The best no annual fee credit cards
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New to miles and points (or credit cards in general) and trying to understand why any sucker would pay an annual fee just for the privilege of using a credit card, especially when there are so many free credit cards on the market? That’s a phase we’ve all gone through. And while the best credit cards for travel do have annual fees, there are also plenty of worthwhile no-annual-fee credit cards.
You may be surprised, but many no-annual-fee cards earn more points than some cards with high annual fees, though they have fewer amazing benefits. That makes them great complements to your powerhouse travel credit cards. Plus, certain no-annual-fee cards have phenomenal welcome bonuses. For example, you can earn $750 cash back when you apply for the Ink Business Cash Credit Card and meet minimum spending requirements. This is an excellent deal for a card with no annual fee.
Below are our picks for the best no-annual-fee credit cards. The best card for your wallet depends on your finances and travel goals.
Best no annual fee credit cards
|Credit Card||Best for||Bonus|
|Chase Freedom Flex℠||Rotating cash back categories||$200 (20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||Everyday purchases||$200 (20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (see rates & fees)||Ongoing grocery purchases at U.S. supermarkets||$200 cash back after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening. Cash back rewarded in the form of statement credits.|
|Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||Foodies||$200 cash bonus when you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||Simplest credit card||No welcome bonus|
|Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card||Hotel stays||30,000 Marriott points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening|
|American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card||American Airlines miles||10,000 American Airlines miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Cell phone insurance||20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within the first 3 months|
|Citi Rewards+® Card||Citi ThankYou points collectors||15,000 Citi ThankYou points when you open the Citi Rewards+ Card and spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account|
|Ink Business Cash Credit Card||Small businesses||$750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
Deep dive into the top no annual fee cards
Best for everyday purchases
With this card, you earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
If you’ve got a Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning card with an annual fee (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve) and you find that the card isn’t worth its fee any longer, you can downgrade it to a no annual fee card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited. That way, you can keep your credit line, your card number and your credit history!
You earn 1.5% cash back (1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar) on purchases with no limit. As with the Chase Freedom, you can combine the points you earn with other eligible Chase cards, which will save you a ton of money on travel. If you don’t want to bother with rotating bonus categories, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is a great way to earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
This is one of the top five cards I’m currently using. I usually take this card out to pay if another card in my wallet doesn’t earn me a bonus for the purchase. Earning 1.5 points per dollar doesn’t sound impressive, but this is a fantastic card for any daily spending that occurs outside of your other cards’ bonus categories.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited card bonus and earning rate is modest, but it absolutely belongs in the wallet of any serious Chase Ultimate Rewards points collector. And a bonus worth (at least) $200 is good for a card with no annual fee. Read our Chase Freedom Unlimited review.
Best for rotating 5% cash-back categories
When you apply for the Chase Freedom Flex, you’ll earn $200 (20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
If you have the Chase Freedom card, you can take advantage of the Chase Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection. That’ll earn you the following perks when booking at select hotels:
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Special benefit unique to each hotel (i.e. hotel credit, etc.)
- Free daily breakfast for two
- Early check-in (if available)
- Late check-out (if available)
- Room upgrade (if available)
Chase Freedom Flex℠ is one of the top no-annual-fee cards because you can earn 5% cash back (5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar) on up to $1,500 in spending in rotating categories each quarter when you activate the bonus. If you spend the maximum each quarter, you can earn $300 in bonus cash back during the year.
On their own, you can only redeem the points you earn with the Freedom card for 1 cent each for cash back or toward travel. However, Chase points value increases if you have cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. When you have one, you can combine your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to those cards for redemptions, such as those with Chase transfer partners.
If your only Chase Ultimate Rewards points-earning card is the Chase Freedom Flex, you’ll earn a return of 5 cents per dollar when spending in bonus categories. However, depending on which other Chase Ultimate Rewards points cards you have, you can redeem those points through the Chase Travel Portal for up to 1.5 cents each. That means you can receive a return of up to 7.5 cents per dollar toward travel. Read our Chase Freedom Flex review.
Best for grocery purchases
The current welcome bonus for Amex Blue Cash Everyday is $200 cash back after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening. Cash back rewarded in the form of statement credits.
Along with this solid welcome offer, cardholders will earn (terms apply):
- 3 % cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1%)
- 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
- 1% back on all other eligible purchases
Those are good bonus categories — categories that most people regularly spend in. Which can translate into some decent cash back.
The Amex Blue Cash Everyday comes with benefits and perks like a complimentary ShopRunner membership, extended warranty protection, return protection and more. Plus, you’ll be eligible for money-saving discounts through Amex Offers, which can save you hundreds per year.
You can read more about the card in our Amex Blue Cash Everyday review.
Simplest no-annual-fee cash back credit card
Unfortunately, the Citi Double Cash comes with no bonus. It’s worth noting that the card has offered one in the past. We’ll let you know if it has one again. In the meantime, this is still hands down one of the best cash back cards on the market.
This card earns more cashback than most no annual fee cards. But you can also convert your cashback into points and transfer them to valuable airline partners if you also have a qualifying Citi ThankYou points earning card. In other words, you can use your rewards for straight cash back, or you can redeem them for award flights on airlines like Turkish Airlines, Avianca, Flying Blue (the loyalty program of KLM and Air France), and more.
The Citi Double Cash earns the easiest rewards to use — cash. You won’t have to worry about award seats or blackout dates when redeeming your cash, and you don’t need to pay attention to complicated rotating bonus categories, either. The card offers a total of up to 2% cash back — You’ll receive 1% when you make a purchase, and 1% when you pay your bill. For example, if you use your card to buy a $700 TV, you would earn $7 cash back for swiping your card at the store. Then, when you pay off your $700 balance, you’d earn another $7 cash back. That’s it!
Earning 1% cash back for purchases and 1% cash back for paying your balance is great. There are quite a few credit cards with $95 annual fees that earn a flat 2% back, after all.
There is no cap on the amount of cashback you can earn, so if you use your card for, say, $700 of non-bonus spending each month, you’ll be sitting on $168 at the end of each year. And if you have other Citi ThankYou points earning cards with annual fees, you could convert those points into airline miles and take a fun trip! It costs just 15,000 Turkish Airlines miles to fly round-trip to Hawaii. Read our Citi Double Cash Card review.
Best for foodies
With the Capital One SavorOne, you can earn a $200 cash bonus when you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.
You can downgrade the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card to this card if you decide you’re not getting enough value from the card’s $95 annual fee.
The Capital One SavorOne earns:
- 3% cash back on dining (like restaurants, cafes, bars, lounges, fast-food chains and bakeries) and entertainment (including movie theaters, sports events, theatrical promoters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, aquariums, zoos, dance halls, record stores, pool halls or bowling alleys)
- 2% cash back at grocery stores (supermarkets, meat lockers, freezers, dairy product stores and specialty markets; superstores like Walmart and Target are excluded)
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
The Capital One SavorOne is in a very small league of no-annual-fee cards that earn up to 3% cash back — in some amazingly broad categories, as you can see above. If you’re into dining and entertainment, you’ll make out like a bandit with this card.
Travelers spend a lot in the bonus categories of this card. If you’re anything like me, you’re eating out constantly. A no-annual-fee card that can go toe-to-toe with many annual-fee credit cards in our favorite spending categories is a white whale.
The information for the Capital One Savor card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Best no-annual-fee hotel credit card
When you open the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card, you’ll receive 30,000 Marriott points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
This card offers 15 elite night credits each calendar year. That means if you’re trying to attain Marriott elite status, you’ll automatically be 15 nights closer. Pair this card with the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, and you’ll receive 30 elite night credits each year between both cards!
- 3 Marriott points per dollar spent at participating Marriott hotels
- 2 Marriott points per dollar spent on travel
- 1 Marriott point per dollar spent on all other purchases
This no-annual-fee card even comes with travel benefits like trip-delay reimbursement, baggage-delay insurance and lost-luggage reimbursement.
It is, however, affected by the Chase 5/24 rule. So if you’ve opened five or more cards from any bank (except certain business cards) in the past 24 months, you won’t be approved for the card. There are some other rules you should know about before applying, so check out this post on the Marriott Bonvoy Bold card to learn more.
These rewards are surprisingly versatile. Not only can you use Marriott points to stay at 7,000+ locations around the world but you can also transfer your points to airlines at a 3:1 ratio and book free flights to your favorite destinations. The flexibility increases Marriott points value for every miles and points enthusiast.
Best for American Airlines miles
The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is a no-annual-fee card that comes with a bonus of 10,000 American Airlines miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Current Citi American Airlines cardholders should know that the MileUp card is exempt from the welcome-bonus restrictions on other Citi American Airlines credit cards. This means you are more likely to be eligible for this offer. Applying for the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card can give your frequent flyer account a nice boost without having to add another annual-fee card to your wallet.
The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp card also offers bonuses for everyday purchases. You’ll earn:
- 2 American Airlines miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases
- 2 American Airlines miles per $1 at grocery stores, including eligible grocery delivery services
- 1 American Airlines mile per $1 for all other purchases
And cardholders save 25% on inflight purchases of drinks or snacks when they use the card on American Airlines flights.
This is a good card for anyone who is timid about entering the miles-and-points hobby. There’s no risk because there’s no annual fee, and though the miles you earn are great, they’re not the only incentive to open the card. The $50 statement credit alone is a bigger welcome bonus than many no-annual-fee credit cards.
American Airlines miles value can be crazy high, but it can just as easily be very disappointing. There is no AA award chart, but flights start for as little as 5,000 miles. American Airlines publishes a fare called “Economy Web Special,” where they release sale fares to random destinations. Sometimes, they’re really good. We’ve seen 5,000-mile transcontinental flights for only 5,000 miles with some frequency. Read our Citi American Airlines MileUp review.
Best for cell phone insurance
The Amex Wells Fargo Propel earns 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. That’s worth $200 in cash redemption value.
Wells Fargo is a less popular card issuer in the miles and points world. Many of us have opened lots of cards from more popular banks, so this is an especially good card if you’ve exhausted most of your options with Chase, Citi, Amex, etc.
The best benefit of this card is its cell phone protection. As long as you pay your monthly cell phone bill with this card, you can receive up to $600 in protection (with a $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft. That’s astounding for a no annual fee credit card.
You’ll also receive 3 points per dollar on popular streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Apple Music, Spotify and more.
If you pay for cell phone insurance, opening this card could save you hundreds each year. Since this card doesn’t have an annual fee, it’s like subscribing to absolutely free insurance.
You’ll receive at least $210 in benefits from the first year (welcome bonus plus the points you’ll earn completing the spending requirement). If you subscribe to even a couple of subscriptions each month, you’ll likely earn 60 points per month with this card.
Best for Citi ThankYou points collectors
You’ll earn 15,000 Citi ThankYou points when you open the Citi Rewards+ Card and spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.
You’ll receive a 10% rebate when you redeem Citi ThankYou points (for the first 100,000 points you redeem each year). In other words, if you have a card that allows you to transfer ThankYou points to airlines or purchase travel through the Citi ThankYou travel portal, you’ll get a 10% rebate.
- 2 ThankYou points per dollar at supermarkets and gas stations (for the first $6,000 per year, then 1 ThankYou point per dollar)
- 1 ThankYou point per dollar on everything else
Also, when you make a purchase, the card will round up to the nearest 10 points — if you make a $7 non-bonus purchase, you’ll earn 10 points.
This is a great intro card to earn Citi ThankYou points. But it’s also a great complement to other, more powerful cards that earn Citi ThankYou points.
Leaving aside this card’s welcome bonus, you could save $100 or more (see how to calculate Citi ThankYou points value) per year in points if you redeem 100,000 Citi ThankYou points each year. That’s easy to do if you’ve got other Citi ThankYou points-earning credit cards. Read our Citi Rewards Card review.
Best no-annual-fee small business credit card
With the highest-ever Ink Business Cash welcome bonus, you’ll earn $750 cash back after spending $7,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
This card’s bonus categories are more generous than any Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning card with an annual fee. If you spend a lot on certain small business purchases, this card is an absolute no-brainer — more so than even the fanciest travel credit cards.
It also comes with:
- 5% cash back (5x Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office-supply stores and on phone, internet, and cable TV services each account anniversary year
- 2% cash back (2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
- 1% cash back (1x Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on all other purchases
- Primary car rental insurance when renting for business purposes. It covers damage from collision or theft to your rental car when you pay with your Chase Ink Business Cash card, or secondary coverage when renting for personal reasons
One MMS team member has kept his Ink Business Cash card for many years because he earns 5% cash back on his monthly internet bill and 2% cash back at restaurants. Those are fantastic benefits for a no-annual-fee card.
Earning $500 in cash from a card with no annual fee is an unbelievable deal. But remember, you’re actually earning 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, so your points will be worth much more if you have cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred. For example, you could transfer 50,000 points to United Airlines for a round-trip flight to Peru. Read our Ink Business Cash credit card review.
How we choose the best no-annual-fee credit cards
The current bonus offer: Some bonuses are very generous, some are not. That’s especially true when it comes to no-annual-fee cards because many don’t offer a welcome bonus at all.
Minimum spending requirement: To earn a card’s welcome bonus you have to spend a certain amount on your new card within a certain timeframe. Some cards’ minimum spending requirements are easier to meet than others.
Ongoing bonus opportunities: Everyone likes credit cards that keep rewarding you, even after you earn the initial big intro bonus.
Benefits: These can make a difference, as it’s incredibly important to match a card’s benefits to your needs and spending habits.
If you’re just starting out in the miles-and-points hobby, a no-annual-fee card can help you learn the ropes. Plus, these cards can help increase the length of your credit history, which can potentially boost your credit score.
Who should get a no annual fee credit card?
New credit cards users
For anyone with limited credit history, a no annual fee card is a good place to start. Not only are they easier to get approved for, but they’re also easier to manage as you won’t have to worry about paying an annual fee.
People rebuilding credit
Anyone who’s trying to rebuild their credit score should consider a no annual fee card. In fact, these types of cards may be the only kind you’d qualify for. Qualifying for a premium annual fee card usually requires a good to excellent credit score, so those without a solid credit history may need to stick to no annual fee cards while they rebuild their credit.
Occasional credit card users
If you don’t use a card that often or don’t make the most of a card’s perks, paying an annual fee likely isn’t worth it. This is where no annual fee cards come in handy. There are a number of great no annual fee rewards cards available for anyone looking to earn miles, points or cash back without the worry of paying an annual fee.
Frequently asked questions about no annual fee credit cards
What is an annual fee?
An annual fee is a yearly fee charged by issuers to cardholders. Many of the best credit cards for travel charge annual fees (which can usually be offset by the value of the card’s benefits). But there are plenty of no annual fee cards available, too. Whether paying an annual fee makes sense for you really depends on your spending habits and travel goals, and whether or not you can take advantage of a card’s perks.
Who should consider a no annual fee credit card?
The short answer is, EVERYBODY. No matter how new or veteran you are to miles and points and the credit card world, you should have no annual fee credit cards in your portfolio.
Many cards have surprisingly valuable benefits that you won’t find on cards with annual fees. Plus, because there’s no annual fee, you can keep the cards open forever, which can potentially improve your credit score. No annual fee cards are pillars of your credit report, as you may cycle through cards with annual fees as your needs change. With no annual fee cards, you can throw them in the sock drawer if they’re of no use to you anymore — and you’ll still build your credit history.
Note that you should swipe your cards every six months to ensure they’re not closed by the bank for inactivity.
Can you get a no annual fee card with bad credit?
There’s no hard and fast way to tell whether or not you’ll be approved for a particular card, be it an annual fee card or a no annual fee card. That said, many issuers have credit thresholds for their best cards, meaning the higher your score, the better chance you’ll have of approval.
That said, your credit score isn’t the only factor they’ll consider. Things like income, age of credit accounts and your relationship with the bank will also be considered. So don’t be discouraged from applying for a card if your score is at least in the mid 600s, especially if you’ve proven to be a worthy customer in other ways. If your score is below 600 though, you’ll likely need to look for a secured card instead of a rewards earning card.
Should you downgrade your current credit card to a no annual fee card?
If you no longer want to pay the annual fee on your credit card, consider downgrading it to a no annual fee card. If you close the card outright, it could affect your credit score. But downgrading the card would mean you could keep your credit line and credit and payment history — all of which help your credit score.
For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and decide the annual fee isn’t worth it any longer, you can downgrade your card to the Freedom Flex. You may lose a few benefits, but the Freedom Flex is a worthwhile card to have in your wallet. And when you downgrade, you won’t have to apply (and be approved) for the new card.
What type of credit do you need to get a no annual fee card?
This really depends on the issuer you’re dealing with. Each bank, Chase, American Express, Capital One, etc. has different criteria when it comes to credit card approvals. That said, no annual fee cards are typically easier to get than premium cards that charge an annual fee.
As a general rule of thumb, we recommend that anyone getting into the credit card rewards hobby have a solid credit score (i.e. 680+) with the wherewithal to manage their credit responsibly. If you can’t pay off your balances on time and in full every month, earning rewards is futile.
What are the other fees cards charge that every user should be aware of?
Along with a card’s annual fee, cardholders should be aware of things like their card’s interest rate and the amount charged for late payments. Additional fees like this can really add up if you aren’t paying attention. In fact, we recommend that anyone getting into the miles & points hobby commit to paying their card balances off in full every month to avoid interest. Otherwise, the value of the rewards you earn will be negated by the interest you pay.
There are tons of no-annual-fee credit cards you can choose from, and they’re dramatically different. If you’re interested in traveling, any Chase Ultimate Rewards points-earning credit cards are an absolute must. You can even earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the bonus from one no-annual-fee card, the Ink Business Cash Credit Card. That’s practically impossible to beat.
If you are a Citi ThankYou points collector, you need the Citi Rewards+ in your life. You’ll get a 10% rebate on all Citi ThankYou points you redeem, up to the first 100,000 points you redeem each year.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday card, click here.
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Ink Business Cash® Credit CardAPPLY NOW
Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year. Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases
With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring
With Zero Liability you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information
No Annual Fee
Redeem rewards for cash back, gift cards, travel and more through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases
0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months
13.24% – 19.24% Variable
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)