It’s true that the best travel cards typically have annual fees — some running $95, $450 or more each year.
Luckily, you can get a great travel card without the hassle of paying an annual fee. Many card providers want your business, and they’re willing to offer attractive travel benefits to get it.
We took a look at all travel credit cards with no annual fee and features such as rewards rate, signup bonus, intro APR and additional perks. Then, we selected the credit cards with the best combination of benefits for travel.
You can no longer apply for the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card. PenFed says a revamped version of the card is in the works.
Also, last year’s best card for hotels Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card has removed the massive miles earned on hotels booked via Hotels.com, which makes it less appealing than competitor cards.
This year, Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card appeared on our list as the best for flat rewards as it earns more miles on all purchases than the Capital One card. We’ve also added another category — best card for airlines.
Best travel credit cards with no annual fee
While comparing these products, consider your spending habits. If a card’s bonus-rewards categories match with your shopping style, you may have found an effective travel card.
Quick look at travel credit cards with no annual fee
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card is one of the best travel credit cards because you get 1.5x points on all purchases, you get to earn a solid signup bonus, and you won't pay foreign transaction fees abroad.
Rewards points. Earn unlimited 1.5x points on all of your purchases. Redeem points for statement credit toward flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, baggage fees and more.
Signup bonus. Earn 25,000 bonus points, worth around $250, after you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days of card membership.
No foreign transaction fees. Use this card freely abroad or online at foreign merchants and you won't pay any foreign transaction fees. As a Visa card, it's also widely accepted worldwide.
0% intro for the first 12 statement closing dates (then 14.99% to 22.99% variable)
Balance transfer APR
14.99% to 22.99% variable
25,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
1.5x points on all purchases
Best for a welcome offer and co-branded hotel card
The Hilton Honors American Express Card welcome offer and accelerated rewards on Hilton properties and everyday purchases makes it a strong travel credit card.
Rewards. Earn 7x Hilton Honors points when you make eligible purchases at a property in the Hilton Portfolio. Earn 5x points at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations. Earn 3x points on other eligible purchases.
Welcome offer. 75,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months.
Complimentary Silver status in the Hilton Honors program. Enjoy in-room and lobby Wi-Fi, late checkout, a 20% Base Point bonus, Elite Rollover Nights and the 5th Standard Reward Night Free when you book five consecutive nights at the same property with all points and more.
15.74% to 24.74% variable
Balance transfer APR
75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
You might be surprised to see this card on this list. But it's a legit travel pick, offering accelerated rewards on hotels, airfare and dining. You'll earn even more rewards on Uber, Uber Eats and JUMP spending.
Rewards. Earn 5% back in Uber Cash on Uber, Uber Eats and JUMP spending. Earn 3% back in Uber Cash on hotel, airfare, restaurant and bar spending, and 1% back on all other spending.
Signup bonus. $100 in Uber Cash after spending $500 in the first 90 days.
Mobile phone protection. Pay your cell phone bill with your card, and you'll receive up to $600 in phone protection against damage or theft.
15.74%, 21.74% or 26.49% variable
Balance transfer APR
15.74%, 21.74% or 26.49% variable
$100 Uber Cash after spending $500 in the first 90 days
5% back in Uber Cash on Uber, Uber Eats and JUMP
3% back on dining, hotels and airfare
1% back on all other purchases
The Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card comes with a non-standard signup bonus where you can double all miles earned during your first year. If you're a large spender, the bonus miles you earn can be bigger than the signup bonus on more premium cards.
Mile match. At the end of the year, Discover will match the miles you earn for the entire year. For example, if you earn 35,000 miles on your purchases, Discover will match it with additional 35,000 miles.
Reward miles. Earn 1.5x miles on all of your purchases. Redeem miles for electronic bank deposits or statement credit toward flights and hotel stays.
Intro APR period on purchases. Get 14 months of 0% intro APR period on purchases. After the intro period passes, your rate reverts to 11.99% to 22.99% variable.
0% intro for the first 14 months (then 11.99% to 22.99% variable)
Balance transfer APR
10.99% intro for the first 14 months (then 11.99% to 22.99% variable)
Discover will match miles earned at the end of your first card year
1.5x miles on all purchases
How to choose the best travel credit cards with no annual fee
How important are rewards to you? This is one of the key factors travelers usually consider when comparing travel cards. If you’re looking at a tiered-rewards card, check if your spending lines up with the card’s bonus categories. You’ll accumulate rewards faster this way. If you want a greater earning rate, you’ll likely need to look at cards with annual fees.
Do you want a large signup bonus? A signup bonus is an excellent benefit from a no-annual-fee card, as it’s all upside. Plus, you can find cards with low spend requirements. bonuses between cards and consider how you might use them.
Consider what you want to use your rewards on. If you’re sure you want to use your rewards for a certain loyalty program, you might like a cobranded card. For example, the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card can be useful, but you must use your points through American Airlines’ rewards portal.
Are you making any large purchases soon? Generally, travel cards with intro APRs can be few and far between, which is why you might want to pay special attention to a card that has one. An intro APR on purchases or balance transfers can give you a helpful break from interest.
Look at the Travel perks. A card’s travel perks can amount to hundreds of dollars in value if used correctly. Travel cards with no annual fee tend to have fewer travel perks, but you can still find plenty of no annual fee cards with worthwhile travel features.
Do you need additional cards?. A travel card that offers free cards for authorized users can often let you double up on a card’s perks and rewards.
Frequent flyer picks
If you’re a frequent flyer on a particular airline, you might like one of these cards.
United℠ TravelBank Card. Earn 2% in TravelBank cash on tickets purchased from United. Earn $150 in TravelBank cash on all other purchases. Earn in TravelBank cash after you make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months card membership. Get a 25% discount in the form of statement credit on in-flight food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases.
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card. Earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and at grocery stores. Earn 1x miles on all other purchases. Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles and a statement credit after you make $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of card membership. Get a 25% discount in the form of statement credit on in-flight food and beverage purchases.
The information about American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card has been collected independently by Finder and and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer.
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card. Earn 2x miles on Delta purchases and at restaurants worldwide. Earn 1x miles on all other eligible purchases. Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you make $500 in purchases within 3 months of your account opening. Get a 20% discount in the form of statement credit on in-flight food, beverage and audio-headset purchases. As of January 30, 2020, the card has no foreign transaction fees. It also qualifies you for Pay with Miles fares, which lets you reduce your dollar-based fare cost with SkyMiles.
Getting the most out of a no-annual-fee travel card
Scoop up the signup bonus. No-annual-fee cards typically have lower spend requirements to obtain their signup bonuses. Plan out your spending over the spend window so you get the bonus. This will give you a burst of points or miles you can put toward great travel redemptions.
Earn rewards. Your card may offer accelerated rewards in certain categories. If that’s the case, use your card more for those spending areas. For non-bonus categories, a flat-rate cashback card might be useful.
Use extra perks. If your card offers benefits like travel credits or elite status in loyalty programs, take advantage of them when you can.
Is a no annual fee travel card right for me?
These cards are for travelers who want to earn travel points with a credit card but don’t want to pay an annual fee for the service. They can also be a good starting point when you are new to travel programs or credit cards because they give you a chance to test the waters without paying any upfront costs.
However, if you’re a big spender, a travel card with an annual fee and a higher earn rate could give you more value than the savings you’d get from a $0 annual fee.
Compare travel cards with no annual fee
Want the benefits of a travel card but don’t want to pay a large annual fee?
Travel cards are a very competitive space, and there are plenty of no-annual-fee products that offer excellent travel benefits.
Look for a card that offers bonus rewards for your preferred spending categories. Pay attention to signup bonuses, too, as they can give you an attractive burst of initial rewards. If finding a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees is more important to you than travel benefits, no-annual-fee and no-foreign-fee cards.
This depends on what you need. Annual-fee travel cards tend to have stronger signup bonuses, more powerful rewards and superior travel benefits. But it doesn’t always make sense to pay for a travel card, especially if you don’t spend or travel often.
It usually takes several weeks before a signup bonus shows up in your account. With some providers, you should allow six to eight weeks. Other providers ask that you allow eight to 12 weeks.
You’ll have a better chance of approval with a good to excellent credit score of 670 or higher.
Kevin Joey Chen is a credit cards writer whose work and analysis have appeared on CNN, U.S. News & World Report, The Dallas Morning News, Lifehacker and CreditCards.com. He's passionate about helping you get your finances in order and expertly navigate the cutting-edge financial tools available -- including credit cards, apps and budgeting software.
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