This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Are you unwilling or unable to pay a high annual fee for a travel rewards credit card? There are lots of reasons to avoid paying hundreds of dollars a year to use a credit card, and many people still refuse to pay any annual fees at all.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of low-fee cards that allow you to earn some of the most valuable points and miles available. In today’s post, I’ll take a look at the hottest travel rewards cards available in 2017 with low annual fees, or none at all.
Top Low-Fee Cards
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
2. Citi ThankYou Premier Card
3. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
4. Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express
5. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card
6. JetBlue Card
7. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
8. Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card
9. IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred ($0 for the first year, then $95)
This card was incredibly popular for years, until the Chase Sapphire Reserve became a smash hit in 2016. But if the Reserve card’s $450 annual fee is not in your budget, the Sapphire Preferred is definitely worth considering. It provides exceptional rewards for a low fee of $95, which is waived the first year.
You can earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Those points can also be worth much more when transferred to the Ultimate Rewards program’s airline and hotel partners.
You’ll also earn 2x points on all travel and dining purchases, and Chase has a very wide definition of travel. According to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 2.1 cents each, which means you get an outstanding return of 4.2% on all your dining and travel purchases. That’s not as good as the 6.3% return you’ll get on these same categories with the Sapphire Reserve Card, but for the much lower annual fee the Sapphire Preferred is hard to beat. And as a premium travel rewards card, the Sapphire Preferred also comes with trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, baggage delay insurance and trip delay reimbursement. You also get primary rental car insurance, and there are no foreign transaction fees.
2. Citi ThankYou Premier Card ($95, waived the first year)
This card earns points in Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program, which continues to become more valuable. With the addition of JetBlue as a partner, it now offers 15 different options for transferring your points. You can also redeem points for 1.25 cents each toward airfare purchased through Citi’s ThankYou Rewards Travel Center. According to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, Citi ThankYou points are worth 1.6 cents each.
To get you started earning ThankYou points, the Citi Premier card offers 30,000 bonus points after new cardholders spend $3,000 within three months of account opening. You also earn 3x on travel expenses, 2x on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card (waived for first 12 months), and no foreign transaction fees.
3. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express ($95, waived the first year)
This is another long-time favorite travel rewards card that just keeps getting better. Shortly after Marriott acquired the Starwood brand in 2016, SPG members could transfer 1 Starpoint to 3 points in the Marriott Rewards program. According to TPG’s valuations, Starpoints are worth 2.7 cents each, while accordingly Marriott Rewards points are worth 0.9 cents each.
With this card, you can earn 2x points on purchases at Starwood hotels and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. You’ll currently receive 25,000 Starpoints after you make $3,000 in purchases within three months of account opening, plus an additional 10,000 Starpoints when you make another $2,000 in purchases in the first six months for a total of 35,000 points. Other benefits include free premium in-room internet and Gold elite status when you spend $30,000 during a calendar year. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
4. Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express (no fee)
Though this card has no annual fee, it still offers rewards points that can be transferred to airline partners (without requiring you to hold another card with an annual fee). This card offers 2x points for up to $6,000 spent at US supermarkets each calendar year, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. You can also get a 20% bonus on the points you’ve earned each statement period when you make at least 20 transactions. As a result, you can earn an effective 1.2x on all purchases and 2.4x at US supermarkets.
Rewards are earned as American Express Membership Rewards points and can be transferred to miles with 17 different frequent flyer programs. TPG values American Express Membership Rewards points at 1.9 cents apiece, so this equates to a fantastic 4.56 cents in value per point when shopping at US grocery stores and earning the 20% bonus. While there’s no annual fee for this card, unfortunately purchases abroad will be subject to a foreign transaction fee of 2.7%.
5. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card ($75)
This card is a great way to earn Alaska miles, which can be redeemed for award flights on many partners, including the recently added JAL. This card offers 3x miles for spending with Alaska, and 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere. According to TPG’s latest valuations, Alaska MileagePlan miles are worth 1.8 cents each.
You also get 30,000 miles and an annual coach companion fare for $121 when you make $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening. Finally, you and up to six traveling companions on the same reservation get a free checked bag on Alaska flights. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
6. JetBlue Card (no fee)
There are very few airline credit cards that have no annual fee, and almost none of them are worth having. The exception is the JetBlue Card from Barclaycard. It offers 3x points on all JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
According to TPG’s valuations, JetBlue points are worth 1.2 cents each, which means you get a healthy return on your dining and supermarket purchases, as well as when you buy flights through JetBlue. Other benefits include a 50% savings on in-flight purchases, and a sign-up bonus of 5,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on the card within 90 days of account opening. There are no foreign transaction fees.
7. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard ($89, waived the first year)
This is a fantastic card for beginning award travelers, and even experienced award travelers can use these miles to pay for the taxes and fees on their awards and other out-of-pocket travel expenses. With the Arrival Plus, you earn double miles on all spending, and your miles can be redeemed for 1 cent apiece as statement credits toward any travel purchase. In addition, you receive 5% of your miles back every time you redeem them.
Currently, this card offers new applicants 50,000 miles, worth $500 in travel statement credits, after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days. There’s an $89 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
8. Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card (no fee)
Just as it’s unusual to find a no-fee airline credit card that’s worth having, it’s also pretty rare to find a good no-fee card that earns hotel points. This card offers 75,000 bonus points after new applicants spend $2,000 within three months of account opening, and it has some generous bonus spending categories.
You’ll earn 6x points on Hilton charges, 3x points at restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets and 2x points for all other spending. Cardholders also receive automatic HHonors Silver status and an upgrade to Gold status when they spend $20,000 in a calendar year or complete four paid Hilton stays within 90 days of account opening. Plus, you can earn 10,000 bonus points when you use your card to spend at least $1,000 at Hilton properties in a calendar year. There’s no annual fee for this card, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.
9. IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card ($49, waived the first year)
Finally, here’s a low-cost hotel card that features impressive benefits. New applicants earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn 5x points at IHG hotels, 2x points for purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.
You also get a free night each year of cardmembership, which can be extremely valuable. Other benefits include automatic Platinum Elite status as long as you remain a credit cardmember and a 10% rebate on your points redeemed, up to 100,000 points per year. There’s a $49 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
What’s your favorite low-fee credit card?