Get the most from these new no-annual-fee rewards cards this holiday season

Looking to change up your go-to card before the holidays? Check these out


Shopping for a new credit card just in time for the holidays? Here’s a new generation of no fee rewards and cash back cards loaded with bonuses and perks, plus a few tips on how to get the most from them.

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If you’re shopping for a new credit card just in time for the holidays, your bank might have a gift for you.

This year, U.S. banks have produced a bumper crop of no-annual-fee rewards cards. Aimed at everyone from foodies to travelers to people who use plastic for everyday buys (hello, gas and groceries), these brand-new cards feature a variety of perks.

Many also offer a sign-up bonus if you hit a minimum spending target within the first three months of opening the card. And several offer a 0 percent APR for both purchases and balance transfers.

But you also want to look at the long term. Long after you’ve earned that signing bonus, is this the right card for you?

Every time you apply for a card or obtain a card, “those actions affect your credit rating,” says Todd Rosenthal, senior vice president and general manager of credit cards for PNC. “You’ve got to make sure you’re making those long-term choices.”

And if you’ve been looking to get or change up your go-to credit card before the holidays and reap a little extra bonus along the way, you have a lot of options.

Here are a few new rewards card options and tips geared toward four types of card hunters – world travelers, big-item hunters, free-flight seekers and discount shoppers – along with some pointers on how to get what you need from these cards.

See related: Merry holiday shopping: 6 ways to cut yor costs now

Holiday shopping tips for making the most of your rewards cards

  • No matter how big that sign-up bonus or what perks the card offers, “budget up front what you want to spend before you hit the mall,” says Remi Trudel, associate professor of marketing at Boston University.
  • That way, you spend exactly what you can afford, earn rewards, enjoy card perks and don’t have to worry about January bills.
  • Consider using an app or program that will break downyour card spending by category – meals, entertainment, groceries, etc. “People are quite good at budgeting when they’re able to segregate” spending by categories, says Trudel. If your card doesn’t do this, “you can lose track of what you spend,” he says.
  • Try using a budgeting app or spreadsheet program, such as Mint or Tiller, that will take your card bill and separate it out for you.

Brand-new no annual fee cards that offer cash back, rewards, introductory bonus

American Express Cash Magnet® Card

  • Unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on your purchases.
  • Bonus: $150 if you spend $1,000 in first 3 months.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

  • 3 points per dollar on dining, travel and transit, gas station purchases and select streaming services.
  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases.
  • Bonus: 30,000 points if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

  • 2 miles per dollar on grocery stores and eligible American Airlines purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar on other purchases.
  • Bonus: 10,000 miles and $50 statement credit if you spend $500 in first 3 months.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card

  • 3 percent cash back in the category of your choice: Gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings.
  • 2 percent cash back on groceries and wholesale club purchases.
  • $2,500 combined limit on 2 and 3 percent categories each quarter.
  • 1 percent cash back on other purchases.
  • Bonus: $200 online cash rewards if you spend $1,000 in first 90 days.
  • Preferred Rewards cardholders with a substantial bank balance are eligible to earn a 25 to 75 percent bonus.

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • 3 percent cash back on dining and entertainment.
  • 2 percent cash back at grocery stores.
  • 1 percent cash back on other purchases.
  • Bonus: $150 if you spend $500 in first 3 months.
“Budget up front on what you want to spend before you hit the mall.”

Rewards card tips and options for world travelers

First and foremost, if you’re shopping abroad, you also want a card with no foreign transaction fees.

Some cards will also offer perks that make traveling easier, such a lost bag insurance or travelers’ assistance or concierge services.

“Not all credit cards are accepted overseas,” says Rosenthal. “Make sure yours is so you can get the benefit.”

Also, if you’re planning to pay off your vacation over time, you might want to consider a card that offers a 0-percent introductory period – and a few of these brand-new no fee cards give you that option.

A couple of contenders that offer travel perks plus rewards with no annual fee include:

Capital One SavorOne Cash Reward

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Car rental insurance
  • Roadside assistance
  • Complimentary concierge service
  • Emergency card service

Wells Fargo Propel American Express

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Travel and emergency assistance services
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver
  • Roadside assistance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Trip cancellation and interruption protection
  • Luxury hotels discounts and benefits
  • Car rental discount
  • Lowest available airfare
  • Discounts on vacation packages
  • $300 credit on select cruises

See related:11 credit card travel insurance benefits

Rewards card tips and options for big-item hunters

If you’re getting ready to make a big purchase for the holidays, it can help to have a no-annual-fee card that gives you a temporary break on interest.

Shop and budget carefully and you could reap “bonus miles and your teaser rate and get your free ticket,” says Jean Chatzky, financial editor of NBC’s Today and CEO of

Smart tip: “If you are the kind of person who revolves a balance, look at the interest,” she says.

Will that teaser period give you enough time to comfortably pay off your purchase or transferred balance? Even if the card offers 0-percent interest for a limited time, find out if there’s a balance transfer fee and what that will cost.

And remember, those transferred balances don’t count towards rewards, says Chatzky.

Zero-interest card options for big-item hunters include:

Capital One SavorOne

  • 0 percent for 15 months on both balance transfers and purchases.
  • Regular APR of 15.74 percent to 25.74 percent (variable).
  • 3 percent balance transfer fee.

American Express Cash Magnet®

  • 0 percent for 15 months on both balance transfers and purchases.
  • Regular APR of 14.49 percent to 25.49 percent (variable).
  • $5 or 3 percent balance transfer fee – whichever is higher.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards

  • 0 percent introductory APR for 15 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers made in the first 60 days.
  • Regular variable APR of 15.49 percent to 25.49 percent.
  • $10 or 3 percent balance transfer fee – whichever is higher.

See related:9 things you should know about balance transfers

“If you are the kind of person who revolves a balance, look at the [card’s] interest.”

Rewards card tips and options for free-flight seekers

You’re shopping for a rewards card, but what you really want is a free airline ticket. Maybe you want to fly home to friends and family. Or maybe you need to escape for the holidays. Either way, there are several no-annual-fee rewards cards that could help you reach that goal.

Your mantra: Miles aren’t worth debt. Even 50,000 miles is “pretty much one ticket, unless you luck into an extremely low fair,” says Chatzky. And these cards often come with a large minimum spend requirement (typically $3,000) before those miles or points are banked in your account.

She suggests starting by figuring out how much you’re going to spend for the holidays.

Then, “start loading that money into a separate account that’s set up to pay for that credit card’s minimum spend,” Chatzky says. “You want to be automatically transferring money into that account to cover the needs you’re going to have.”

  • If those expenses are not enough to meet the minimum spend you’ll need to earn the sign-up bonus, you have options.
  • Consider re-routing planned expenses – like your cellphone bill – to that card for a month or two, “just until you get to that level” of spending, says Chatzky.
  • But if you do the math ahead of time and your holiday spending and planned expenses still aren’t enough to get that sign-up bonus, “I wouldn’t do it,” she says.

See related: 8 creative ways to meet a rewards card’s minimum spend

The key is to find a card that rewards you for what you’re doing anyway, says Rosenthal. “There are plenty of options on the market. Find one that suits you.”

Another savvy move: If you’re doing this to get a free ticket, find out what it would cost you to buy that ticket, says Trudel. That could be a cheaper or easier option.

“People have to do that kind of cost-benefit analysis,” he says.

Some brand-new card options for free-flight seekers include:

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

  • Miles don’t expire as long as you earn or redeem miles every 18 months
  • No limit on how many miles you can earn
  • Stretch your miles further with MileSAAver awards
  • Change award tickets at any time for no fee, as long as origin and destination are the same
  • Bonus: 10,000 miles and $50 statement credit after spending $500 in the first three months

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

  • Points don’t expire
  • No blackout dates
  • No limit on the number of points you can earn
  • Redeem points for any travel purchase at a value of 1 cent each
  • Points are redeemable with any airline
  • You can use a combination of points and your own funds to purchase flights
  • Bonus: 30,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months

In addition, depending on the cost of your desired ticket, a couple of aforementioned cards could be your best bet.

  • Bank of America Cash Rewards card puts $200 back in your pocket for spending $1000 within first 90 days of account opening.
  • Capital One SavorOne, with its $150 sign-up bonus for spending $500 within three months from account opening.

See related:Best travel cards

“Look at future rewards and see which [card] lines up best with your life in terms of choice of airline or bonus spend.”

Rewards card tips and options for discount shoppers

You love a bargain. And you want a card that will give you one. You should be looking at cash back cards that put money back into your pocket when you spend.

Some rewards cards “have different future earn-out ability,” says Chatzky. “And you don’t want to add a card to your wallet you’re never going to use again.”

She suggests, “look at future rewards and see which [card] lines up best with your life in terms of choice of airline or bonus spend. Look at where your spending [is] highest and how it lines up with the profile of the card.”

In addition to cash-back and a sign-up bonus, look for a card that offers shopping perks, such as complimentary free shipping, card-linked offers and return protection.

See related: 10 tips to simplify online shopping returns

Brand-new shopping-friendly no-annual-fee card options include:

Wells Fargo Propel American Express

  • Special discounts and deals offers through Amex Offers.
  • Return protection.
  • Retail protection: In case an item purchased with the Propel card is damaged or stolen within 90 days of purchase, the card will cover up to $1,000 per loss, up to $50,000 in claims per year.
  • Extended warranty.
  • Cellular telephone protection: Up to $600 per damaged or stolen cellphone claim, up to $1,200 per year (subject to a $25 deductible).

American Express Cash Magnet Card

  • Extended warranty.
  • Return protection.
  • Purchase protection.
  • Free 2-day shipping through complimentary ShopRunner membership.
  • Plan It: Set up a monthly payment plan for a large purchase with a fixed monthly fee and no interest charges.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

  • Damage and theft purchase protection.
  • Citi Price Rewind.
  • Extended warranty.
  • 90-day return protection.

Capital One SavorOne

  • Extended warranty.
  • Price protection.

The Bank of America content of this post was last updated on Dec. 2, 2019.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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