Whether you're celebrating spring break as an actual student, or you're young in spirit, we can suggest six of the best credit cards to help keep you from losing your shirt. At least, a shirt you don't want to lose…

Best credit card for spreading out spring break travel costs

If you've already splurged on airfare and upfront hotel fees using another credit card, the Discover it® can take the pain out of your payments. Discover's offer includes 18 months with a zero percent introductory APR on balance transfers and a transfer fee of just 3 percent. In addition, you'll pay no interest on purchases with a zero percent introductory APR on purchases for the first six months with your new card. Indulge yourself beyond your travel budget, and you can spread your payments out without paying a penny in finance charges.

Top rated credit cards for last minute lodging

If you're planning a resort vacation, hotel-branded travel rewards credit cards offer signup bonuses that can save you hundreds of dollars. The trick is finding a loyalty program with no blackout dates and plenty of flexibility.

The Hilton HHonors® Surpassâ„  Card from American Express will hook you up with enough bonus points on your first purchase to cover a free night at many of the chain's swankiest properties. Or, if you're just trying to score a place to catch some Z's while driving from campus to coastline, redeem those points for a handful of free nights at participating Hampton Inn hotels.

Meanwhile, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express connects you to nights at properties bearing brands like W Hotels, Westin, St. Regis and Sheraton. Consistently ranked among the best credit card rewards programs, SPG uses a market-driven points system. Check Starwood's website for last-minute bargains that can maximize your points.

Best credit card rewards for hitting the open road

When your plans require logging plenty of highway miles, you'll want a credit card that can save you every penny possible on gas and road essentials. The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Visa Signature credit card offers for the first $1,500 in combined gas and grocery purchases each quarter a 3-percent cash back rebate on your gas purchases, plus a 2-percent rebate on grocery store purchases.

You'll also earn a 10-percent premium on your rebate when you redeem your rewards directly into your Bank of America checking or savings account.

Best credit cards for big spring break spenders

If your vision of spring break looks more like a posh ski resort or island villa and less like an episode of "Jersey Shore," load your wallet with the Chase Sapphire Preferred®. Spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening with this card, and you'll earn enough Ultimate Rewards bonus points for $500 toward travel rewards when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Meanwhile, your travel purchases and dining at restaurants earn double rewards points, and you can get direct access to a live expert without wading through a recording system.

Best rewards credit card for surprise flights

Even with the best airline credit cards, it's still hard to convert free travel vouchers into actual seats on short notice. That's why our team likes the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card. With no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee, it's a great credit card to take overseas. Even better, you'll earn 5 points per dollar on airfare purchases, and a single point for every dollar you spend elsewhere. Convert those points into travel, merchandise and gift cards. And plenty of help from this card's free concierge service.

Travel safe during spring break, and keep your credit cards secure.

Even though it's fun to daydream about the ultimate spring break, travel expert Erin Weed advises vacationers of all ages to follow a few key ground rules. First, track your cash spending, so you won't have to visit an ATM at night. Whenever you have to make a cash advance or a withdrawal from an automated teller, visit the machine as a group to avoid skimmers or scam artists.

Likewise, experts from the State Department advise travelers to leave unnecessary credit cards and debit cards at home. Write down the customer service number and the account number of your primary travel credit card, seal it in an envelope, and secure that in your hotel's safe along with a backup debit or credit card. That way, if you fall victim to a pickpocket or a skimmer, you'll have a backup plan. Travel safe, and have fun!

About the Author


Curtis Arnold, a nationally recognized consumer educator and advocate, has been educating consumers about credit cards since 1998. New! Curtis is the author of 'How You Can Profit from Credit Cards: Using Credit to Improve Your Financial Life and Bottom Line' (FT Press, 2008). He is also the co-author of the upcoming Complete Idiot's Guide to Person-to-Person Lending (Alpha Books/Pengiun Group USA, April 2009), a contribitor to The Ultimate Allowance (InnerWealth Publishing, 2008) and is extensively featured in 42 RulesTM for Driving Success With Books (Super Star Press, January 2009).