites to use, check out our highly detailed resources series where all the research is done for you!

Student Volunteer Opportunities: Learning and Giving at the Same Time

Volunteering abroad is a great opportunity for students, since they often have the time to take these extended trips and can defray costs by launching fundraising campaigns. The volunteer organizations listed below all offer fundraising support for budget-conscious students:

  • Peace Corps: Founded in 1961 by President Kennedy, the Peace Corps offers many programs for college students to pair their studies with service. Volunteer opportunities include education, youth in development, agriculture, economic development, health, and the environment.
  • ISVolunteers: This website features opportunities for students who want to volunteer in countries such as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand. Volunteers have special access to fundraising assistance, which can partially or completely cover the costs of the trip. The company’s flagship program is a unique 4-week trip that combines 2 weeks of volunteering with 2 weeks of adventure touring. Students can also opt to take only the 2-week volunteering leg. High school students can participate in a trip to Thailand tailored for younger participants. The website explains their volunteer activities and adventure activities in further detail.
  • Volunteer Forever: This website is a marketplace for various volunteer abroad programs, both large and small. Students can apply to volunteer abroad, work abroad, or intern abroad. In addition to providing a place to discover numerous trips abroad, Volunteer Forever also provides a well-developed platform for raising funds to pay for programs and travel expenses. By using the website’s tools to launch a fundraiser, students can completely finance their overseas travels. The organization also runs 2 small scholarship campaigns per year to contribute to travel funds for selected volunteers.
  • Cross-Cultural Solutions: This organization has existed for 2 decades, providing support for volunteers to assist in countries including Thailand, India, Guatemala, Tanzania, Peru, Morocco, and Ghana. Volunteers provide social services such as teaching, support for people with disabilities, health services, and many other types of assistance. The CCS website provides a detailed description of what it’s like to be a CSS volunteer. Students can pick trips from 1-12 weeks in length, and the extensive Funding Tool explains 6 different ways travelers can finance their trips.
  • WWOOF: This international organization connects volunteers with organic growers to build a “sustainable, global community” by promoting educational and cultural experiences. Volunteers live with hosts while helping with daily farm tasks. Farmers host volunteers who want to support the organic farm movement.

No Hotel Necessary: Affordable Options for Student Travelers

Although hostels have been around for years now, finding them has never been easier, thanks to the latest mobile apps. When booking a hostel or other alternative form of accommodation, be sure to look at the profile and reviews of the host. In addition, be sure to check the website or app’s verification system, if there is one. Here are some well-known (and not-so-well-known!) accommodations for student travelers:

  • Hostelworld: This website/app specializes in hostel bookings but doesn’t charge any booking fees, making it more affordable to use than other booking platforms. The site has a huge collection of reviews, enabling student travelers to know exactly what they’re in for when they grab a cheap hostel spot.
  • Airbnb: Airbnb is a peer-to-peer accommodation service and app that enables student travelers to find high-quality accommodations at a fraction of the cost of hotels. Because Airbnb hosts often offer weekly and monthly discounts, students who take extended vacations can get even better deals. Students should check out the secret Airbnb Sublets page dedicated to discounted monthly rentals.
  • Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing is not a traditional accommodation booking site or app. Instead, it is a community of hosts and travelers whose primary goal is to meet new people. Hosts provide modest, free accommodation in exchange for being able to meet interesting travelers.
  • Farm Stays: Unlike WWOOF, you stay at a farm, but don’t have to pitch in with the daily work. Prices vary, but will be similar to staying in a bed and breakfast. Farm Stays is also in app form, but stays are only available in the U.S., U.K., and Australia at this time.
  • Monastery Stays: This website can help you find monasteries to stay in at an affordable price; some only ask for donations or are completely free. Although the accommodations are bare bones, they are quiet and offer meals prepared by the nuns or monks. Some great stays include Scotland, Australia, Israel, Italy, California, and France.

Hot Tip: Our accommodation resource list is a must for those looking for apps and sites that’ll easily and quickly find you accommodation in your price range.

Blogs and Websites for Student Travelers

Sharing experiences and know-how can help students avoid the pitfalls of traveling. Here are some popular travel blogs you can visit:

  • Nomadic Matt: The author of the New York Times bestseller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day offers you a boatload of resources on his blog, including step-by-step tips, frugal city guides, and ebooks.
  • The Points Guy: Brian Kelly writes about his travels while offering resources, information, videos, and articles on all aspects of travel.
  • Travel is Free: Drew Macomber and his wife Carrie lived nomadically for over 2 years, using miles and points to stay in four-star hotels on a tiny budget. The resource page is a gold mine for information on specific rewards programs.
  • View From the Wing: In this blog, veteran traveler Gary Leff provides insights into credit card deals, loyalty programs, and the airline industry while offering some general travel tips, too.
  • Mommy Points: A talented writer and self-confessed “pointaholic,” Summer Hull’s blog includes flight deals, trip reports, rewards, and even her own travel experiences.

As a student traveler, you have many options. Start with a plan, a credit card or 2, and go from there! You’ll be surprised where your dreams and your travels will take you.

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

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