Best travel credit cards with no annual fee for 2021

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While travel credit cards typically come with the largest selection of perks, they also tend to charge the highest annual fees. In fact, many top travel credit cards charge annual fees from $95 to $695 per year, although they do offer exceptional benefits that can still make them a good deal.

Fortunately, there are some no-annual-fee travel credit cards out there if you’re looking for some of the perks without the cost. Cards in this niche may not offer as many travel benefits, but they can help you finance flight and hotel purchases while securing some basic travel protections along the way.

Which no-annual-fee travel credit cards are the best? That really depends on your spending style, how you want to redeem your rewards and the travel benefits you are hoping to get.

To help in your search for the right travel card, Bankrate compared all the best no-fee options based on the value and perks of their rewards. Here are a few to consider before your next trip:

Bankrate’s best travel credit cards with no annual fee:

Best card for beginners: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn an unlimited 1.25 miles for each dollar you spend.
  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $500 within three months of account opening.
  • 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.99 percent to 24.99 percent
  • No annual fee

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.

Best card for Delta Airlines passengers: Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card

  • Earn 2X miles on dining (including takeout and delivery) purchases and on Delta purchases, plus 1X miles on everything else.
  • Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 on purchases within three months of account opening.
  • Qualify for a 20 percent discount on in-flight purchases, “Pay with Miles” feature and no foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee

If you’re a Delta loyalist, the airline’s Delta SkyMiles Blue co-branded card with American Express can be a great option for no annual fee.

You’ll earn 2X miles on dining worldwide and on Delta purchases, which includes booking flights, seat upgrades, in-flight purchases and more, plus 1 mile per dollar on everything else. You’ll also receive 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 Blue American Express Card is a great entry point if you do most of your booking with the airline.

Best for American Airlines: American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

  • Earn 2X miles at grocery stores and on American Airlines purchases, plus 1X miles on everything else.
  • Earn 10,000 bonus American Airlines miles and a $50 statement credit when you spend $500 within three months of account opening.
  • Qualify for a 25 percent discount on in-flight purchases.
  • No annual fee

The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card lets cardholders earn miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program without paying an annual fee. While you won’t get major frequent flyer benefits like a free checked bag or priority boarding, you do get the chance to rack up miles through credit card spending. Additionally, you get a 25 percent discount when you buy food or beverages in-flight and pay with your card.

Just note that the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp charges foreign transaction fees, so it’s not the best travel credit card if you spend a lot while abroad.

Best for frequent Hilton stays: Hilton Honors American Express Card

  • Earn 7X Hilton Honors points on Hilton purchases, 5X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations and 3X points on all other purchases.
  • Earn up to 130,000 Hilton Honors points—80,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within three months of account opening, and another 50,000 bonus points when you spend a total of $5,000 on purchases within six months of account opening.
  • Enjoy complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status.
  • No annual fee

Travelers who frequent Hilton hotel locations will find a solid no-annual-fee option in the Hilton Honors American Express Card. This card offers a generous welcome bonus and a high rewards rate in several everyday spending categories.

In addition to points for your credit card spending, cardmembers 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.

For no annual fee, the Hilton Honors Amex can bring amazing value for anyone who stays at Hilton properties regularly.

Best card for flexible spending: Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card

  • Earn an unlimited 1.5 points for each dollar you spend.
  • Earn 25,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 on purchases within 90 days of account opening.
  • 0 percent APR on purchases for 15 billing cycles, followed by a variable APR of 13.99 percent to 23.99 percent
  • No annual fee

The Bank of America Travel Rewards is a good 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 1.5 points on every dollar spent, 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).

This no-annual-fee travel card also offers a 25,000-point bonus when you spend $1,000 within 90 days of account opening. Better yet, new cardholders are eligible for an introductory APR offer on purchases.

Best for pairing with a premium travel card: Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • Earn 5 percent back on up to $12,000 spent on groceries the first year, travel booked through Chase and Lyft rides (through March 2022).
  • Earn 3 percent back on dining and drugstore purchases and 1.5 percent back on other purchases.
  • 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 14.99 percent to 24.74 percent
  • Intro Balance Transfer Fee: Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater in the first 60 days
  • No annual fee

The Chase Freedom Unlimited isn’t a travel rewards card itself. However, it is a no-annual-fee card that you can pair with Chase’s premium travel cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, to boost your Chase Ultimate Rewards points by 25 percent to 50 percent toward booking travel. Pairing this card with a premium Chase card also makes it possible to pool your points in a Sapphire card account before transferring them to airline and hotel partners like Southwest Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus and World of Hyatt.

On its own, the Freedom Unlimited earns an unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase, 3 percent on dining and drugstore purchases, and 5 percent on Chase travel and Lyft rides (Lyft offer good through March 2022). New cardholders can also earn 5 percent back on the first $12,000 they spend on groceries the first year, making this an excellent card for grocery store spending.

Best for backup plans: Discover it Miles

  • Earn 1.5 miles for each dollar you spend.
  • Discover will double all rewards earned after the first year.
  • 0 percent APR on purchases and 10.99 percent APR on balance transfers for 14 months, followed by a variable APR of 11.99 percent to 22.99 percent
  • No annual fee

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 translate into 36,000 miles within a year, which Discover will then double to 72,000 miles after year one.

The Discover it Miles also makes it easy to redeem your rewards for any kind of travel you want. Each mile is worth one cent, so 72,000 miles earned after year one would translate into a $720 credit toward travel purchases. Meanwhile, you can also redeem your rewards for purchases with Amazon.com or PayPal or for cash back.

What to consider when choosing the best no-annual-fee travel credit card for you

As you review the best travel credit cards with no annual fee, there are a number of important factors to keep in mind.

  • Your spending style and habits: Ideally, you’ll find a no-annual-fee travel card that lets you rack up considerable rewards in the categories you spend the most in. Look for a card that gives you more points in areas where you spend heavily each month, whether that includes gas, groceries or dining out.
  • Welcome offers: Earning rates are important, but you should also consider welcome offers. Many travel credit cards with no annual fee make it easy to earn $200 or more in rewards right off the bat.
  • Cardholder perks: Airline cards and hotel cards with no annual fee tend to offer in-flight discounts or automatic elite status, and some general travel credit cards in this niche offer travel insurance benefits.
  • Redemption options: Be sure to select a travel credit card that lets you redeem your rewards for the type of travel you want. And if you’re unsure, look for a flexible travel credit card that lets you redeem for travel statement credits after booking airfare, hotels, rental cars and other travel.
  • Introductory APR offers: Finally, you can probably tell that many cards with no annual fee also come with 0 percent APR offers. If you’re interested in saving money on interest while you earn travel rewards, consider cards that offer 0 percent APR in addition to travel rewards points.

The bottom line

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.

Learn more: Should you get a travel rewards card that earns points, miles, or both?

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.
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