Whether you’re planning a future global expedition or just making an annual trip home for the holidays, your travels don’t have to break the bank.
There are plenty of premium travel rewards cards on the market but if you’re looking for great rewards at a budget-friendly price, a no annual fee credit card with a great return on travel purchases is your best bet for saving money and earning rewards. Especially if you’re wondering whether travel cards are worth it right now, no annual fee travel cards have adapted to COVID-19 by providing ample opportunity to stockpile or repurpose rewards with limited-time offers and alternate redemption options.
When the time comes, these cards can help finance flight and hotel purchases, offer travel protections and reward your everyday spending. Begin by considering your spending habits as well as your upcoming travel plans to determine which rewards structure and benefits offerings work best for you.
Here are a few to consider before your next trip:
- Best card for beginners: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
- Best card for Delta Airlines passengers: Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
- Best for frequent Hilton stays: Hilton Honors American Express Card
- Best for flexible spending: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
- Best for pairing with premium travel card: Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- Best for backup plans: Discover it® Miles
- Best for everyday spending categories: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Best card for beginners
The Capital One VentureOne Card is a great way to ease yourself into
travel rewards. For no annual fee, you can earn 1.25X miles on every dollar you spend, plus a 20,000 mile welcome bonus after spending $500 within the first three months.
You can redeem your miles through Capital One’s rewards portal for travel, cash, gift cards and more, though you’ll get the best value by redeeming for travel at a rate of 1 cent per mile or transferring them to travel partners.
To simplify things even more, you can use Capital One miles on your recent travel purchases like a statement credit. This allows you to use your miles to cover travel purchases (like rideshares, flights, hotel stays, public transportation and more) from your credit card statement within 90 days.
Between the earning rate and the sign-up bonus, you could earn up to 35,000 miles in your first year spending just $1,000 each month, which you can redeem for $350 worth of travel expenses.
Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card: Best card for Delta Airlines passengers
If you’re a Delta loyalist, the airline’s Delta SkyMiles Blue co-branded card with American Express isn’t as lucrative as the higher-tier Delta cards, but it’s a great option for no annual fee.
You’ll earn 2X miles on every dollar you spend on dining worldwide and on Delta purchases, which includes booking flights, seat upgrades, in-flight purchases and more, plus 1X mile per dollar on everything else and 20 percent back on each in-flight purchase you make with the card. The welcome bonus is easily obtainable, too. Just spend $500 within the first three months of card membership and earn 10,000 miles.
While you won’t receive perks like priority boarding and free checked bags that accompany other Delta cards, the Blue Delta SkyMiles Blur American Express Card is a great entry point if you do most of your booking with the airline.
Hilton Honors American Express Card: Best for frequent Hilton stays
Those who frequent Hilton hotel locations will similarly find a solid no annual fee option in the Hilton Honors American Express Card.
After a 80,000 bonus point offer when you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. You’ll earn 7X Hilton Honors bonus points for every dollar you spend at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio; 5X points at U.S. gas stations, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. restaurants; and 3X points on everything else. According to The Points Guy, Hilton Honors points are valued at around 0.6 cents each.
In addition to points rewards, card members receive complimentary Silver status with Hilton, which includes an annual fifth-night free reward (when you book at least four consecutive nights with points) and a 20 percent bonus on each Hilton Honors base point you earn.
Amex also announced two new promotions for Hilton Honors cardholders: up to $5 in dining statement credits per month (through Dec. 31, 2021) with “Score More on Dining” and up 10,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases (through Jun. 30, 2021; offer eligible for up to 100,000 bonus points) with Score More Points—both via Amex Offers.
For no annual fee, the Hilton Honors Amex can bring amazing value for anyone who stays at Hilton properties regularly.
Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card: Best card for flexible spending
The Bank of America Travel Rewards is a good card choice for earning travel rewards on each purchase but it’s even better if you already do your banking with Bank of America.
The card earns 1.5X points per dollar on every purchase but you can bump up your rewards by 25 percent to 75 percent if you have the minimum balance to qualify for Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program (at least $20,000 but the highest tier requires at least $100,000). The Travel Rewards also offers a 25,000 point bonus when you spend $1,000 within 90 days of account opening.
To get the most value, redeem your points for a statement credit toward your travel purchases. If you spend $1,000 each month, you can redeem $180 during your first year, plus $250 from the sign-up bonus for a total $430 for your first year. Qualify for the highest Preferred Rewards tier and you can bump that up $565 in statement credits, all at no cost for the card itself.
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for pairing with a premium travel card
The Chase Freedom Unlimited isn’t a travel rewards card itself, but it is a no annual fee card that you can pair with Chase’s more premium travel cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, to boost your Chase Ultimate Rewards points by up to 25 percent to 50 percent toward booking travel.
On its own, the Freedom Unlimited earns unlimited at least 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase, 3 percent on dining and drugstore purchase, and 5 percent on Chase travel and Lyft rides (Lyft offer good through March 2022).
If you pair it with a Chase Sapphire card, though, you can take advantage of the 25 percent to 50 percent boosted redemption values for travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Whereas points are generally worth about 1 cent each, they’re worth 1.25 cents with the Preferred and 1.5 cents with the Reserve.
Plus, pairing the Freedom Unlimited with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards could provide valuable benefits that perfectly complement the Unlimited card’s bonus categories. For example, the Reserve card’s 12-month complimentary DoorDash DashPass and up to $60 in DoorDash statement credits ($60 per year) can stack another layer of savings on top of the 3 percent rewards you already earn on DoorDash deliveries with the Freedom Unlimited.
If you’re already paying the annual fee on one of the Sapphire cards but looking for an all-purpose card without a fee to pair it with, the Freedom Unlimited could be the perfect fit.
Discover it Miles: Best for backup plans
Discover’s only travel card translates its low-cost, no annual fee approach into the travel miles landscape. Discover it Miles is also Discover’s only flat-rate card—it earns unlimited 1.5X miles on all purchases. Like all other Discover cards, the rewards you’ve earned within your first 12 months will be matched at the end of that year. For instance, spending $2,000 per month will earn you 36,000 miles for a grand total of 72,000 miles once matched.
But here’s the best part: your redemption options keep a 1:1 value, including cold, hard cash back. That means the 72,000 miles you earned are worth $720 toward either travel purchases (within the past 180 days) or you can redeem miles for cash in any amount to pay your bill, including your minimum payment. It’s rare for bonus miles to keep their value after being converted to cash back, which makes the Discover it Miles card the perfect choice if you’re worried you might not be traveling soon.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express card: Best for everyday spending categories
The no annual fee Wells Fargo Propel credit card offers well-rounded bonus categories perfectly suited for a wide range of day-to-day expenses. You’ll earn 3X Go Far Rewards points for a scope of travel purchases, including rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. On top of that, you’ll also rake in 3X points on dining, gas station purchases and select popular streaming services.
New cardholders can get 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first three months, plus a portfolio of solid benefits that will come in handy on the road, such as cellphone protection, lost luggage reimbursement and roadside assistance (see terms).
What to consider when choosing the best no annual fee travel credit card for you
During your search for the perfect travel card that carries no annual fee, there are a few details you should consider and look out for to ensure you choose the right card for your needs.
How many rewards does the card earn in travel and other categories?
Some travel cards earn their highest rewards on travel purchases, but if you travel only a couple times each year, that may not be the best way to maximize your rewards. It can be smarter to take on a card that earns rewards on every purchase you make or in categories that you spend in most, then redeem your rewards on travel expenses when you take a trip.
If you travel frequently and, instead, are searching for a card to make the most of the money you spend on flights and hotels, a card with high-earning categories focused on travel may be a better fit.
Like with any credit card choice, examining your regular spending habits can help you narrow down the perfect card for you.
What additional benefits does it offer?
Added benefits from card issuers like travel purchase protections, travel or rental car insurance and baggage protection are most commonly found on more premium travel rewards cards, but many no annual fee cards also offer these benefits.
If purchase protections and other benefits are important to you, make sure you read the fine print of the cardmember agreement to get a clear picture of what exactly is included
How beneficial is the 0 percent introductory offers?
Many no annual fee cards offer 0 percent interest introductory periods on both purchases and balance transfers.
If you’re carrying a debt balance on another card, choosing a no annual fee travel card with an introductory balance transfer period that aligns with your debt payoff ability can help you save on high interest rates. Alternatively, if you have a large purchase coming up, like the cost of a vacation, and you want the flexibility to pay for it over time without accumulating interest, a card with a 0 percent introductory period on purchases may be a solution.
Make sure you find a card that has both an introductory period that fits your timeline and a rewards structure that aligns with your spending so you can continue to gain value from it long-term.
There are great options for travel rewards cards that won’t cost you hundreds of dollars in annual fees each year. Find a card that works with your spending habits and your future travel plans to maximize each purchase, then work to pay your balances off each month so you don’t take on added costs in the form of interest payments.
The information related to the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card has been collected by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.