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The best hotel credit cards with no annual fee 2018

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At a glance: The best hotel cards with no annual fee 2018

Best for hotel rewards and benefits  Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card
Best for flexibility Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

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

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 N/A (This offer is no longer available on our site), 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

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 $95 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).


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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