I might be home for christmas...
October 27, 2008 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Should I use a credit card to buy a plane ticket home?

I'm a freshman in college about 5 states away from home. My girlfriend and I were hoping to go home this Christmas, but we don't have all of the money right now. We might be able to scrounge up the money for one ticket, but not for two. So we were thinking about opening a credit card with Wachovia to buy the tickets and pay them off the months after christmas.
I've never had a credit card before and I was kind of leery of getting one, but this is the only way I'd be able to go home for christmas. I think my emotions might be clouding my judgement, so:
What should I do? Is it a wise idea to buy the tickets with a credit card? If so, are there any cards you can reccomend?
posted by shesaysgo to Work & Money (31 answers total)
Don't use credit cards when you don't have the money to pay them back immediately, except in emergencies. This is not an emergency. Don't do it.
posted by grouse at 10:35 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider: With the interest that you'll have to pay (you do know about the interest, right?) on top the the ticket, is it still worth it? Depending on the card, you might end up paying a lot more that you thought you might. Crunch some numbers.
posted by niles at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2008

Do you have any other way of paying for the ticket?

Generally it seems like opening a credit card as a student is a bad idea because debt can sneak up on you easily in that situation.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2008

As long as you have a good plan (on paper!) to pay it back (x) months after Christmas, this is not a bad idea. Be conscious of the monthly interest and factor that in, and be sure you can afford to pay it off on your plan, based on actual income. And once you have paid it off, do not use the card for anything else. Put it away for an emergency.

It's good that you're careful here, but as long as you actually pay it back according to plan, this is actually a good and wise use of a credit card, and will help you establish a good credit history that will help you later.

Again: do not use it for anything and everything else once you have it. The convenience of using credit cards is what makes people rack up huge unmanageable debts.
posted by rokusan at 10:37 AM on October 27, 2008

So, yeah, everyone thinks they'll pay it off "in the months after ______________."

Think carefully about this -- you have no idea what your financial situation will be then, and credit card debt is something many adults regret later in life.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:39 AM on October 27, 2008

Sure. I know everyone freaks out at the concept of college kids having credit cards, but not long ago I was one of those college kids with a credit card, and this is exactly the kind of purchase I would use it for. Just make sure that after you purchase your ticket, stow the card away somewhere deep in the depths of your desk, so you aren't tempted to use it when you are out and want a new ipod or something.
Just do your research on cards, paying close attention to interest rates, associated fees, and late-payment penalties (these are what really f**k you up). Then set up an automated payment plan that deducts from your checking monthly.
You'll be fine. It's a good time to start developing credit, just school yourself on exactly how that works.
posted by greta simone at 10:39 AM on October 27, 2008

Pay it back right away. If you can do that, establishing credit might actually be a good idea. But if you think you'll fall into a trap of using it more, don't do it.

There's always the trick of using it for the tickets, then immediately freezing it in a large block of ice. If you don't know the number, you can't make impulse purchases.

Side note: be sure it has low interest (maybe even no interest for several months--great if you need to take two months to pay off the plane ticket) and don't sign up for a card without a rewards program. It's another way to get something out of the deal, like gift cards or frequent flyer tickets. (I've known people--disciplined ones--who charge everything and immediately pay it off in order to get the rewards. Smart if you can handle it.)

If seeing family is that important to you, it may be worth it. Just be sure to 1. write a check/make an online payment to the credit card IMMEDIATELY for the money that you can afford right away and 2. pay the rest as soon as you have it, even if it the payment is not due yet.
posted by cherie72 at 10:44 AM on October 27, 2008

Ask Mom and Dad for a loan.
posted by nitsuj at 10:50 AM on October 27, 2008

The fact that you are as nervous as you are makes me think you'll be fine with a credit card.

Credit cards are dangerous for people who don't worry about paying them off, who use them unnecessarily, and who don't think about the amount of debt they're building up. You don't seem like you'll make those mistakes.

If you are sure that your budget will allow you to make the necessary payments in the months that follow Christmas, go for it. If you can trust yourself not to go crazy once the credit card arrives, buying up everything you can for the heck of it, go for it.

Credit cards are extremely useful, when it comes to unusual expenses. A single plane ticket, for instance. Credit cards can be dangerous if you're using them without planning for future payments, or if you're using them to live a lifestyle you otherwise could not afford. You do not seem likely to fall into either of those pratfalls, so go for it.

I was as nervous as you are when I was a college student, first thinking about getting a credit card. I ended up getting two (because it is better for your credit score if you have more than one line of credit -- or, at least, that's what I've been told). I almost never used them, and when I did, I made sure it was for something I knew I could afford to pay off in the near future. And I did just fine. I didn't die; I didn't fall into cycles of debt and late payments; I didn't go crazy. Just make sure you don't, either, and you'll actually be much better off for establishing good credit practices now than if you don't.
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:55 AM on October 27, 2008

If you do end up getting a credit card, take the advice of others and only use it for this. If you think you might have self-discipline issues, try dropping the card in a plastic cup of water, and sticking it in the freezer. This will require you to unthaw it to get at the card/number -- a decent deterrent -- and will buy you some time to think over any purchases you were considering.
posted by nitsuj at 10:58 AM on October 27, 2008

Is it possible to take a less expensive form of transport, such as the bus or (sometimes) train?
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:59 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go on pricelist or one of those sites to see how cheap you can get the ticket for. Maybe you can name the right price and not have to use the card to begin with. But if you get the card I would get a very low credit limit, like 500 bucks. This could also help build your credit too. 200 bucks plus interest for establishing good credit is fairly cheap.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 11:12 AM on October 27, 2008

Generally it seems like opening a credit card as a student is a bad idea because debt can sneak up on you easily in that situation.

Actually opening a credit card account is good for establishing credit while in school, which will help in getting loans in the future. One of the big factors in credit scores is the length of credit history, so the earlier you start (even if you never charge anything) the sooner you can have a great score. That doesn't mean that you should open a card and charge more than you can pay off though.

In this case you might be fine using a credit card, but as others have pointed out, the general path of spending more than you have is not a good one to go down. Next year, save money for the trip during the year, and expect not to be able to go if you don't have it saved up. It's better to save and then spend rather than borrow, spend, and then repay. This year, try to find a cheaper way home if possible. Again, it's less about this particular instance and more about not getting into the habit of spending more than you have and counting on making up for it later.

Ask Mom and Dad for a loan.

Second this if possible rather than putting it on a card. Even if you still payed them the same high interest rate as a credit card, I'm sure you'd rather pay them than a bank.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:15 AM on October 27, 2008

If you're absolutely positive that you'll have enough money coming in to repay the loan (i.e. you already know where that money's coming from), and if you think the higher price (with the interest included) is worth it, then sure. Otherwise, no.

As for emotions/judgement: if you've done all the calculations on paper and the numbers actually add up, then you're fine; if you're telling yourself "I should be able to somehow get $X in Y months" instead of actually knowing when/where you're going to get it, then your judgement is clouded.

BTW, from your previous questions it looks like you might be going from Chicago to eastern Virginia? If so, have you considered taking Greyhound? That trip should only be 24 hours or so, which is not bad at all, I swear. (It looks like Amtrak might be an option, too, but Amtrak is much, much worse than Greyhound, IMO--you're stuck with either the inedible snack bar food or the expensive dining car food.)
posted by equalpants at 11:16 AM on October 27, 2008

Okay, wait a minute here. You're two people, each of whom has approximately half the cost of a plane ticket. And you want to get a single credit card, in just one person's name, to buy one of those tickets? Don't do this. (Don't get a joint account either, if that is even possible.)

If you want to get a credit card to cover the cost of your plane ticket (while your girlfriend gets her own credit card to buy her own plane ticket), and pay off the amount you have immediately, see all the very good advice above.
posted by jeather at 11:38 AM on October 27, 2008

There's no reason you have to get a plane ticket, no matter where you are and no matter where they are. People have been hoboing transport for centuries. Get ingenius before you get into debt. Hitch, or check out rideshare websites (use google), or use Craigslist rideshare, or do a little cold-weather cycling adventure to get there.

One of the myriad of problems today is that when sheeple are faced with a challenge, one of the first potential solutions considered is debt. Don't do that. Use this as an opportunity to expand your skill set.
posted by letahl at 11:39 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do your research and plug your numbers into this calculator to see how much you'll be paying after Christmas, and how long after Christmas you'll be paying it. (It's a Canadian website, but the calculator is generic and not country-specific.) If the outcome looks reasonable enough for your purposes, go for it.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 11:43 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you are buying plane tickets, though, use a credit card. Hundreds of thousands of would-be fliers have discovered the refund advantages when their airlines collapsed. There are more collapses to come.
posted by bonaldi at 12:45 PM on October 27, 2008

I would say if you don't have an immediate plan of repayment, then don't charge it on the plastic.

Also, does your girlfriend or you have the money for the ticket? It's been my experience that when people are as young as you two presumably are, it isn't a good idea to mix finances. If you two break up, it makes things all the messier.

I'd say you each try to get the money independently. There's no reason why you should get a credit card to pay part of her way back home. She has parents too, right?
posted by reenum at 12:46 PM on October 27, 2008

Agree with jeather. Unless I'm misunderstanding, and you're taking your girlfriend to your home (which is not her home) to see your family (and not her family) and want to pay for her ticket, you should not pay for this expense together. While I'm sure you're very much in love and aren't planning to break up, it's never a good idea to take on joint debt with another person to whom you are not married. you should evaluate whether you want to take on debt to pay for the portion of your ticket that you can't afford right now, and she should do the same for herself.
posted by decathecting at 12:51 PM on October 27, 2008

Personally, I think that getting a credit card just before Christmas may not be the brightest idea that you ever had ... you are going to be tempted to use it for other things. Seconding the use-it-once-and-freeze-it-in-a-big-block-of-ice-idea.
For the best credit card deals, you can use a site that let's you see the impact if you pay it off monthly vs. get rewards on the card/ See Bankrate.com. If you plan to use the card for other things, use Billshrink to see which card (with or without rewards) would suit your spending pattern best.
posted by Susurration at 12:54 PM on October 27, 2008

Nthing loan from parents. Also, take a good look at Amtrak. It's likely more expensive, but it's worth spending 10 minutes to look it up.

Failing a loan from your parents, consider your ability to repay the card. Are you currently working during the school year, or are you planning on making the money to pay it off during the summer? How long do you plan to carry the debt? How much interest will you have to pay? Can you at least make minimum payments? I'd recommend paying off as much as you can feasibly supply with the first bill so that you avoid building up interest, and then end up paying interest on that interest, and so on.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:09 PM on October 27, 2008

Chicago to Virginia is not a bad drive at all. I'm assuming neither of you have a car which is why you want to fly. Why not rent one? I'm betting it's cheaper than round-trip airfare for two. AskMe comments in other threads suggest that some universities rent cars to under-25s at a discounted rate.

I'm in the camp that thinks that credit cards are not necessarily EVIL unless you already have a problem with frivolous purchases. I got my first one at 18 and never, ever carried a balance until I was 29 and in grad school (and then unemployed for six months after graduation). I've made some poor choices in the last few years, but for the first ten my credit was squeaky clean. Check around for a card with a low introductory rate for the first six months or so, and then PAY IT OFF within those six months. Then don't use it except for emergencies. Emergencies = can't eat, sleep indoors, or afford medical treatment.

I would also agree that having any joint debt with someone to whom you're not married is a BAD IDEA. I didn't even do this when I was engaged to and living with my now-husband. You don't really know what the future holds as far as your relationship and their level of responsibility.
posted by desjardins at 2:37 PM on October 27, 2008

I think that's an appropriate use for a credit card, and they are useful for emergencies like car repairs or broken glasses...BUT! if you find yourself buying a pizza with it, or using it for shoes, then CUT IT UP IMMEDIATELY! It's a slippery slope - and I got the merit badge on that one.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:51 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was going to say maybe it would be an okay plan, assuming you have great self-control and enough disposable income that you could cut back on things and pay the debt off within a few months, but...here's the thing:

We're talking what here, $500? $600? I assume, then, that you don't have $600 in savings. In general, as a financially independent adult, I think you should make it a priority to have at least one month's living expenses (in case you're injured, or lose your job, or some random catastrophe occurs) in savings before you spend that kind of money on non-necessities. If you're living in Chicago (as someone mentioned above), I'm sure a month's living expenses is more than $600. Scrounge up the money you'd use for that one plane ticket, stick it in a savings account, and start an emergency fund.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:42 PM on October 27, 2008

In general I think it's a good idea to get a credit card in college to establish a credit history. That said, it's not to be used often or it should be used and paid off every month. Maybe it's just a credit line of $500, but you've got to start somewhere.

I agree that you shouldn't take on someone else's debt (if you're planning on paying for half of your girlfriend's ticket). One thing to note about freezing your card in ice... you usually need to show/use your credit card to check in to your flight so make sure you unfreeze it in time and bring it with you.
posted by Bunglegirl at 4:27 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're a member of a credit union, you may be able to get a line of credit with them just for the amount you need for the tickets. Credit union interest rates are usually really competitive, and it's easy to remember to pay it off when you go to the same bank to make your deposits. If you're a college student, there is probably a local credit union that you are eligible to join.
posted by fructose at 5:11 PM on October 27, 2008

For goodness sake, go home for Christmas.
posted by Xhris at 7:20 PM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow, there are some financial astute but completely heartless folks here on MeFi. It's Christmas, people!

I thought I should add that it can be difficult to purchase an airline ticket, especially from an online discount supplier, without a credit card. So it may be necessary anyway.
posted by rokusan at 11:04 PM on October 27, 2008

Don't mix your finances with anyone, no matter how much you love them, until you really, really, really seriously think about it. I wouldn't do it now for plane tickets.

I would investigate other transportation options - bus (ugh, I know), train, rent a car, etc... before getting a credit card.

If you decide to get a credit card, research (bankrate.com, as mentioned above, is a good place to go) and make sure you have a plan to pay it off. Credit cards do give you some extra purchase protection, and if you use them responsibly then they're a good tool.

If you don't have a job (and you probably shouldn't as a college freshman), then remember that every single month that card will be accumulating interest and it is going to suck to only pay the minimum payments and then hope to make enough at a summer job to pay off your Christmas plane ticket. Everything you charge and don't pay off right away has a surcharge, the card's interest rate - you're paying that much more for each thing you charge.

Can you ask family to chip in for the tickets as your Christmas gifts? Have a bake sale? Sell some junk on eBay?
posted by KAS at 1:28 PM on October 28, 2008

p.s. I am not being sarcastic about the bake sale idea - think creatively!
posted by KAS at 1:28 PM on October 28, 2008

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