Updated on Apr 1, 2020

Best Travel Credit Cards With No Annual Fee

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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. Traditionally, these types of rewards have been reserved for the top cards with an annual fee.

Summary

The Best Travel Credit Cards With No Annual Fee of 2020

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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.

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.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.

Best Travel Credit Cards With No Annual Fee

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.

Best No Annual Fee Hotel Card

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Best No Annual Fee Hotel Credit Card

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Rewards Summary 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points
Redeem for... Rewards and experiences

Current Offer 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points
Annual Fee $0 (See Rates & Fees)
Highlights Provided by American Express Show Highlights
  • Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Honors portfolio of brands.
  • Earn 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees. Enjoy international travel without additional fees on purchases made abroad.
  • Enjoy complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status with your Card. Plus, spend $20,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn an upgrade to Hilton Honors Gold status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
  • Issuer: American Express
  • Annual Fee: $0 (See Rates & Fees)
  • Balance Transfer Fee: N/A
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 15.74% - 24.74% Variable (See Rates & Fees)
  • Penalty APR: 29.24% Variable

Like no annual fee airline cards, there aren’t very many cards that offer hotel points without an annual fee. The Hilton Honors American Express Card is one of those cards with no annual fee (See Rates & Fees) 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.

Best No Annual Fee Airline Card

When the JetBlue Card (offer no longer available) was first introduced in 2016, it was clear this no annual 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.

The Bottom Line

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.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Card, please click here.
Please Note: Information about the Discover it® Miles have been collected independently by TheSimpleDollar.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

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