Best travel credit cards with no annual fee

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If you’re only beginning in the miles and points hobby, you’re probably a bit confused as to why anyone would bother paying money just for the opportunity to swipe a flimsy plastic rectangle at the grocery store. There are plenty of cards that charge no fees at all — so what’s the difference?

On the other hand, if you’ve been involved with this hobby for a while, you probably can’t fathom why someone wouldn’t carry a wallet FULL of annual-fee incurring credit cards.

No matter what stage you’re at, no annual fee credit cards are a big part of the points world. Many of them have benefits that put to shame even the most premium and expensive travel credit cards.

Let’s take a look at a few of the best no annual travel credit cards. It’ll ease newbies into the hobby and round out the wallets of all you veterans.

Summary of the best travel credit cards with no annual fee

The information for the Wells Fargo Propel 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.

With the right travel card, you’ll be planning your next adventure in no time. (Photo by Iryna Kalamurza/Shutterstock)

Chase Freedom Flex

  • $200 bonus (20,000 Chase points) after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
  • 5% back (5x Chase points) on the first $12,000 you spend on groceries for the first 12 months of account membership
  • 5% back (5x Chase points) on travel purchased through the Chase Travel Portal 
  • 5% back (5x Chase points) on rotating bonus categories on up to $1,500 per quarter (activation required)
  • 3% back (3x Chase points) on dining, including takeout and delivery
  • 3% back (3x Chase points) at drugstores
  • 1% back (1x Chase points) for everything else
  • Lyft benefits
  • Complimentary DoorDash DashPass membership
  • Cell phone insurance

Why is the Chase Freedom Flex the best for travel within the U.S.?

The Chase Freedom Flex is one of the widest-mouthed nets for catching valuable travel points. It earns more points than just about any other no annual fee card (or any annual fee card, for that matter!). Read our Chase Freedom Flex review to fully understand the power of this card.

It’s great for those who frequently spend on airfare, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and dining/takeout. And you’ll get a complimentary three months of DoorDash DashPass (a value of ~$30), and Lyft benefits such as:

  • $10 credit each month you take five or more rides
  • 5% back on Lyft rides (through March 2022)

Also, if you pay your cell phone bill with the card, you’ll get cell phone insurance, up to $800 per claim (and up to $1,000 annually) for damaged or stolen cell phones. You will need to pay a $50 deductible for each claim, and you can’t submit more than two claims per 12-months. Great for those whose phones take some wear and tear from travel.

However, the card does incur foreign transaction fees. This is a horrendous card to take with you if you’re going overseas. You’ll be charged 3% of all spending you make outside the U.S. The fees will offset most of the bonus points you’ll make abroad.

BIG note: To make the most of your Chase points, you’ll need a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred. Read our post on the best ways to use Chase points to learn why.

Wells Fargo Propel

  • 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
  • 3 points per dollar when eating out and ordering in: This can include food delivery, restaurants, and even bars (referred to as “drinking places” by Wells Fargo)
  • 3 points per dollar for travel and at gas stations
  • 3 points per dollar for commuting and transportation
  • 3 points per dollar for popular streaming services (popular services like Netflix, Hulu, and Apple Music)
  • 1 point per dollar for everything else
  • Cell phone coverage

Why the Wells Fargo Propel is the best for traveling abroad

The points you’ll earn with the Wells Fargo Propel are worth 1 cent each. You can use them for cash back, travel, and even gift cards. Read our Wells Fargo Propel review to learn how.

The Wells Fargo Propel has an excellent earning rate for super common purchases — both within the U.S. and abroad. Earning 3 points per dollar for travel includes car rentals, flights, hotels, and homestays. Earning three points on commuting and transportation means tolls, Uber/Lyft, parking, subway tickets, bus passes, ferries, etc. That is HUGE when you’re traveling, especially abroad.

Importantly, this card does not incur foreign transaction fees, so it’s a great card to bring if you’re going overseas.

And similar to the Chase Freedom Flex, the Wells Fargo Propel gives you great cell phone insurance — up to $600 per claim, and $1,200 per 12-month period. You’ll just have to pay a super-low $25 deductible.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

  • 80,000 Hilton points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
  • 7 Hilton points per dollar spent at any Hilton portfolio hotel or resort
  • 5 Hilton points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations
  • 3 Hilton points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases
  • Silver Hilton status
  • Access to Amex Offers
  • Terms Apply

Why the Hilton Honors Credit Card is the best for earning hotel points

Hilton is notoriously generous when it comes to giving away Hotel points.

This card has a big bonus for a no annual fee card (see rates and fees). We estimate Hilton points value to be around 0.5 cents each, so a card that comes with 80,000 Hilton points is worth $400 (or more, if you know the best ways to use Hilton points).

The card has an excellent return for Hilton spend (7 points per dollar), and it even comes with automatic Silver elite status, which will net you another 2 points per dollar at nearly all Hilton hotels.

And check out the 5 points per dollar at restaurants and supermarkets! If you want a bunch of hotel points without paying an annual fee, this card will be your best option.

The card is also eligible for Amex Offers, a program that can save you lots of money on random travel deals. Read our Amex Offers post to see what travel statement credits are currently floating around.

United Gateway

  • 20,000 United Airlines miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
  • 3 miles per dollar at grocery stores (up to $1,500 per month) through September 30, 2021
  • 2 miles per dollar on United Airlines purchases, at gas stations, and on local transit and commuting
  • 1 mile per dollar for all other purchases

Why the United Gateway is the best for earning airline miles

This is a brand new card and the latest to join the family of United Airlines credit cards. While it’s got no annual fee, it’s actually one of the best United cards for spending, outperforming even the United Infinite Card in many categories.

After you earn the bonus, you’ll have enough miles for a round-trip domestic flight, which you can often find for as little as 15,000 miles (sometimes even 10,000 miles!!), as long as it’s a short/medium-haul flight. For example, there are plenty of available flights between Newark and Nashville next August for 21,000 miles round-trip in coach.

If airline miles intimidate you a bit, this is a good card to open to give them a test-run.

How to choose the best no annual fee travel credit card

Benefits

Ongoing card benefits are the most important aspect of any credit card if you’re looking to keep it long-term. Just because a card has the potential to save you a bunch of money doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Do your needs also match the perks? Will you be saving money on things you’d never buy anyway?

Welcome bonus

Welcome bonuses are the fastest way to earn free travel. If a card has an abysmal welcome bonus, it is usually (not always) one to ignore. When you open a card, your credit receives a hard pull. You want to make those count as much as possible — and that usually means hunting for a worthwhile welcome bonus.

Minimum spending requirement

Some credit card bonuses come with lofty spending requirements. If you can’t complete a card’s minimum spending requirement, it’s not the one for you. Set goals you can achieve.

Frequently asked questions on travel credit cards

Do you need good credit for a travel card?

You generally do need good credit for travel cards — we don’t recommend beginning the credit card miles and points hobby until you’ve at least got a credit of 700+.

However, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be approved for these cards even if your score is closer to 680. These are no annual fee cards, easier to get than more premium travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Understand that credit card issuers can approve or deny you for a credit card no matter your credit score. That’s just one factor they look at when choosing who they’ll lend credit to.

What are the top rewards programs for travel cards?

The best rewards programs, in our opinion, are Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Membership Rewards points. We call these currencies flexible points programs because you can transfer them to a series of travel partners. By collecting these points, it’s like earning dozens of airline and hotel rewards at the same time, because you can magically convert your points whenever you want.

What are co-branded credit cards?

Co-branded credit cards are cards that have a specific travel company attached to them. These cards often collect the OPPOSITE of flexible points.

For example, if you open the Amex Hilton Credit Card, you will earn Hilton points. You can use those points to stay at Hilton hotels. You can’t use them to stay with Marriott, and you can’t redeem them for cash, you can’t redeem them for a plane ticket on American Airlines. If you’re swiping a Hilton card, it’s because you’re earning enough points for a free night at Hilton.

Bottom line

The best credit card for your travel style doesn’t necessarily come with an exorbitant annual fee. You can earn tons of miles and points with cards that are free to keep forever. However, to unlock the full potential of many of the best no annual fee travel cards, you often also need a travel credit card with an annual fee. Read our post on the Chase Trifecta for a perfect example.

Let us know your favorite no annual fee travel card! And subscribe to our newsletter for more information like this delivered to your inbox once per day.

For rates and fees of the Amex Hilton Card, click here.

Sarah Hostetler is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

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! :)

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