*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
This article was last updated Apr 01, 2020. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.
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 overall: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Best for simplicity: Discover it® Miles
- Best for dining: Uber Visa 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 overall: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Earn 3X points on eating out, ordering in and popular streaming services, 3X points on gas stations, rideshares and transit, and 3X points on travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. Earn 1X points on other purchases.
0% for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers
- Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $200 cash redemption value
- $0 annual fee and no foreign currency conversion fee
- Earn 3X points on eating out and ordering in
- Earn 3X points on travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
- Earn 3X points on gas stations, rideshares and transit
- Earn 3X points on popular streaming services
- Earn 1X points on other purchases
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Why we like it: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card is a well-rounded travel rewards card, since it offers an elevated rewards rate on a wide variety of travel purchases. Earn 3X points on eating out, ordering in and popular streaming services, 3X points on gas stations, rideshares and transit, and 3X points on travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. Earn 1X points on other purchases.
Cardholders also earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $200 cash redemption value. Each point is valued at 1 cent — making the welcome bonus worth $200.
Points can be redeemed for travel, including airline tickets, car rentals, cruises, experiences, hotel stays, vacation packages and more. You can also redeem points for cash, merchandise, gift cards or charitable donations.
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card comes with plenty of strong travel and purchase protection benefits, like lost luggage reimbursement, car rental loss and damage insurance, roadside assistance, 24/7 travel and emergency assistance, retail protection, extended warranty, cell phone protection and more. And foreign transaction fee? You will be charged none when making purchases outside of the U.S.
What to look out for. Any changes made to your travel itinerary through Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards Travel Customer Service (including lost tickets and flight cancellations) will be subject to fees — on top of what the airline may charge. You’re also not guaranteed advance seat assignments.
If you’re using rewards to book a hotel, you can only use them toward the room rate and applicable taxes. Other charges, such as resort fees, energy surcharges and incidentals, can’t be paid with your rewards.
Additionally, cash redemptions are only available in increments of $25 by phone or online, and in increments of $20 from a Wells Fargo ATM. You must have a Wells Fargo debit or ATM card to redeem rewards at a Wells Fargo ATM.
Best for simplicity: Discover it® Miles
Discover will match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.*
1.5 Miles per $1 Spent*
Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases*
- UNLIMITED BONUS: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! The more you earn, the more you get.
- Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee.
- No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
- Miles Pay You Back. Easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases. Or get cash.
- 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 unlimited 1.5x miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee. Plus, Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! (for new card members only).
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: Uber Visa Card
Why we like it. The Uber Visa Card offers a generous cashback rewards rate on a variety of travel-related purchases, including dining, Uber rides and airfare. Cardholders earn 5% back in Uber Cash on Uber rides, Uber Eats, and JUMP, 3% in Uber Cash on restaurants, bars, hotels, and airfare, and 1% back in Uber Cash on all other purchases.
The dining category includes restaurants, fast food restaurants and bars, and the travel category covers airfare, hotels and vacation rentals (including travel agencies and home share exchanges).
Plus, cardholders earn $100 in uber cash after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. As for foreign transaction fees? There are none.
Things to watch out for. Uber Visa Card rewards are earned in the form of Uber Cash, which can only be redeemed for Uber rides, orders with Uber Eats and rides using JUMP bikes and scooters. So unless you frequently use Uber services, you may be better off with a travel credit card that lets you redeem rewards for airfare, hotel stays, cash, gift cards and more.
Best for hotels: Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
1.25 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
0% intro on purchases for 12 months
14.49% - 24.49% (Variable)
- $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
- Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
- Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
- Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
- Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
- Transfer your miles to over 15+ leading travel loyalty programs
- Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 14.49% - 24.49% variable APR after that
See additional details for 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 one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months of 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 and no expiration on points. Plus, cardholders earn 25,000 bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening.
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 per year.