Best hotel credit cards with no annual fee

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At a glance: Best hotel cards with no annual fee

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card Best card for hotel rewards and benefits
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card Best choice for flexibility
La Quinta Returns™ Visa® Card Best option for budget travelers

Want to stay at your favorite hotel for free?

You could enjoy a free night or two, plus benefits such as late checkout and premier status, by using a hotel credit card.

Many major hotel chains offer a branded credit card that you can use anywhere. These credit cards allow you to earn points that you can redeem for free nights at the hotel chain’s locations.

But these cards can also come with annual fees, which makes it harder to get value from the card if you don’t already spend a lot of money on hotels.

If you want the opportunity to earn points you can redeem for free nights at hotels, but don’t want to pay for it, you’ll need a hotel credit card with no annual fee.

Here are some of the best hotel credit cards with no annual fee:

Best card for hotel rewards and benefits: Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card

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Who’s it for?

People who prefer Hilton hotels.

Why we like it

This is one of the two Hilton cards that don’t require an annual fee. Cardholders can earn 6 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Portfolio, 3 Bonus Points per $1 spent at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations, and 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other purchases.

This one beats out the other no-fee card because in addition to the points you can earn, you also get access to Visa Signature® benefits, which include traveling perks such as roadside assistance, reimbursement for lost luggage, and travel accident insurance.

Watch out for

The card usually offers a sign-up bonus if you spend a certain amount in a specific time frame, but the bonus doesn’t always remain the same. The other no-fee card from Hilton, the Hilton Honors™ Card from American Express, may offer a better value depending on when you apply.

As with most no-annual-fee cards, there are alternative cards with annual fees that can earn you more rewards. If you decide you want to earn higher rewards and can afford an annual fee, you can upgrade your Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card to a Hilton card that offers more rewards.

For example, switching to the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card gets you better status with Hilton, no foreign transaction fees and more favorable earning rates. Just make sure you can afford the $95 annual fee.

How to use it

Plan ahead of time. Make sure you’re happy with the sign-up bonus offer, and coordinate purchases so you can work toward the bonus.

Make sure to read through your Visa Signature® benefits to get the most out of that perk, too. Also, plan to stay exclusively at Hilton hotels throughout the year if you can, which could help you earn Gold status. This gives you a 25 percent bonus on all the Hilton Honors Base Points you earn as a registered Gold Elite Member and perks such as a 5th night free when you book a Standard Room Reward stay of five nights or more.

Best choice for flexibility: Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

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Who’s it for?

Travelers who want flexibility to choose a hotel based on more than just brand name.

Why we like it

This isn’t a hotel-specific credit card. The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card card offers you rewards with no annual fee and no requirement to stay loyal to a brand.

For every dollar you spend on the card, you’ll earn 1.25 miles, which you can apply to travel expenses on your credit card statement. That includes hotels, airfare, rental cars and more.

In other words, this card gives you the flexibility to choose where you want to stay while earning rewards.

Watch out for

If you’re serious about earning rewards for travel, the VentureOne® card may not offer enough. It’s a great option for a no-fee card, but its annual fee-bearing cousin, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, provides a higher rewards rate. With that card, you can earn 2 miles for every dollar spent. You’ll pay $59 a year for the card (after the first year), though.

How to use it

This card offers the most flexibility: You can use it anywhere to earn points — not just with a particular hotel chain.

Plan your everyday spending around the card to earn miles you can redeem for just about any kind of travel expense and to get the sign-up one-time bonus (20,000 bonus miles – equal to $200 in travel – after you spend $1,000 on purchases within three months of account opening).

Best option for budget travelers: La Quinta Returns™ Visa® Card

Who’s it for?

Travelers who don’t need luxury digs and who want to save as much as possible on accommodations (while still earning rewards). It’s also good for those who frequently travel with pets. Not only does La Quinta Inns & Suites allow pets, but they also don’t charge additional fees to allow your pet to stay with you.

Why we like it

With this card you’ll earn 17 points for every qualifying dollar spent at La Quinta Inns & Suites, two points per dollar spent on car rentals, gas and dining, and one point per dollar spent everywhere else.

Additionally, you’ll get La Quinta Returns Gold Status after your first purchase, which comes with benefits such as:

● Express check-in and late check-out (when available)
● Free nights
● Free upgrades
● A dedicated customer service number

Watch out for

To earn the full sign-up bonus of 40,000 points – enough for up to four free nights – you’ll need to spend $10,000 in the first 12 billing cycles of opening the account. If you’re on a budget, spending $10,000 within that timeframe might not be realistic. Fortunately, you’ll still earn 20,000 bonus points just for making your first purchase with the card.

How to use it

Before getting the card, consider whether you’ll visit a La Quinta hotel a few times per year. It’s not the fanciest hotel chain or card, but it’s a useful choice for those looking for highly affordable (and pet-friendly) places to stay.

Note that, as of August 2017, you cannot apply for this card online. You have to apply in person at a La Quinta hotel.

When should you consider a card with a fee?

It’s great to avoid credit card fees if you can. But in some cases, it makes sense to try a hotel card even if it comes with an annual fee.

Here are some scenarios in which a more expensive card might pay off in the long run:

● You’re a frequent traveler who spends a solid amount of money on hotel stays, airfare and car rentals.
● You can stick to one hotel chain.
● You normally spend at least a few thousand dollars on your credit card in a three-month period.

Some credit cards bearing annual fees will waive that fee for the first year. Just be prepared to pay the fee in the second year.

“Only get a hotel card with a fee if you’ll use it in a significant way,” says Neal Frankle, Certified Financial Planner™ at Credit Pilgrim. “For example, if you attend conferences often for work and they’re held at a certain hotel chain, it might be worth it to get that hotel’s card.”


Bottom line

The best hotel credit cards with no annual fee can help make the most of your travel dollars, especially if you’re willing to be loyal to a particular chain. That’s a smart move for some people who prefer to stay in specific hotels.

But if your budget is the priority, you might prefer a card that allows you to rack up points you can redeem for any hotel, regardless of brand.

Either way, you can make the most of your hotel credit card by planning your spending and using your card strategically. Use the card to make your bookings, and earn even more points by using it to make everyday purchases included in your budget.


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