The best travel credit cards often come with annual fees attached. But, there’s good news: There are some great travel rewards cards available that allow you to earn rewards at a competitive rate, and without the annual costs of a premium card. The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is one of those cards. Not only does it offer high earning potential for points that can be redeemed for miles, but also you can redeem those miles through multiple airlines. Traditionally, these types of rewards have been reserved for the top cards with an annual fee.
There are two types of travel rewards cards — ones that offer rewards with a single airline or hotel program, and ones through a bank that offer points redeemable for travel rewards. To decide which type is right for you, first take stock of how you travel. If you find yourself loyal to a specific airline or hotel chain, it may be worth it to apply for that company’s credit card. But, if you want more flexibility on where to book, then a card like The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express will likely be the better option.
The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for Best Travel Credit Cards With No Annual Fee
- The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
Best for Redeeming Reward Points
- Discover it® Miles
Best Cardholder Benefits
- JetBlue Card
Best No-Fee Airline Credit Card
- Hilton Honors Card from American Express
Best No-Fee Hotel Credit Card
Choosing a Travel Rewards Card with no Annual Fee
If you’re considering a travel rewards card with no annual fee, there are several things you need to pay attention to — how you earn points and the number of points you earn, what other fees the card has, and if it offers other benefits and perks that can come in handy when you travel.
How many points or miles will I earn per dollar spent?
For years, most cards would offer just one point or mile per dollar spent. But today, the best cards will offer more. For example, the Discover it® Miles card offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, while the JetBlue Card features double points for all restaurant and grocery store purchases.
How much are the points and miles worth?
With some cards, points or miles are simply worth a fixed amount as statement credits toward travel rewards. When you redeem rewards from your Discover it® Miles, your miles are worth one cent each as statement credits toward any travel reservations that you’ve already made. If you purchase a flight for $300, you can later redeem 30,000 miles to pay for it.
But when you are redeeming airline miles or hotel points, you have to figure out the value of the travel received in order to understand how much each point or mile is worth. For example, if you have to redeem 40,000 Hilton hotel points for a free night in a hotel that charges $200 a night, then you know those points are only worth a half a cent each.
Another part of determining the worth of airline miles or hotel points is understanding how flexible the rewards program is. A card like The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express allows you to transfer your points to miles with different airlines. This allows you to take advantage of the best offers available from several different frequent flyer programs. If you are skilled at redeeming frequent flyer miles, these kinds of reward points may be the most valuable to you. But, be wary of free flights — an airline may claim to offer award flights for a reasonable amount of miles, but the miles aren’t worth much if you can never find a flight for that price.
Are there other fees?
Most credit cards still impose foreign transaction fees on all charges processed outside of the United States, typically around 3%. So, even if a credit card offered rewards worth 2% of spending, having to pay a 3% foreign transaction fee would outweigh the value of the rewards earned, so it makes no sense to use a card like that outside of the US. Fortunately, a growing number of credit cards no longer impose this unnecessary fee, including some of the top travel reward cards including the Discover it® Miles and the JetBlue Card.
What features and benefits are included?
Finally, you need to consider the other travel features and benefits offered by these cards. All credit cards now have EMV smart chips that use the Chip and Signature system. But some are also compatible with the Chip and PIN protocol that can be required at some unattended card readers overseas, including those at subway stations, toll booths, and gas stations. Other helpful travel benefits to look for include baggage insurance, which compensates you for losses the airlines don’t cover, and a travel assistance hotline that provides legal or medical referrals, which can be especially helpful when traveling internationally.
The Best Travel Credit Cards With No Annual Fee
Best for Redeeming Reward Points
One of the hallmarks of premium travel reward cards with high annual fees is the ability to transfer your rewards to frequent flyer miles with a variety of different airlines, typically at a 1:1 ratio. (This means that one Membership Rewards point can be transferred to one mile with airlines like Delta, Air Canada, or Hawaiian — although some airlines, like JetBlue or British Airways, require 250 points to receive 200 miles, which works out to a transfer ratio of 1.25:1.)
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is the only card that offers these rewards with no annual fee. This card is ideal for travelers who participate in several frequent flyer programs rather than being loyal to a single one. The Membership Rewards program offers 17 different airline transfer partners including Delta, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Air Canada, and Virgin America. When you transfer your points to miles, and redeem them for expensive last-minute flights or reservations in business or first class, then it’s possible to receive several cents in value per point redeemed. Let’s say you transfer 110,000 points to miles with Air Canada for a round-trip business class ticket to Italy. If that ticket is worth $5,000, you received over 4.5 cents per point redeemed. You can also redeem points for about one cent each toward gift cards, merchandise, and reservations booked through American Express Travel.
With The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, you can earn double points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x) and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. In addition, when you make 20 or more transactions during your billing period, you can receive a 20% bonus on the points you’ve earned.
Unfortunately, the travel benefits offered by this card are somewhat minimal, but it does include car rental loss and damage insurance, travel accident insurance, and a Global Assist Hotline. This card does have a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so it’s not best for spending while traveling internationally.
Best Cardholder Benefits
Finding the right travel credit card is about more than just points and miles; it’s also about having access to cardholder benefits and receiving excellent customer service too. The Discover it® Miles card offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, and miles are worth one cent each as statement credits toward any travel purchase. You can redeem your Discover miles for airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and tours. Also, at the end of your first year as a cardmember, Discover will match all of the rewards you’ve received.
But most importantly, Discover is known for its customer-friendly policies that include a waiver of your first late payment fee, no penalty interest rate, and no foreign transaction fees. Finally, Discover offers 100% US-based customer service. It’s the kind of service that turns many of its cardholders into so-called raving fans.
Best No-Fee Airline Card
When the JetBlue Card (offer no longer available) was first introduced in 2016, it was clear this no-fee card wanted to offer a competitive frequent flyer card, not just a bare-bones option with no annual fee. This card offers you three points per dollar spent with JetBlue, double points for all restaurant and grocery store purchases, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. This makes it a great choice for fans of JetBlue, especially those that live near one of its hubs like New York, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, and Los Angeles/Long Beach.
Points are earned in JetBlue’s TrueBlue frequent flyer program and can be redeemed for JetBlue-operated flights with no blackout dates. In general, points are worth about 1 to 1.5 cents each toward any seat on any JetBlue flight. I priced a trip from New York to Costa Rica next spring for a total of 43,700 points (and $75 in taxes), or $704. This works out to over 1.4 cents in value. This is a strong rate of return compared to other airline cards with no annual fee, especially those that only offer one point or mile per dollar spent.
Other benefits include a 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases including cocktails, food, and movies. Finally, this card is equipped with an EMV smart chip that’s compatible with both Chip and Signature and Chip and PIN terminals — to ensure acceptance anywhere. And thankfully, this card has no foreign transaction fees.
Best No-Fee Hotel Card
Like no-fee airline cards, there aren’t very many cards that offer hotel points without an annual fee. The Hilton Honors Card from American Express is one of those cards and it offers 7x points for spending at Hilton hotels; 5x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and 3x for all other purchases. Certainly, each Hilton point is not worth as much as a point with some other hotel programs. A free night at a mid-range Hilton property might require 30,000 – 40,000 points, but you might only need 12,000 – 15,000 points for a free night award at a similar property in the Hyatt or Starwood brands. To make up for this disparity, this card offers multiple points per dollar on all purchases.
Hilton also offers free night awards for any unsold room with no blackout dates or capacity controls. And when cardholders redeem four free nights, their fifth night is free. All of which makes this an excellent card for those who are fans of Hilton properties and others who prefer hotel points to other forms of travel rewards — think of it like a store credit card that offers rewards that can only be used at that store.
This card also comes with an impressive number of cardholder benefits. You immediately start with Hilton Honors Silver status, which offers perks such as a 15% elite status bonus on your base points earned and late check-outs. You can earn Gold Status when you spend $20,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year. It features a 25% bonus, complimentary internet service, and even free breakfast.
Other cardholder benefits include a baggage insurance plan and a roadside assistance hotline. Unfortunately, this card also has a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so it’s best used for making charges in the United States.
When you are looking for the best travel credit cards with no annual fee, you have to decide what kind of rewards you want to earn. There are cards that offer travel statement credits, cards that offer rewards with airlines or hotels, and even cards that offer flexible rewards that can be transferred to various travel partners. Ultimately, you need to decide which type of travel rewards matches with your spending habits, so you can reap the most travel benefits.
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