No-annual-fee cards with the best perks, rewards
Infrequent travelers, homebodies can get some credit card love, too
By Brady Porche
Credit card rewards don’t come for free – but you can get them without paying an annual fee.
There is a slew of cards in the market now promising a world of perks as long as you spend several thousands of dollars in a few months and plunk down a $450 fee each year. With all the attention cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve (see review) are getting these days, it’s easy to overlook the bevy of others that offer nice rewards without busting your budget. Despite the high profit potential of elite cards, rewards cards with no annual fees are here to stay.
“It’s a highly competitive market, and card issuers will continue to develop products that match the diverse preferences and tastes of their customers,” said Jeff Sigmund, vice president of public relations for the American Bankers Association. “Rewards are one of the top features people consider when shopping for a credit card, and issuers will continue to provide choices that appeal to a wide variety of consumers – from no annual fees to cash back, airline miles and other valuable options.”
However, no-annual-fee, high-reward cards are not created equal. The types of perks vary, but there are enough cards out there to suit an array of personal spending priorities and lifestyles. Travel rewards are currently en vogue, but those of us who tend to stay close to home have no reason to feel left out.
Best bets for infrequent
Travel junkies are swimming in options to maximize their savings with rewards cards lately. But if you like to travel on a light budget – or you plan only one vacation per year – a high annual fee may outweigh most or all of the perks. Fortunately, there are several cards that can help you get away without draining your wallet.
Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card: This Citi card is a great option if you’re a loyal Hilton guest. You can earn 75,000 Hilton HHonors bonus points (worth up to 15 free room nights) by spending $2,000 within the first three months of opening your account – an achievable goal if you use your card for everyday purchases. You get 3 bonus points for each dollar you spend at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations, and 2 points for every other purchase. The card also confers upon you HHonors Silver status for as long as you’re a card member. There is no special introductory interest rate, however, and the lower range of the variable APR is a bit high at 15.49 percent.
Discover it Miles: This card offers 1.5x airline miles on every dollar you spend, and Discover will match all the miles you earn at the end of your first year. You also pay no interest during the first year of membership and, once that promotional period expires, the card's variable APR is only 11.24 percent at the low end. There are no blackout dates, so you can use your miles anytime you want with any airline. Discover also throws in a nice perk that any smartphone addict or airplane workaholic can appreciate – a $30-per-year credit on in-flight Wi-Fi fees.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: With the VentureOne Rewards card, you’re entitled to 20,000 bonus miles (equal to $200 in travel spending) if you make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months. You also earn 1.25x miles on all purchases and you can fly any airline and stay at any hotel with no blackout dates. It offers a 0-percent introductory APR for 12 months and has a variable APR range of 12.24 percent to 22.24 percent after that.
Most value for homebodies
Some, however, travel out of town rarely, if ever. Perhaps most of your family and friends are concentrated within a few miles of where you live. Or, you only travel for work and your company pays for all of your business trips upfront. If you have little or no use for travel perks, there are still many no-annual-fee cards that offer cash-back rewards for everyday spending such as grocery shopping, filling your gas tank and dining out.
Citi Double Cash Card: This card is named for its best perk, which allows you to earn cash back twice on every purchase – 1 percent when you buy and another 1 percent when you pay for your purchases. It has an APR range of 13.24 to 23.24 percent, and you can transfer a balance to the Double Cash card with no interest for the first 18 months. (Balance transfers, however, do not earn cash back.)
Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express: Another card that lives up to its moniker, the Blue Cash Everyday Card offers 3 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases), 2 percent at U.S. gas stations and 1 percent on other purchases. You also earn $100 in cash back after spending $1,000 within the first three months. The reward categories do not rotate, and the card has a 12-months-no-interest period both for purchases and balance transfers.
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Capital One’s Quicksilver card offers an easily attainable $100 cash back bonus if you spend $500 within the first three months. You earn an unlimited 1.5x cash back on all purchases, and the reward categories do not rotate. The card also has a limited-time deal sweetener for frequent ride-sharers – every 10th Uber ride you take is free (up to $15), through March 31, 2017. There is a no-interest introductory period for purchases and balance transfers, but at nine months it’s shorter than what many other cards offer.
Using a credit card for everyday purchases can be a rewarding experience, but the variety of perks offered underscores the importance of matching the right card with your personal needs. An annual fee of $100 or less may not seem like a big hit, but it adds up over time – and cards that skip the yearly charge can help you maximize your savings.
Published: October 26, 2016
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