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Credit Cards

Best travel credit cards with no annual fee of June 2021

We analyzed 12 popular travel cards with no annual fee using an average American's annual spending budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best credit card for your travel habits.

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You don't have to pay an annual fee to get a solid travel rewards credit card. You might not get all the fancy perks that come with some of the more luxe travel cards, but there are some really good options that will help you earn rewards to pay for your next adventure.

To make sure you're choosing the best no-annual-fee travel card for your needs, we analyzed 12 popular options using an average American's spending annual budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your travel habits. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

There are two key perks that are essential when choosing a travel card: no foreign transaction fees and the ease with which you can cash in rewards for travel. And the card is even better when you can earn bonus rewards for travel-related purchases. The cards in this round-up check every box, and based on our calculations, you could earn upwards of $1,500 in cash back over five years. Plus, some of the cards may offer travel insurance, which provides added value.

Here are Select's top picks for the travel credit cards without an annual fee:

Winner

Discover it® Miles

On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.

  • Welcome bonus

    Discover will match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% Intro APR for14 months on purchases and 10.99% Intro APR for 14 months on balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    11.99% - 22.99% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good / Excellent

Pros

  • Miles program
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • No blackout dates
  • No limit to the amount of miles you can earn and miles never expire

Cons

  • No Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit offerings
  • Travel spending does not receive additional rewards
  • No airport lounge access
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $664
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,991

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Discover it Miles card comes with a generous rewards program that makes it a standout among travel cards.

Unlike some other cards on this list, you won't earn more for travel or dining related purchases. The Discover it Miles card offers users unlimited 1.5X miles for every dollar spent on all purchases. But for higher spenders, Discover offers a welcome bonus that's hard to beat: It will do a mile-for-mile match of all miles earned the first year (for new card members in their first year only). If you rack up 35,000 miles within the first 12 months, Discover will match you with 35,000 miles. That's a total of 70,000 miles or $700 toward travel. (Based on our calculations, the average card user will earn around 32,777 miles in the first year.)

With this card, there are no blackout dates when you pay for travel purchases using your card. And, you can easily redeem miles as a statement credit for travel, restaurant or gas station purchases, as well as a deposit to your bank account. The best part is, miles earned never expire even if your account is closed.

Runner-up

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

  • Rewards

    Unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    25,000 bonus points after you spend at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward qualifying travel purchases

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles on purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $10 or 3%, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Points can be redeemed for flexible travel expenses, including flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees
  • No limit or expiration on points
  • Strong welcome bonus of 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Intro 0% APR for 12 billing cycles on purchases
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Promotional 0% APR does not apply to balance transfers
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $466
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,528

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card also offers an unlimited 1.5X rate like the Discover card above. Cardholders earn 1.5 points for every dollar spent on all purchases.

Its welcome bonus is not as generous as Discover's, which is why we ranked it as a runner-up, but potential cardholders can still score from signing up and spending: Earn 25,000 bonus points after spending at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. This can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward qualifying travel purchases.

With this card, there is no limit on the points you can earn and points do not expire. Cardholders can redeem their rewards at any time and at any amount, plus count on zero foreign transaction fees on their next overseas vacation.

Best for hotels

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Information about the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for 12 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    15.49% to 25.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠
  • 0% APR for 12 months on purchases
  • Miles never expire for the life of the account

Cons

  • No Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit offerings
  • No airport lounge access
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $500
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,699

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? Anyone looking to book hotel rooms should consider the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card and its impressive offer 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠. This no-annual-fee card also gives cardmembers an unlimited 1.25X miles on all other purchases, making it a solid choice for everyday use.

Another perk is the intro 0% APR period, which lasts for 12 months on new purchases. After that, the APR is 15.49% to 25.49% variable.

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers new users a strong welcome bonus: 20,000 bonus miles after they spend $500 on purchases within the first three months.

Additionally, with this card, it's possible to transfer your miles to any of Capital One's partner airlines, including JetBlue, Emirates Skywards, Air Canada and Air France. (Read how to make the most of your airline miles.)

Cardholders can also redeem their miles for cash in the form of a check or account credit, gift cards and more, though rates for these other redemption options vary.

Learn more: Select's Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review

Best for students

Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

  • Rewards

    Unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    25,000 bonus points after you spend at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward qualifying travel purchases

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles on purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $10 or 3%, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Points can be redeemed for flexible travel expenses, including flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees
  • No limit or expiration on points
  • Strong welcome bonus of 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Intro 0% APR for 12 billing cycles on purchases
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to apply for this card

Cons

  • Promotional 0% APR does not apply to balance transfers
  • No student-centric benefits or incentives to practice responsible credit behavior
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $466
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,528

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students is a great choice for students who plan on studying abroad or traveling during breaks. The rewards program is geared toward travel, and cardholders earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases.

You can redeem rewards as a statement credit to cover the cost of qualifying travel purchases — a simple way to reduce the cost of taking a spring break vacation or buying a plane ticket home. There are no foreign transaction fees, making it an ideal card for students studying abroad.

Cardholders can redeem their rewards at any time and at any amount, including when shopping on Amazon.

This card also comes with a longer-than-average special financing offer of no interest for 12 billing cycles (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). A full year of no interest is a great way for you to pay off new purchases over time, without incurring interest charges. We recommend you pay off your balance on time and in full each month.

You must be 18 or older and enrolled in school (college, vocational or trade school) to qualify for this card.

Latest: Does your credit card travel insurance cover coronavirus cancellations?

Best no-annual-fee travel credit cards

Category Credit card Estimated rewards earned after five years
WinnerDiscover it® Miles$1,991
Runner-upBank of America® Travel Rewards credit card$1,528
Best for hotelsCapital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card$1,699
Best for studentsBank of America® Travel Rewards for StudentsN/A

Our methodology

To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, Select evaluated 12 popular travel credit cards with no annual fee offered by major banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join. We compared each card on a range of features, including travel rewards (points and miles), annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, one-time perks, annual perks, redemption rates, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

We then estimated how much the average consumer would redeem over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

Note: We didn't calculate the estimated rewards rate for college student credit cards because the focus should be on building good financial habits not optimizing points.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your travel habits.

For rates and fees of the Discover it® Miles, click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.