What’s the Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for Military Personnel?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Rather B tweeted:

What’s the best first no annual fee card for my military son?  Bag fees aren’t an issue.  But $3,000 minimum spending to get the sign-up bonus may be hard.

Thank you for the question, Rather B.  And thanks to your son for his service!

American Express cards are a good pick if you are in a similar situation.  That’s because American Express will waive credit card fees for members of the military, like late fees and over-limit fees!

What's The Best No Annual Fee Credit Card For Military Personnel

To Our US Military, American Express Has You Covered

I’ll explain how military personnel can avoid annual fees.  And suggest other credit card options, too!

Choose the Right Points and Miles for Your Needs

For military personnel who are just beginning to build credit, the AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card or Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express are solid choices, because you don’t necessarily need a long credit history to be approved.

But with Chase’s new rules for approving credit card applications, it’s also not a bad idea to apply for Chase cards FIRST, like the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited℠.  Because if you’ve applied for ~5+ cards from any bank (except these business cards) in the past 24 months, it’s unlikely you’ll be approved for most Chase cards.

Consider Your Home Airport

It can be difficult to know which miles & points you should collect for your trip, especially if you’re new to our hobby.  The key is knowing which airlines serve your home airport!  Then you can decide which credit cards will earn the points that will be the most valuable to you.

What's The Best No Annual Fee Credit Card For Military Personnel

Knowing Which Airlines Serve Your Area Will Help You Decide Which Miles & Points to Collect

For example:

  • Dallas / Fort Worth is a major American Airlines hub
  • Washington Dulles is a major United Airlines hub
  • Atlanta is a major Delta hub

Most credit cards with big sign-up bonuses have a minimum spending requirement of at least $3,000 in 3 months.  But there are plenty of ways to reach that minimum spending that you might not have considered, like:

If you have an effective strategy for reaching minimum spending, lots of great credit card sign-up bonuses can become more accessible to you!

If you’re new to this hobby, and aren’t sure of your travel goals yet, consider collecting transferable points first.

By collecting transferable points, like American Express Membership Rewards points or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer your points to dozens of different travel rewards programs!

Folks in the Military Can Get Credit Card Fees Waived!

American Express will waive credit card fees under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).  This is a federal law designed to financially protect active duty military.

What's The Best No Annual Fee Credit Card For Military Personnel

The SCRA Helps Military Personnel Stay Focused on Their Duty Instead of Worrying About Finances Back Home

You can get your fees waived by calling the number on the back of your American Express card.  Tell them you are a military member and ask them to waive annual fees under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Some folks say this works for both reserve duty and military spouses, too!

It could take a few months before your annual fees are waived.  I’d recommend you start the process several months before your annual fees are due.

Note:   Banks may also lower other fees, like interest rates, and retroactively credit your account with the fees you paid during active duty!  Folks report being credited for thousands of dollars!  One reader even reported that she was credited for lower interest rates on cards that she had closed.

Via The Military Frequent Flyer, other banks are reported to waive credit card fees, too, such as:

But the success rates with those banks seems to be lower than with American Express.

What Are the Best Options?

Link:   AMEX EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

Link:   AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

Link:   Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Link:   Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

To be approved for the BEST travel credit cards, you need established credit.  But there are great starter credit cards out there, too!  Here are my top choices for military members trying to build credit.

AMEX EveryDay Credit Card

With the AMEX EveryDay Credit Card, you will earn 10,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 on purchases with your new Card in the first 3 months.

Plus, you’ll earn a $25 statement credit when you make a $25+ purchase at NewEgg in the first 3 months, and get a complimentary year of Newegg Premier Membership (free shipping).

You’ll also earn:

  • 2 AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 at US supermarkets up to $6,000 a year
  • 1 AMEX Membership Rewards point per $1 on other purchases
  • Terms and Limitations Apply

Plus, when you use your Card 20+ times on purchases in a billing period, you’ll get 20% more points on those purchases less returns & credits!

The card has no annual fee, so it’s a great starter card even if you aren’t in the military.  Here’s my review of my card.

AMEX EveryDay Preferred Credit Card

The AMEX EveryDay Preferred Credit Card has an incredible rewards earning rate (as long as you live within the US).  You’ll earn 15,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

You’ll also get:

  • 3 points per $1 at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 2 points per $1 at US gas stations
  • 1 point per $1 on other purchases
  • Terms and Conditions apply

And when you use your Card 30+ times on purchases in a billing period, you’ll get 50% more points on those purchases!

The AMEX EveryDay Preferred has a $95 annual fee, but military members can get it waived.  You can read my review of the card here.

AMEX Blue Cash Everyday Card

Another great no-annual-fee option is the Blue Cash Everyday Card, but only for folks who are serving in the US.  Because the bonus categories only include US supermarkets, gas stations, and department stores.

The Blue Cash Everyday Card has a simple rewards system.  You’ll earn $100 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.  And you can earn up to an additional $200 back by getting 5% back on the first $4,000 in travel purchases made with your card in the first 6 months of account opening

You’ll also earn:

  • 3% cash back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 2% at US gas stations and select US department stores
  • 1% on all other purchases
  • Terms and Conditions apply

AMEX Blue Cash Preferred

The AMEX Blue Cash Preferred earns a higher cash back rate than the AMEX Blue Cash Everyday Card, but comes with a $95 annual fee.

You’ll earn:

  • $150 back (as a statement credit) after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months
  • Up to an additional $200 back by getting 5% back on the first $4,000 in travel purchases made with your card in the first 6 months of account opening
  • 6% cash back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 3% cash back at US gas stations & select U.S. department stores
  • Terms and Conditions apply

After you have established a longer credit history, you can apply for more premium cards like the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card or The Platinum Card® from American Express.

They have great travel benefits, and earn American Express Membership Rewards points, which you can transfer to valuable airline partners, like Delta and Singapore Airlines.  You can also transfer points to hotels like Hilton and Starwood.

What's The Best No Annual Fee Credit Card For Military Personnel

Singapore Airlines Has One of the Greatest In-Flight Experiences in the World!

Note:    You can only earn the sign-up bonus on American Express cards once per lifetime.  So make sure to check your American Express account or the CardMatch tool for a possible higher sign-up bonus targeted to you!  I want you get to the most points you can, even if I don’t earn a commission!

What If You Can’t Get Your Annual Fee Waived?

Link:   Chase Freedom®

Link:   Chase Freedom Unlimited℠

Link:   Discover It

Link:   Discover It Miles

Like a lot of things in the points and miles world, your results may vary when you call to request your waived annual fee with banks other than American Express.

What's The Best No Annual Fee Credit Card For Military Personnel

Try Calling a Few Times With Different Agents Before Calling It Quits

If you can’t find an agent from another bank to waive your credit card fees, or if you just prefer not to deal with the hassle of calling, there are still several great no-annual fee cards to choose from!

Chase Freedom & Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited are similar cards with the same sign-up bonus and no annual fee!

They earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points which you can transfer to travel partners if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Ink Bold (no longer available).

With both cards, you’ll:

Get a $150 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Plus, with the Chase Freedom you’ll earn:

  • 2,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards bonus points ($25) when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months of opening your account
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate.  Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants, and wholesale clubs.  Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

And with the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you’ll earn:

  • 2,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards bonus points ($25) when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months of opening your account
  • 1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1.5% cash back) per $1 you spend on all purchases with NO limit

The Chase Freedom Unlimited does NOT have bonus categories, but gets a higher return on non-bonus spending.

Discover It

Now is an excellent time to sign up for Discover cards.  That’s because if you’re a new cardholder, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year for new cardmembers only.  Including cash back earned through the Discover shopping portal! 

The Discover It card comes with:

  • $50 cash back after your first purchase within the first 3 months of opening your account
  • 5% cash back on certain rotating categories each quarter when you activate the bonus (matched at the end of your first year for new cardholders, so effectively 10%)
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases (matched at the end of your first year for new cardholders, so effectively 2%)

You can get additional discounts through Discover Deals and there are NO foreign transaction fees!

What's The Best No Annual Fee Credit Card For Military Personnel

$20 in Discover Cash Will Get You a $40 Gift Card With National!

Just remember, Discover cards are not as widely accepted as other cards, especially outside the US.

Bottom Line

Thanks to all our military for your service!

Folks in the military can get their American Express (and possibly other issuers) credit card fees waived by calling the number on the back of their card.  Tell them you are a military member and ask them to waive annual fees under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

It can be difficult at first to know which miles & points you should collect for your trip.  Make sure you know the airlines that serve your home airport.

For military personnel who are just beginning to build credit, I recommend the AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card or Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.  That’s because you don’t need a long credit history to be approved.

But because Chase has tightened their credit card approval rules, it’s a good idea to apply for Chase cards FIRST.  The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited are great no-annual-fee options from Chase.

And these 2 cards become much more valuable after you build your credit enough to qualify for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus.  Because they allow you to transfer the points you earn to great travel partners!

Have you had your credit card fees waived because of your military status?  We’d love to hear from you!

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Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

3 responses to “What’s the Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for Military Personnel?

  1. As a current military member I would first suggest Amex followed closely by Barclay. Barclay has the edge in my book as they reduce the APR to 0% for those folks that carry balances (never recommended of course). Amex has a larger portfolio of great cards (Platinum, PRG, SPG, Everyday) while Barclay’s is a bit smaller (Arrival, Jet Blue, Aviator). Either way, both banks do suppress the annual fees of all cards associated with the military member.
    Chase is the most difficult and I have seen very few people get SCRA benefits applied unless they had the Chase cards or loans prior to joining the military.
    Capital One was also very easy for me to get my fees suppressed. All of the fees I had paid on these cards were also refunded to me in the form of a statement credit.

  2. Chase does NOT offer any benefits for Active Duty military…or any benefits except in “rare” cases as another reader mentioned.
    …and how many “kids” are coming into the military With “existing” Chase credit card debt?? Not many!

    Another point, Chase will NEVER waive annual fees the way AMEX, Barclay’s, & Capital One so easily do. I literally have AMEX cards with $450 annual fees that AMEX waives for me & my spouse.

    Regarding AMEX extending annual fee waivers to spouses; AMEX changed their policy & now only does this if you live in a “community property” state. We found this out during an annual review of military eligibility that AMEX does every few years to make sure you are still IN the military.

    The simple way around this for spouses annual fees is to add the active duty member as an authorized user and AMEX will extend the annual fee waiver to that card.

    You are correct about AMEX giving past paid annual fees back…one military friend of mine got over 10 years worth of annual fees reimbursed….over $1,000!!

    AMEX, Barclay’s, & Capital One are the best cards for military personnel.

  3. Hey, this is Andy from Military Frequent Flyer (Thanks for the mention Daraius!). I agree wholeheartedly with Kevin P. above; Amex, Barclay, and CapOne will readily waive your annual fees even if you’ve acquired the cards after entering active duty. Chase will on rare occasions (and I still haven’t figured out why it sometimes does), but most of the time they’ll only waive them if you got them before you activated. Citi, US Bank, and BoA will only waive them if you got the card before active duty. I also agree with Daraius that you should get the Chase card before any other the others.

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