Personal Finances: What Credit Cards are right for an HBS student?

Rob Monaco, Contributor

Personal Finance Corner: Credit Cards

Between section dues, small group dinners, drinks in town, and treks around the world, MBA students can rack up a lot of spending on their credit cards. But which ones are the best to take into business school? Depending on your spending habits, choosing the right credit card can be an important move to recoup value from your spending habits.  Below are just a few of the better credit card options available for MBA students that could lead to additional benefits and savings.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Benefits:

  •       Earn 100,000 points for signing up (after $4,000 spent within the first three months)
  •       3X points for every dollar spent on travel and dining
  •       50% more value when you redeem airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase
  •       $100 application free credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  •       Complimentary Priority Pass Select Membership (access to 900+ airport lounges worldwide)
  •       No foreign transaction fees
  •       Fee: $450 annually (offset by a $300 credit for all travel related purchases in a calendar year)

There are so many ways to win with the Reserve card.  If the majority of your personal spending is travel and dining, this card is a strong option for racking up points (rule of thumb: 1 point = $0.01-$0.015).  As of this writing, Chase formally cut the 100,000 point sign-up bonus in half to 50,000 points; however select branch locations and some online links still offer the 100,000 point bonus, so if you are keen on Reserve card – you may still have time for the full promotion.

Chase Hyatt 

Benefits:

  •       2 free nights at Hyatt hotels worldwide (after $2,000 spent within the first three months)
  •       1 free night at Hyatt hotels per year
  •       3X points for every dollar spent on Hyatt purchases
  •       2X points for every dollar spent on travel and dining purchases
  •       Fee: $75 annually

This credit card has an attractive sign-up bonus if you are looking for a free vacation or enjoy staying at the Hyatt.  I’m told the best redemptions are the Park Hyatt in Paris, Tokyo and Maldives.  I’ve heard of friends or partners signing up together to earn more free nights for an extended vacation.

Citi Diamond Preferred Card

Benefits:

  •       0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 21 months
  •       Personalized concierge service
  •       No annual fee

This no fee card boasts 0% interest on purchases for 21 months, perfect for a balance transfer to pay off any existing debt after graduating.  For those who are more inclined to use some financial engineering to pay off debt, this card can help you buy some time.

JetBlue Plus BarclayCard

Benefits:

  •       Earn 30,000 points for signing up (after $1,000 spent within the first three months)
  •       6X points on all JetBlue purchases
  •       2X points on all restaurant and grocery purchases
  •       Earn 5,000 points annually after your account anniversary
  •       Free checked bag on all JetBlue flights
  •       Annual fee: $99

For the frequent domestic traveler, the JetBlue card may make sense for you.  With Boston and NYC-JFK as a JetBlue hubs, HBS students would be rewarded handsomely for doing most of their travel with JetBlue and using this card to pay the airfare.  JetBlue has been slowly expanding their geographic footprint outside of the U.S. and consistently rank at the top in term so of overall customer service experience in the airline industry.

Discover it Card

Benefits:

  •       Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter (gas, dining, Amazon.com, wholesale clubs)
  •       1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases with no expiration
  •       $50 on first $500 spent ($50 for all referrals)
  •       Discover will match all cash back you earn dollar for dollar at the end of the first year
  •       No annual fee

While the debate on the value of a cash back credit card rages on, I wanted to highlight at least one cash back alternative.  With no annual fee and 5% cash back on rotating categories that frequently include Amazon.com and online retailers such as Microsoft or Apple, it may be worth checking out this cash back option.

Special thanks to Ruben Ortega (Section J), Christian Fessler, and The Points Guy for helping to compile the credit card data used for this article.


Rob Monaco (HBS’18) enjoys a wide variety of professional interests including investing, entrepreneurship and behavioral economics. Prior to HBS, Rob worked in investment banking and private equity, and now hopes to apply his nance experience to a more global context, particularly to small business building and promoting education in the developing economies of Latin America where he enjoys spending time with his family.