Best travel credit cards with no annual fee for 2019

Group of young hikers walking up mountain Group of young hikers walking up mountain Image:

In a Nutshell

Many consumers want a travel rewards card, but not everyone is willing to pay an annual fee to get one. In this article, we break down the best no-annual-fee travel cards in terms of earning points at a flat rate, flexible redemptions options, bank account tie-in bonuses, hotel stays and sign-up bonus.

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.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

This offer is no longer available on our site: Hilton Honors Card from American Express

If you’re looking for a travel rewards credit card with no annual fee, we know it can be hard to pinpoint the choice that both fits your lifestyle and offers the right kinds of redemption options. Read on for our picks in these categories.



Best for earning points at a flat rate: Discover it® Miles

Here’s why: The Discover it® Miles travel rewards credit card could be the right fit for anyone who wants to earn points or miles at a steady rate no matter what they’re purchasing.

With the Discover it® Miles travel rewards credit card, you will earn a flat rate of 1.5 miles per $1 spent on every purchase. For comparison, many travel credit cards with no annual fee will allow heightened rates on one or two categories — like three points on gas — without any accompanying multiplier for other kinds of purchases

With the Discover it® Miles card, you don’t have to track how you’re earning rewards or — worse yet — consider changing your spending habits to maximize your earning potential.

Our point valuations set Discover® rewards at 1.25 cents per mile. This figure isn’t the highest you’ll see from a travel rewards program, but it’s a respectable rate that provides solid value — and there’s no foreign transaction fee.

Learn more in our review of the Discover it® Miles credit card.

Best for flexible redemption options: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Here’s why: If you’re not sure if you’ll redeem your rewards for travel or other benefits, then the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card could be the best no-annual-fee option for you.

When earning Go Far® Rewards Points, you’ll receive three points for every $1 spent on travel and dining, at gas stations, on rideshares and transit, and on streaming services. You get one point for all other qualifying purchases.

You’ll then have the flexibility to redeem your points for travel, cash back and gift cards. Your points don’t expire as long as your account remains open, and there aren’t any blackout dates for air travel redemption when you use Wells Fargo’s Go Far® Rewards system. You also won’t pay any foreign transaction fees.

Read more in our review of the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card.

From our partner
See Details, Rates & Fees

Best for bank account tie-in bonuses: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Here’s why: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card provides extra benefits to travelers who hold a Bank of America account.

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card rewards loyalty. If you have an active checking or savings account (or another eligible account) with the bank, you’ll get a 10% loyalty bonus on top of your base points for every purchase.

That may sound a bit confusing to calculate every time you make a purchase, but this card simplifies things with a flat-rate rewards structure. You’ll earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all eligible purchases.

Plus, you won’t pay any foreign transaction fees.

Learn more in our review of the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card.

From our partner
See Details, Rates & Fees

Best for hotel stays: Hilton Honors Card from American Express

Here’s why: The Hilton Honors Card from American Express is best for frequent Hilton guests looking to earn rewards without paying an annual fee.

The rewards multipliers for eligible purchases on this card are eye-popping, at least at first glance. The Hilton Honors Card from American Express offers …

  • 7 Hilton Honors bonus points for each $1 spent at Hilton portfolio properties
  • 5 points on purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations
  • 3 points on all other eligible purchases

You can also earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after your account opens.

But it’s worth noting that the value of Hilton Honors points can be quite low. In our point valuations, it ranks last out of the 21 rewards programs we have tested.

Still, the Hilton Honors Card from American Express brings meaningful benefits to Hilton guests. The card includes a complimentary upgrade to Hilton Honors Silver status — good for late checkouts, the opportunity to earn a fifth night free on your stays, and other benefits. It also offers the opportunity to achieve Gold status — which adds complimentary breakfasts to all the Silver benefits — if you spend $20,000 on eligible purchases within a calendar year.

In addition, there are no foreign transaction fees, which could be especially helpful if you use the card to pay for hotels outside of the United States.

Get more details in our review of the Hilton Honors Card from American Express.

From our partner

Best for sign-up bonus: Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Here’s why: The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card is a nice option for the traveler who wants to make their upcoming travel plans go further with a large sign-up bonus.

Travel cards with no annual fee typically don’t offer the huge sign-up bonuses of pricier rewards cards, but there is still value to be had in this area.

The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card currently earns 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases within your first 3 months from account opening. That’s both a meaningful boost — a $200 value by our estimation — and an attainable bonus in terms of the required spending level.

The card earns a flat rate of 1.25 miles per $1 spent on purchases, so the sign-up bonus is equivalent to $16,000 worth of purchases at the standard earning rate. And like the other cards on our list, it charges no foreign transaction fee.

Through January 2020, you’ll get 10 miles per $1 spent on qualifying hotels.

Learn more about the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card.

From our partner
See Details, Rates & Fees

How we picked these travel rewards credit cards

Naturally, we started our selection process by pinpointing the travel rewards credit cards with no annual fee. Once we established that list, we focused on the qualities of each card that matter to consumers interested in earning rewards without paying an annual fee.

We settled on the categories in this article because they represent some of the most practical and efficient ways of earning and redeeming travel rewards. Not everyone will want to track how many points they can earn on purchases in various categories — some cardholders will just want the same simple rate on everything.

Similarly, less-frequent travelers may opt to redeem their points for other benefits if they’re not planning a trip anytime soon, so they’ll want flexible redemption options.

Different people find value in different places. Our goal was to offer a range of options to fit those different needs.

How to make the most of travel reward credit cards

When selecting the best travel credit card for your needs, you should figure out how you’ll usually use it and how often. It’s important to break down the benefits each card offers and decide what travel features are most important to you.

For instance, a hotel credit card that offers benefits for a single brand won’t make a lot of sense for you if you’re not particularly loyal to that company. At the same time, an airline-branded card might be the right option if you only fly with a particular airline.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that your travel card’s benefits should suit your regular habits. If you find yourself changing your spending habits or travel plans to fit the card, then it’s probably best to reassess your options.