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Travel rewards credit cards offer a great opportunity to earn points, miles or cash back on airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and other travel-related expenses, while also taking advantage of benefits, such as priority boarding and baggage delay insurance.
Typically, the more exclusive and premium the benefits are, the higher the annual fee will be. But if you don’t travel quite frequently enough to justify paying an annual fee ranging from $95 to $550, you should consider a travel rewards card that doesn’t charge an annual fee at all.
In this post, we’ll offer our top picks in key categories and provide tips on how to determine which no-annual fee travel rewards credit card is the right fit for you.
- Best for simplicity: Discover it® Miles
- Best for dining: Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Best for hotels: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
- Best for transportation: U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
- Best to for students: Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
- Choosing the right card for you
- The bottom line
How we chose the cards in this roundup
Even with no annual fee, people expect certain benefits from a credit card. We chose these cards based on factors like the highest rewards rate per $1 spent, the size of the sign-up bonus, the available travel benefits, and whether there are foreign transaction fees. In short, we wanted to give you cards that will give you the biggest bang for the buck — for no annual fee.
Best for simplicity: Discover it® Miles
Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.
0% Intro APR for 14 months on purchases, then 11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR
- UNLIMITED BONUS: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
- Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.
- New! Redeem Miles to pay any part of your monthly bill, including your minimum payment.
- Turn Miles into cash in any amount, any time. Or redeem as a statement credit for travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more with no blackout dates. However you redeem, Miles keep the same value. And Miles never expire.
- No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
- Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
- Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
- Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
- Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for Discover it® Miles
Why we like it. If you want a simple, straightforward approach to earning rewards, the Discover it® Miles card is ideal, since it offers a flat rewards rate on every purchase you make. Instead of keeping track of spending limits or rotating bonus categories, cardholders earn automatically earn unlimited 1.5x miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee. Plus, for new card members only: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There’s no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
Miles can be redeemed for cash or as statement credits (in any amount) to cover travel purchases, including airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites and commuter transportation.
As for foreign transaction fees? There are none.
What to look out for. Unlike other travel rewards cards, which often offer multiple redemption options and allow you to transfer rewards to loyalty partners, the Discover it® Miles card only lets you redeem miles for cash or for statement credits toward eligible travel purchases.
Best for dining: Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why we like it. If you’re looking to earn a generous cashback rate on dining purchases while traveling, you may want to consider the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. The card offers 3% cash back on dining; 3% cash back on entertainment; 2% cash back at grocery stores; 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Additionally, cardholders earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Cash back can be redeemed in the form of a statement credit or a check. Rewards can also be redeemed for previous purchases, gift cards and more.
The dining category includes purchases made at restaurants, cafes, bars, lounges, fast-food chains and bakeries, and the grocery store category includes purchases made at a supermarket, meat locker, freezer, dairy product store or specialty market.
As for foreign transaction fees? There are none.
Things to watch out for. The following dining and grocery purchases may not qualify for the higher cashback rate: Purchases made at food trucks, food carts and merchants that sell food and beverages and are located within larger establishments (like hotel restaurants and grocery store food counters), as well as purchases made at superstores, such as Walmart and Target.
Best for hotels: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Why we like it. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day.
Cardholders also earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel.
In addition to redeeming miles for hotel stays, car rentals, ride sharing, cruises and more, you can use your miles to book travel on any airline, with no seat restrictions or blackout dates. You can also transfer miles to a number of airline loyalty programs, including JetBlue TrueBlue, Emirates Skywards, Air France KLM and Air Canada Aeroplan.
The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers the following benefits: 24-hour travel assistance services, auto rental collision damage waiver, travel accident insurance, roadside assistance and more. As for foreign transaction fees? There are none.
Things to watch out for: While the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers rewards on every purchase, there are travel rewards cards available that offer a higher rewards rate in the popular spending categories, such as travel, dining, gas and groceries. There are also other cards with more generous sign-up bonuses.
Best for transportation: U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card
Why we like it. The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card offers 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases ($100 per quarter) on two categories you choose. That adds up to $400 cash back!
One of the 5% categories is ground transportation, which covers bus and passenger rail tickets, taxis, car services, ride-shares, limousines, Zipcar and ferries — that could be handy when traveling. The card also lets you earn $150 after you spend $500 in eligible net purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card benefits include auto rental collision damage waiver, travel and emergency assistance services, roadside dispatch, Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection benefits and more.
Things to watch out for. If you don’t choose your cashback categories before the start of a quarter, you won’t earn the elevated rewards rate. Instead, your purchases drop to the lowest cashback amount allowed. That said, you can sign up to receive email or text reminders each quarter at usbank.com/cashplus.
Also, you can only receive your cash back as a statement credit or a deposit made to your U.S. Bank savings, checking or money market account, or as a U.S. Bank Rewards Card prepaid Visa with a $20 minimum redemption. Cash back rewards expire 36 months after the billing cycle in which they were earned.
Best for students: Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
Why we like it. If you’re a student who wants to earn rewards to use toward future travel — whether you’re planning a vacation for spring break or traveling home for the summer — the Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students is an ideal choice. Cardholders earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time. Plus, cardholders earn 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening – which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
You can redeem your points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars and baggage fees.
Like the foreign transaction fees for the other cards in this post, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students charges none — which makes it a good fit for students studying abroad.
Things to watch out for. Because the Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students offers a flat rewards rate, you’re not able to earn bonus points in popular spend categories, such as dining, gas or airfare.
Also, to be eligible for this card, you must be 18 years old and enrolled in school — college, vocational school or trade school.
Choosing the right no-annual fee travel card for you
Choosing a no-annual-fee travel rewards card comes down to what benefits are most important to you and how you plan on using the card. So before you make that final pick, be sure to ask the following questions:
What’s the sign-up bonus/welcome offer?
While it can be tempting to go after a quick points/miles hit, ask whether the amount you have to spend on a card to get the bonus is worth it to you.
Can I transfer my points/miles to airline or hotel loyalty programs?
If you belong to a loyalty program, having the ability to transfer points/miles from your credit card to the program is a good benefit.
Do points/miles expire, and are there quarterly or yearly maximums on what you can earn?
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the terms of your card’s rewards program to ensure you use your points or miles before they expire (if they expire at all). Also, be aware of any rewards earning caps prior to applying for a card.
Which card offers the best miles per $1 spent in travel-related categories?
You should choose a credit card that offers a higher rewards rate in the travel categories where you spend the most. For example, if you frequently take road trips, you should consider a card with a generous rewards rate on gas and tolls.
What travel benefits does the card have?
Many people don’t know all the travel-related benefits their cards have, so you may be leaving great benefits on the table. Look for things like lost luggage/trip interruption insurance, travel accident insurance car rental loss/damage insurance, roadside assistance and access to a concierge.
The bottom line
If you travel on a regular basis, a no-annual-fee travel rewards credit card should be on your radar. In addition to offering rewards that can be used toward future travel, these cards often come with a variety of travel benefits, such as trip cancellation insurance and 24/7 concierge services — all at a charge of $0 annual fee per year.
The information related to the the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card has been independently collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.