The best hotel credit cards with no annual fee

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

At a glance: The best hotel cards with no annual fee

Best for flexibility Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Best for budget travelers Wyndham Rewards® Visa® Card
Best for Hilton lovers Hilton Honors Card from American Express

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.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the best hotel credit cards with no annual fee.

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 $1 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.

Through January 2020, you’ll also earn 10 miles per $1 spent on eligible hotels.

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 two miles for every $1 spent. You’ll pay an annual fee of $0 intro, $95 after 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 3 months of account opening).

Best card for budget travelers: Wyndham Rewards® Visa® Card

Who’s it for?

Budget travelers who are loyal to Wyndham Hotels and Resorts — or who just want a cheap roof over their head.

Why we like it

For a hotel credit card with no annual fee, the Wyndham Rewards® Visa® Card offers a lot of value. It all starts with the sign-up bonus: You’ll get 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase or balance transfer (though there is a fee for balance transfers of either 3% of the transfer amount or $5, whichever is greater). According to Barclay, 15,000 bonus points is enough to redeem for one complimentary night at a participating Wyndham hotel.

You’ll also earn three points per eligible dollar spent on participating hotel stays, Wyndham Vacation Rental North America Properties, and certain costs at Wyndham timeshare properties. In addition, earn two points per dollar spent on eligible gas, utility and grocery store purchases. You’ll earn one point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Finally, this card gives you a complimentary, automatic upgrade to a Wyndham Rewards® Gold Level Membership, which includes perks such as late check-out, free Wi-Fi and rollover nights that never expire.

Watch out for

Typically, Wyndham hotels aren’t quite as luxurious as competitor brands such as Hilton or Ritz-Carlton. Wyndham owns Days Inn, Super 8 and Travelodge — brands that cater toward people looking for an inexpensive (but clean and reliable) place to rest their heads. It’s not uncommon to book a one-night stay for less than $100, even in New York City and other high-demand locales.

Because these hotels tend to be less expensive, your points might be worth less. For example, at the end of January, we ran a search for the end of March for the Days Inn Hotel near Broadway in New York City, where a room can go for as little as about $70 for a weekend night. If you pay with points, each point will be worth a bit less than half a cent — a pretty low value as far as rewards points and miles go. Keep in mind that the room price can vary dramatically depending on a variety of factors, including how far in advance you’re trying to book and what time of year you’re visiting.

It all depends on your style of travel. But if you want something more luxurious, we recommend looking elsewhere.

How to use it

The Wyndham Rewards® Visa® Card is a great option for drivers who need a few hours of shut-eye before they continue on their road trip.

After making your first purchase, you can use your 15,000-point sign-up bonus to book one hotel night, and then try to save up for more complimentary nights.

Best card for hotel rewards and benefits: Hilton Honors Card from American Express

From our partner

Who’s it for?

Travelers who prefer Hilton hotels.

Why we like it

The Hilton Honors Card from American Express is one of the few hotel-branded credit cards that doesn’t charge an annual fee. And in this case, “no annual fee” doesn’t translate to bare-bones rewards.

With this card, you can earn seven Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases spent with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio. You can also earn five Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. grocery stores and U.S. gas stations. All other eligible purchases earn three Hilton Honors Bonus Points per $1. For a limited time, this card also comes with a generous welcome bonus: 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend at least $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of card membership.

Finally, the Hilton Honors Card from American Express also grants to cardholders complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status, which comes with a whole slew of extra benefits. For example, if you save enough Hilton Honors Bonus Points to book a rewards stay of five consecutive nights using all points, you’ll only be charged for the first four nights; your fifth night will be complimentary.

Watch out for

If you don’t stay at Hilton hotels or resorts at least a couple of times per year, this might not be the right card for you.

It’s also important to realize that Hilton Honors Bonus Points aren’t as valuable as they may seem. At first glance, the Hilton Honors Card from American Express offers more points per $1 spent than many other travel cards do, but each Hilton point is worth less than other hotel reward programs, so it may take more points to book a reward stay at Hilton than at other hotels.

A good rule of thumb is to assume your Hilton Honors Bonus Points are worth about half a cent. While this valuation may fluctuate depending on when and where you book a rewards stay, it can help keep your expectations more realistic.

How to use it

Whether you’re planning a vacation or a business trip, you can use your Hilton Honors Card from American Express to book your stay at a participating Hilton hotel or resort. This way, you’ll earn seven Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar spent — the fastest way to rack up rewards with this card.

You may also want to prioritize this card when dining out at U.S. restaurants, shopping at U.S. supermarkets or filling up at U.S. gas stations, as the five points you’ll get for every eligible dollar spent isn’t too shabby.

A word to the wise, though: Don’t cash out the first chance you get. Instead, try to save up enough Hilton Honors Bonus Points to pay for at least four rewards nights so you can use your Silver status to get a complimentary fifth night.

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.