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So far 2014 has been a great year for new credit cards and increased sign up bonuses. Most notably, American Express came out with the first Membership Rewards earning card with no annual fee, the Amex Everyday. While we used to only see no annual fee cards that offered base level sign up bonuses or small amounts of cash back, there are now a a number of great credit cards that earn you points to use for travel or cash back and won’t charge you a cent to carry them in your wallet.
Here are the top 9 credit cards that offer no annual fee:
Chase Freedom Card
Current Bonus: 20,000 points with $500 spend in 3 months.
Other Benefits: Rotating quarterly bonuses that allow you to earn 5 points per dollar in certain categories, up to $1,500 per quarter. Current 5x categories until June 30th are restaurants and Lowe’s home improvement stores. Q3 (July 1 – September 30th) bonus categories include gas stations and Kohl’s and Q4 (October 1 – December 31st) categories will be Amazon.com, Zappos.com and select department stores. Earn 1 point per dollar on other spending. Points can be transferred into the Ultimate Rewards account for your Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus or Bold cards. For more on the current offer, check out this recently updated review.
Bottom Line: This bonus recently doubled from 10,000 points to the current 20,000 point bonus on just $500 spend. Chase Freedom is a worthy option even for those who aren’t necessarily limited to no-fee cards. Combined with cards in the Ultimate Rewards program, this card is potent.
Current Bonus: 10,000 points after $1,000 spend in 3 months.
Other Benefits: Earn 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets (excluding warehouse stores like Costco) on up to $6,000 of spending annually (1 point per dollar after that), and earn 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent elsewhere. Make 20 or more purchases in a billing cycle and earn 20% more points. Smart Chip technology. 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months.
Bottom Line: This is the first ever Membership Rewards earning card with no annual fee. Amex Everyday is a great option if you’re thinking about canceling your current Membership Rewards earning card because you can maintain your relationship with Amex and keep the points you have already earned; otherwise you’d have to transfer them to a partner or lose them.
Current Bonus: 20,000 miles with $1,000 spend in 90 days.
Other Benefits: Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on travel and dining, and 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere. Receive 10% of your miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits. Miles do not expire. 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 12 months after account opening – after that, a variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%,based on your creditworthiness. No foreign transaction fees. Complimentary online Fico score access. For more information about this card, check out this post for details on its Travel Bonus Category and Redemption Options, and this one for ideas on the Top 10 Ways To Maximize Barclaycard Arrival Miles.
Bottom Line: With the 10% rebate for travel statement credits, Barclaycard Arrival effectively offers 2.2% back on all travel and dining when redeeming for travel. Considering there are no foreign transaction fees, this card is currently my top all around no fee option for travelers.
Chase Ink Cash Card
Current Bonus: $200 cash back with $3,000 spend in 3 months.
Other Benefits: Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services, 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent annually at gas stations and restaurants, and 1% cash back on everything else. This card comes with 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months; then 13.24% (Variable).
Bottom Line: The best part about Ink cards is earning 5x at office supply stores, which you can maximize by buying retail gift cards. If you have another Chase card that earns Ultimate Rewards points like the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus you can turn the points you earn from the Ink Cash into transferrable points instead of cash back. If you’ve already gotten the sign-up bonuses for the Ink Bold and Ink Plus, the Ink Cash card is a great way to boost your Ultimate Rewards balance.
Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature
Current Bonus: 40,000 Hilton HHonors points after $1,000 spend in 4 months.
Other Benefits: 6 points for every $1 spent at hotels within the Hilton HHonors portfolio; 3 points for every $1 spent at supermarkets, drugstores, and gas stations; 2 points for every $1 spent elsewhere. Automatic HHonors Silver Status. Fast track to Hilton HHonors Gold status (with 4 stays within first 90 days). Visa Signature benefits.
Bottom Line: Although Hilton Silver status isn’t very valuable, this card offers a fast track to Gold status where if you complete four stays within the first 90 days, you qualify and get benefits like a 25% points bonus on stays and free internet. Visa Signature offers some great benefits as well, like concierge service and CLEAR for expedited airport security. A superior option is the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, which comes with a much more valuable sign-up bonus of 2 free weekend night certificates when you spend $2,500 in 4 months, plus a $100 statement credit after your first qualifying Hilton stay. However, the Reserve card has a $95 annual fee. Those two free nights could be worth up to 190,000 points depending on which hotel you stay in. You can also earn an additional free night if you spend $10,000 on your card within a year, but if you can’t reach that spend threshold then I would suggest getting the no fee card.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Visa Signature
Current Bonus: 20,000 miles after $1,000 spend in 3 months.
Other Benefits: Earn 1.25 points per dollar on every purchase. Redeem points for flights, hotel rooms, car rentals, gift cards and more at a rate of 1 cent per point. Miles do not expire. No foreign transaction fees. 0% APR for the first 12 months.
Bottom Line: These aren’t points to redeem for premium travel, but are good for people who are looking to purchase economy airfare on fixed dates without any blackout periods.
Citi Thank You Preferred
Current Bonus: 20,000 ThankYou Points after $1,500 spend in 3 months.
Other Benefits: Earn 2 points per $1 spent on dining and entertainment; earn 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere. Redeem points for travel, gift cards, and other options. 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for first 12 months.
Bottom Line: Citi ThankYou points are generally worth 1 cent each, but those who hold the Citi ThankYou Premier card (the Preferred card’s big brother) can redeem points for travel at 1.25 cents each. Since you can pool ThankYou points between your various accounts, that makes the ThankYou Preferred card a great stepping stone to the fitter, happier, more productive Premier.
Current Bonus: None
Other Benefits: 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories; 1% cash back on all other purchases. 5-25% back on purchases through the ShopDiscover online mall. Free Fico score on your monthly statement. No foreign transaction fees.
Bottom Line: With no signup bonus and often underwhelming 5% categories, you might be surprised to see this card on the list. Its value is mainly that it provides access to the ShopDiscover online mall, which features enough big name retailers to make the discounts notable. The free Fico score is useful too, especially to those who are building their credit history in the pursuit of bigger and better cards. Discover It has offered a $150 signup bonus in the past, so it may be worth waiting to apply in case the improved offer returns.
Penfed Premium Travel Rewards
Current Bonus: 20,000 points with $2,500 spend in 3 months.
Other Benefits: Earn 5 points per $1 spent on airfare; earn 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere. No foreign transaction fees. Free membership to Lounge Club (2 free lounge visits per year) after spending $15,000 annually. Amex branded card with travel offers and discounts through American Express Travel Privileges program.
Bottom Line: This is the only card available to consistently offer such a high return for airfare purchases. PenFed recently devalued their points from 1 cent to around 0.85 cents each (values vary slightly depending on redemption amount). Still, 4.25% back on airfare is respectable. You can sometimes beat that by using 5% category bonuses to purchase airline gift cards, but this card makes saving easier. Points are best redeemed for a wide selection of gift cards (including Marriott, American Airlines, Hertz, many major retailers, and more).