5 great no-annual-fee cards for travel

These cards help you save on travel spending and earn points for future trips

Lyn Mettler
Personal finance writer
Specializes in writing on travel, family and food

5 great no-annual-fee cards for travel

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My family spends a lot more on travel in the summer than the rest of the year. 

With our kids out of school, we try to take advantage of a free schedule to do as much travel as possible. So while we’re doing that spending, we want to make sure we’re putting it on the right card to earn us the most miles and points for future travel or to save some money with a cash-back card.

Now that summer is winding down, we’re traveling a lot less. Your schedule may differ from ours, but most of us want to save on spending away from home, no matter what time of year it is. 

Here are some of my picks for the best no fee cards for travel if you don’t want to bother with an annual fee.

1. Discover it® Cash Back

One of my favorite no-fee cards is Discover it® Cash Back, as it lets you save on categories of spending that often don’t lend themselves to other methods of savings. The card has quarterly rotating categories that allow you to earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in expenses, in addition to 1 percent cash back for all other purchases, after you activate the bonus categories. 

For example, my family used this card on a trip to Walt Disney World to pay for all of our dining. At the time the card was offering 5 percent cash back on restaurant purchases up to $1,500 once enrolled. Since you don’t find coupons too often, if ever, at Disney, it was a way to save some money on our pricey vacation.

From July through September 2018, the cash-back category is restaurants again – perfect for saving on your meals while traveling. You’ll earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases at Amazon.com and wholesale clubs from October through December if you enroll – ideal for shopping while visiting family out of town for the holidays.

Additionally, Discover matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year of membership. 

See related: 3 ways to stack your rewards at the gas station

2. Chase Freedom

Similar to Discover it Cash Back, Chase Freedom also lets you earn 5 percent cash back on rotating categories for up to $1,500 in purchases every quarter with no annual fee. But this card also gives you the option to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points – one of my favorite types of travel points – instead of cash back.

To earn points instead of cash back, you’ll need to hold either the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, both of which carry annual fees. You can then transfer points at a rate of $1 equal to 100 points to your Chase Ultimate Rewards account associated with one of these cards.

Chase Freedom will offer 5 percent cash back with Lyft rides, at gas stations (perfect for your late summer road trips) and at Walgreens through September. You can stack coupons at Walgreens on top of this cash back for some significant savings. October through December’s Chase Freedom cash back category has not yet been announced. 

3. Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

If you’re looking for a no-fee airline card, Blue Delta SkyMiles is one of just a handful of options for domestic airlines. If you enjoy flying Delta or one of their partner airlines like Air France or Alitalia, this may be a card you want to consider, because it earns SkyMiles, which you can redeem for free flights.

The Blue Delta SkyMiles card is a good option for dining, as it earns 2 miles per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, as well as 2 miles per dollar on any Delta expenditures. All other purchases will grant you 1 miles per dollar. It also comes with a 20 percent discount on any in-flight purchases, such as food or drinks, with Delta. 

See related: Variety of rewards cards helps cover bucket list trip costs 

4. Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

This no-annual-fee card makes it simple to earn on your travels, as it gives you a flat 1.25 miles per dollar for every purchase you make with the card. You can then redeem your “miles” at the rate of 100 miles equal to $1 as a statement credit within 90 days of the purchase. Alternately, you can book travel in the Capital One Rewards Center at the same redemption rate. 

There is one way to earn more than the standard 1.25 miles using this card. Book at Hotels.com/Venture to score 10 miles per dollar when you pay with your Capital One VentureOne Rewards card. Another nice feature is that it does not charge foreign transaction fees when making purchases in a foreign country.

5. Hilton Honors American Express Card

When it comes to hotel credit cards with no annual fee, I like the Hilton Honors American Express card, because it earns significant points in several key categories. Not only do you get 7 points per dollar for all Hilton purchases, you can score 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations – all helpful for travel! Plus, you’ll get 3 points per dollar on everything else. 

The card also gives holders automatic Hilton Honors Silver status, and it, too, skips charging a foreign transaction fee, making it a good option for travel outside the U.S. 

 


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Updated: 11-14-2018