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Rewards card tips for saving on college textbooks

Choosing used instead of new, sharing the burden with a book buddy or renting over buying are a few ways to save – all while charging on the right card to earn rewards


Textbook expenses can pile up quickly, but college students can use these tips to make the cost less painful. It’s all about choosing and purchasing wisely. Read on to learn more.

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College costs can quickly add up and the final total for textbooks may take parents and students by surprise. The average full-time student spends just under $1,300 on textbooks annually, according to CollegeBoard.

Charging textbook purchases to a cash rewards card could make the cost less painful. Use these tips to trim a few dollars off college textbook spending.

See related: Best rewards credit cards

Check rotating bonus categories first

If you have a cash back card with rotating quarterly bonuses, check the bonus calendar before you shop.

Typically, the fourth quarter is when you’ll usually see 5 percent cash back promotions for Amazon and online shopping with the Chase Freedom and Discover it® Cash Back cards.

  • Chase Freedom’s categories from July through September include gas stations and select streaming services.
  • Discover’s rotating categories from July through September include PayPal and restaurants, and, Target and from October through December.
  • In both cases, the 5 percent bonus is capped at combined purchases on up to $1,500 per quarter, then drops to the standard 1 percent rate.
  • Quarterly activation or signing up is required to be eligible for the 5 percent bonus.

While this may not help to save on books for the fall semester, it could be a way to bank some extra cash back if you’re purchasing textbooks for the winter or spring sessions.

Just keep in mind that you can’t always plan on a 5 percent bonus for book purchases being available when you need it, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at

In that case, you may want to consider a card that offers a higher flat rewards rate on book purchases. These cards offer 5 percent back on books:

With Amazon cards, rewards can be redeemed as a statement credit. The Barnes and Noble Mastercard allows you to redeem rewards for Barnes and Noble gift cards.

See related: 4 reasons why college kids need a credit card

Save with card-linked offers

Card-linked offers are special promotions that are automatically loaded to your rewards card. When you shop a partner merchant you may get a discount at the register or a rebate that’s applied to your statement.

There are several card-linked offer programs for rewards cards. Depending on the card or cards you have, you may be eligible to enroll in:

Each program has its own network of partner retail merchants. Together, they could add up to savings on textbooks if you’re able to use them at multiple retailers to purchase or rent books.

Just make sure your card is eligible for enrollment in a card-linked offer program, as some of them exclude certain cards.

See related: A guide to card-linked offer programs: A simple way to earn more rewards

Shop your card’s shopping portal

If your rewards card has a shopping portal, that could be an easy way to add to your textbook savings.

  • The Citi Bonus Cash Center, for instance, offers 3 percent back at Books a Million and 2 percent back at Barnes & Noble when you shop through the mall with your eligible Citi rewards card. Purchases made at earn 4 percent back.
  • In the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you can save up to 15 percent when you redeem rewards earned with a Chase Freedom card for gift cards from a variety of retailers, including Barnes & Noble, whenever they go on sale.
  • If you have a Chase Ink credit card you can also shop with points at

Nathan Wade, managing editor for WealthFit Money, says Amazon is great for purchasing used textbooks well below the sticker price for new editions.

“Although you may have to pay for shipping, it’s likely you’ll still be saving more than making a purchase directly from your campus bookstore,” says Wade.

Stack cash back

Don’t overlook cash back portals and apps for textbook savings. You can pair cash back earnings through the portal or app with cash back earned from your card to amplify rewards.

  • Ebates, for instance, features cash back deals ranging from 1.5 percent to 6 percent cash back. Sellers include Amazon and eBay as well as textbook sites, such as TextbookX and Textbook Underground.
  • TopCashback features 5 percent cash back when you shop and 2 percent back at Barnes and Noble.
  • GoCashBack is another partner, offering 4 percent cash back.

When stacking, use a rewards card that offers a premium rate for online purchases. Consider these cards for stacking cash back online:

Also, stack more savings with coupons and promo codes. RetailMeNot and Coupon Sherpa are some of the sites you can use to find coupons and deals at textbook retailers.

See related: How to get the most from credit card points

Find other ways to save on textbooks

Your rewards card can yield savings if you’re maximizing cash rewards earned on every purchase but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are even more options for cutting costs:

1. Connect with other students

Ben Watson, a CPA and personal finance expert at DollarSprout, says networking with other students can be a way to score books on the cheap.

“The most effective way to save money would be to buy textbooks secondhand from students just finishing the class,” says Watson. “Many students organize book trades with those in their major via campus message boards or social media.”

2. Mark buyback season on your calendar

“Many college bookstores will buy back books at the end of the semester and then resell them for a lower price,” says McKinzie Bean, former college advisor and founder of Moms Make Cents.

Bean says Amazon does something similar, allowing parents and students to recoup some of what they spent the previous semester.

3. Check the campus library

Students may find what they need for free at the college library. Kathryn Mancewicz, founder of Money and Mountains, used this tactic as an undergrad and a graduate student.

“I came across several textbooks that I was able to check out from the library for the entire semester for free,” says Mancewicz. “This saved me hundreds of dollars.”

4. Buy an older version

Bean says you could save money by purchasing a previous version of the textbook versus one that’s fresh off the press.

“Many textbooks produce new versions every few years, with similar content overall,” she says. “The older versions sell for a fraction of the cost.”

The trick, however, is making sure that an older textbook isn’t so out of date that it won’t line up with the course syllabus.

Bean says to get the class syllabus first and review it carefully before buying an older textbook to make sure there are no gaps in what’s covered.

5. Find a textbook buddy

Watson says students should consider sharing textbooks with students when there’s overlap in their course load.

“By splitting the cost between two or more students, the sticker price can be a lot less painful,” he says.

6. Skip the online content if it’s not necessary

Some textbooks require an extra fee to unlock online content. Kantrowitz says to ask your professor if the online content is necessary before making a purchase.

If it is, you may have to buy new instead. But if not, you could get away with buying used or checking the book out from the library.

7. Rent textbooks

Mancewicz says the downside of renting textbooks is that there’s no opportunity to recover some cash by selling them back at the end of the semester. But renting may be cheaper, depending on course load.

“Renting is a great option for those general classes or classes where you know you won’t want or need to reference the textbook later in your program or career,” says Mancewicz.

8. Go digital

Students who are already using a Kindle or iPad to take notes or keep track of their schedule might consider downloading digital versions of textbooks to save money.

“The cost of downloading is usually much cheaper than buying the physical book,” says Wade.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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