Best credit cards for travel in 2018 with no annual fee

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In a Nutshell

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card tops our list of the best credit cards for travel with no annual fee in 2018, but we found several other cards with solid — and surprisingly flexible — rewards for travelers.

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At a glance: Best credit cards for travel with no annual fee

Simplest rewards program Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Most flexible redemption Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Best sign-up bonus Discover it® Miles
Best for frequent Delta flyers Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Best for frequent United flyers   United℠ TravelBank Card

If you’ve been shopping for a travel rewards card, you may have noticed that many of the best options come with a high annual fee. But what if you’re looking for a travel credit card with no annual fee?

We have some good news: Your choices aren’t as limited as you may think.

Whether you’re a part-time traveler or simply can’t squeeze an annual fee into your budget, you may be interested in our list of the best credit cards for travel with no annual fee.

But before we get into our picks, let’s go over some basic rules of thumb you should know before applying for a travel credit card.

First things first: “It’s important to keep in mind your travel style,” says Patti Geroulis, co-founder of the travel website The Travel Sisters.

Here are two questions Geroulis says to consider.

  • How often do you travel? If you’re not jetting off to a new country every month, you might not get the most value out of a travel rewards card with a high annual fee. Instead, consider a travel card with no annual fee or a cash back card that offers simpler and more-flexible rewards. (Check out our story on travel rewards vs. cash back if you’re interested in learning more.)
  • What do you want to use your travel rewards for? If you know you only want to redeem rewards with one airline, consider one of that airline’s cobranded cards. Examples include the United℠ TravelBank Card and the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. If you want more flexibility, look for a card that allows you to redeem your points or miles for a statement credit toward travel purchases.

With that in mind, let’s dive into our list of the best credit cards for travel with no annual fee.


Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

From our partner
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Who’s it for?

The sporadic traveler who doesn’t have time to keep track of miles and spending habits.

Why we like it

As is the case with many of the best travel rewards cards, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card rewards loyalty. If you have an active checking account, savings account or IRA with Bank of America (or other eligible account), you’ll get a 10% loyalty bonus on top of your base points for every purchase.

That may sound a bit confusing, but one of the best aspects of this card is its simple, flat-rate rewards structure. You’ll earn unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, period.

Let’s see what that looks like when you factor in the 10% loyalty bonus. If you spend $200 on eligible purchases in a given month, you’ll earn 300 points. Add the additional 10% loyalty bonus points, and you’ve got a total of 330 points.

One point is typically valued at 1 cent when you redeem points as a statement credit toward travel purchases, so the bonus essentially turns $3 of rewards value into $3.30 of rewards value if you redeem for travel. Doesn’t seem like much of a boost, but over time, it can add up!

Oh, and one more thing: As with many of the best travel rewards cards, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee.

Watch out for

For a card with a $0 annual fee, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card offers a decent sign-up bonus. You’ll earn 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. That’s enough for a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

A $250 statement credit is nothing to sneeze at, but other travel credit cards offer more-lucrative sign-up bonuses. You should also take care not to stretch your budget in order to qualify for the bonus. If you can’t pay off your credit card bill on time and in full each month, you may end up coughing up more in interest charges than your sign-up bonus is worth.

Ways to use it

This card can be especially valuable if you already rely on Bank of America for your banking needs.

Why? Because if you’re a Bank of America® personal checking account holder and have a three-month average combined balance of $20,000 in certain Bank of America®, Merrill Edge® and Merrill Lynch® accounts, you can qualify for Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program.

Preferred Rewards clients can benefit from an even more impressive loyalty bonus than the 10% mentioned above. In fact, the Preferred Rewards bonus can climb all the way up to 75%, depending on how much money you have in your combined accounts.

In order to reach the Platinum Honors level (where the 75% rewards bonus kicks in), your combined balances must total at least $100,000. Obviously, this isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s a great way to maximize your rewards if you can do it.

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

From our partner
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Who’s it for?

Consumers who enjoy flexibility and the ability to use travel rewards with ease.

Why we like it

Like the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card earns flat-rate miles on every purchase. You’ll earn unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar spent on purchases.

That’s not quite as impressive as the 1.5 points you’ll get with the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, but this card has an extra trick up its sleeve. You’ll earn an impressive 10 miles per dollar spent on hotels when you pay with your Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card at hotels.com/venture.

On top of that, rewards won’t expire (for the life of the account). And as for foreign transaction fees? None.

Watch out for

This card’s sign-up bonus is competitive for a travel card with no annual fee, but it falls short of the best in the travel category. You’ll earn a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel.

Also, note that these miles are best used on travel. If you’re not a frequent traveler and choose to use your miles toward cash back or other nontravel expenses, you may not get the same value out of your rewards. Redemption rates can vary and may change at any time, so be sure to double-check the redemption rate before making the leap.

What are credit card points and miles (really) worth?

How to use it

“Both the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card and the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card are great for travelers that want to keep things simple [and] fly economy,” says Geroulis.

She notes that the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card can be especially great for those “not familiar with using miles or hotel points.”

Instead of negotiating the ins and outs of a loyalty program, you can fly any airline and stay at any hotel, with no blackout dates.

For inexperienced travelers worried about the headaches that often come with redeeming miles, that may be a huge plus.

Discover it® Miles

Who’s it for?

Frequent flyers who need a simple and flexible rewards program.

Why we like it

In your first year as a new Discover it® Miles cardholder, you will receive matched miles for any miles you’ve earned at the end of that year.

How does that work? If you have 30,000 miles at the end of the year (12 consecutive billing periods), for example, Discover it® Miles will double that amount to 60,000 miles.

That’s one of the best sign-up bonuses we’ve seen with a credit card for travel with no annual fee — especially if you spend a lot on purchases in your first year. Of course, you’ll still want to be responsible with your spending and not stretch your budget in the service of chasing rewards. This card, like any travel rewards card worth its weight, also charges no foreign transaction fee.

Speaking of matching, this card’s regular rewards rate also matches what you’d get with the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: a flat rate of 1.5 miles per dollar on every purchase in any category.

Watch out for

Discover® cards are not as widely accepted as Visa® and Mastercard®, especially for worldwide travel.

Where are my credit cards accepted?

How to use it

If you plan on redeeming miles toward flights and hotels for an upcoming vacation, consider applying for this card a year in advance of your vacation. If you do and you use it right, you could double the miles you earn within the first year (and your rewards don’t expire). It may be worth saving up for.

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

From our partner
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Who’s it for?

Loyal Delta travelers who have patiently waited for a $0 annual fee credit card from their airline of choice.

Why we like it

This card comes with a welcome offer that may appeal to travelers on a tight budget. You can earn 10,000 bonus miles for spending $500 in purchases on your new card in the first 3 months of account opening.

Delta no longer publishes a rewards chart, so the value you get out of those bonus miles may vary. But what we like about this welcome offer is that you only have to spend $500 on purchases within 3 months to qualify. That’s a lot more attainable than some of the more ambitious welcome offers — some of which require thousands of dollars spent on purchases in a similar time frame to qualify.

The Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express also earns rewards at an impressive rate. With this card, you’ll earn two miles for every dollar spent at U.S. restaurants and on purchases made directly with Delta. For every other qualified purchase, you’ll earn one mile for every dollar spent.

When traveling, you can receive 20% off when using your card to purchase in-flight services, such as food, beverages or audio headsets. Keep in mind, this discount will be applied in the form of a statement credit for qualified purchases.

Watch out for

Unlike with the previously mentioned cards, redeeming rewards on this card is limited to an airline-specific loyalty program, Delta’s SkyMiles®.

Generally speaking, rewards earned as part of an airline loyalty program aren’t as flexible as, say, miles you can redeem for a statement credit toward any travel purchase.

Still, Delta offers ways to shop with miles (car rentals are just one option), pay for air travel with miles (at a fixed rate, with a 5,000-miles minimum per passenger) or bid on exclusive SkyMiles Experiences®. You may not get the best value out of your miles if you redeem them for one of the above options — but at least they’re options!

Another thing to note: Unlike most travel rewards cards, the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express charges a foreign transaction fee (2.7%). If you frequently travel internationally, you may want to consider a different travel rewards card.

How to use it

Use your card when making any Delta purchase or eating out at U.S. restaurants to receive two miles per dollar spent.

If you have another card that earns better rewards on other types of purchases, consider using it in tandem with this one to maximize your overall rewards earnings.

United TravelBank Card

Who’s it for?

Loyal United flyers who may not want to shell out an annual fee for the privilege of using the United℠ Explorer Card (but still want the benefits of an airline card with no foreign transaction fee).

Why we like it

The United℠ TravelBank Card offers one of the best rewards rates we’ve seen for a travel credit card with no annual fee.

For every dollar you spend on airline tickets purchased from United, you’ll earn 2% in TravelBank cash. You’ll also earn a flat rate of 1.5% in TravelBank cash per dollar spent on all other purchases. And when purchasing food and beverages on board United-operated flights, you’ll earn 25% back as a statement credit.

TravelBank cash can be used toward the purchase of a ticket on flights operated by United and United Express.

Like most of the other cards on our list, the United℠ TravelBank Card has no foreign transaction fee.

Watch out for

As Geroulis notes, “You earn TravelBank cash — United credit to be used on United flights — rather than miles.”

Since you can only use TravelBank cash to purchase tickets for United and United Express flights, you’re quite limited even if you’re set on booking a flight with your rewards.

The United℠ TravelBank Card also has a fairly high sign-up-bonus qualification, considering the mediocre returns.

With this card, you’ll get $150 in TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Compare that with the sign-up bonuses offered by the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card and the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, and it comes up a bit short.

How to use it

If you’re a frequent United flyer, use your United℠ TravelBank Card when purchasing travel directly with United.

Also, don’t forget to pack this card in your wallet when the time comes to actually fly in case you get hungry en route, as you’ll get 25% back for on-board United food and beverage purchases.


Bottom line

You’ve likely figured out by now that there are lots of different credit cards for travel with no annual fee.

Some are more rewarding than others, but a card’s value isn’t just in how many points or miles it earns. Often, it’s how you plan to use those points and miles that makes the difference.

When shopping for a new travel rewards credit card, weigh your options and determine which card will help you earn the most (and most-useful) miles, points or cash back based on your travel style and spending habits.


Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors' opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when it’s posted.