Best no-annual-fee credit cards for international travel
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We are living in the golden age of travel-rewards credit cards. There are more great options than ever, ranging from cash-back cards with no annual fees to premium products packed with perks like airport lounge access and first-class companion tickets.
For international travelers there are credit cards that not only waive foreign transaction fees but also offer benefits like reimbursements for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck applications that make airport security and immigration processes faster and easier.
In addition, you don’t have to pay a hefty annual fee to carry a card that is useful for international travel. Here are the best credit cards currently available with no annual fees that still waive foreign transaction fees. They also include other travel-focused features, as well as great bonus-earning opportunities on everyday spending.
General travel cards: cash back and transferable points
Let’s start with credit cards that participate in either cash-back or transferable points programs. In alphabetical order:
Welcome offer: 25,000 bonus points (worth $250 toward travel) after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days after your account opening
Reasons to get it: This solid earner rakes in 1.5x points on all purchases, with no caps. Points can be redeemed at a rate of one cent apiece toward travel purchases. Bank of America Preferred Rewards members can earn 25% to 75% more points on every purchase.
Welcome offer: 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening
Reasons to get it: Like its more premium counterpart, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, this card earns miles that can be redeemed for cash back or transferred (with frequent bonuses) to various travel partner programs such as Air Canada Aeroplan and JetBlue TrueBlue. On the earning side, it racks up 1.25x miles on every purchase, but a whopping 10x miles on hotels booked through Hotels.com/Venture through Jan. 31 2020, making it a particularly lucrative choice for frequent travelers.
Welcome offer: $150 cash bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months after account opening
Reasons to get it: This card’s true strength lies in its earning potential, specifically targeted at folks who like to have a good time. It earns unlimited 3% cash back on dining purchases and entertainment spending, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else. It is also currently offering introductory offers of 0% APR on both purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. After that, a variable APR of 15.49% – 25.49% applies.
Welcome offer: This card offers 1.5x miles on every purchase. At the end of your first year, Discover will match all the miles you have earned automatically, essentially giving you a first-year cash-back return of 3%.
Reasons to get it: It has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. The other big reason to get this card is for its solid earning rate – 1.5x miles per dollar on all purchases with no caps. Miles can then be redeemed for one cent apiece as statement credits toward travel and other purchases, making them one of the easiest-to-use forms of cash-back currency. Cardholders can also access free FICO credit scores and take advantage of 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 14 months. After that, a variable APR of 13.49% – 24.49% applies.
Welcome offer: $100 cash back after spending $500 in purchases in the first 90 days
Reasons to get it: Nominally a credit card for frequent ride-sharers, this card offers a host of other perks aimed at all travelers. It earns 4x points per dollar on dining including UberEATS; 3x points on airfare, hotels and vacation home rentals; 2x on online purchases, which include Uber rides and streaming services; and 1x on everything else. Points can be redeemed for Uber credits, cash back and gift cards at one cent apiece. Cardholders who spend $5,000 or more each year also get a $50 annual credit toward digital subscriptions such as Netflix. It also comes with cellphone protection for damage or theft worth up to $600 if you use the card to pay your monthly bill.
Welcome offer: 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months.
Reasons to get it: This card is one of the most versatile cash-back earners, since it accrues 3x points on dining (both eating out and ordering in), at gas stations, on ride-shares, transit, flights, hotels, homestays, car rentals and popular streaming services. It earns 1x on everything else. Points can then be redeemed for cash back at a rate of one cent apiece toward travel purchases, statement credits, gift cards and donations to charities. It also offers excellent cellphone protection, which usually only comes with more expensive cards. It’ll cover you up to $600 per incident in case your phone is damaged or stolen (subject to a $25 deductible). Finally, the card comes with robust travel protections, including travel accident insurance, damaged/lost baggage insurance and emergency assistance.
Airline credit cards
There are still only a handful of airline credit cards without an annual fee, and only two waive pesky foreign exchange fees. Hopefully this will change as more adopt this perk to compete with more premium counterparts.
Welcome offer: 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
Reasons to get it: A card with no annual fee, this one still offers many of the same perks as the more upscale JetBlue Plus Card, which costs $99 per year. It earns 3x points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, 2x at restaurants and grocery stores and 1x on everything else. Cardholders can enjoy savings of 50% on eligible inflight purchases such as food and cocktails. It is currently offering 0% intro APR for 12 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening. JetBlue does not have the most extensive international route network, but it does fly to cities like Cartagena (CTG) in Colombia, Liberia (LIR) in Costa Rica and Guayaquil (GYE) in Ecuador. You can also redeem JetBlue TrueBlue points on Hawaiian Airlines flights, which include international destinations such as Australia and Japan.
United TravelBank Card
Welcome offer: Earn $150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Reasons to get it: United introduced this card in 2017 as a unique alternative to more traditional airline cards like its own United Explorer Card. Instead of MileagePlus miles, it earns 2% TravelBank cash per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United and 1.5% on all other purchases. One TravelBank dollar can be redeemed for one dollar toward the purchase of a ticket on flights operated by United. The card also confers a 25% refund on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights. It doesn’t provide the highest return on spending, but if you prefer earning cash back specifically for United tickets to the airline’s 100+ international destinations rather than trying to redeem award miles, this might be an interesting option for you.
The information for the United TravelBank card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Hotel credit cards
Several hotel loyalty programs offer excellent cobranded cards without annual or foreign transaction fees.
Best Western Rewards Mastercard – First Bank
Welcome offer: Up to 32,000 points — 16,000 upon first purchase and another 16,000 on your first stay
Reasons to get it: Earn 3x bonus points per dollar on Best Western purchases and 2x points on everything else. Cardholders also enjoy automatic Gold elite status and a 10% discount when selecting the Best Western Rewards rate on bookings made through bwrcarddiscount.com. They can also monitor their FICO score for free.
Welcome offer: 75,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months
Reasons to get it: Although the higher-end Hilton cards such as the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card tend to get more attention, there are plenty of reasons to consider this no-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card (see rates & fees). It offers a sizeable welcome bonus and earns 7x points on eligible Hilton purchases; 5x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and 3x points on everything else. Cardholders also receive automatic Hilton Honors Silver status and can spend their way to Gold by making $20,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year.
Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Reasons to get it: Marriott introduced this no-annual-fee card in June as an alternative to more expensive options like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. It earns 3x points on eligible Marriott purchases, 2x points on other travel purchases including airfare, taxis and trains, then 1x on everything else, which makes it a solid earner. Cardholders receive automatic Silver status and 15 nights of elite credit each year. Its travel protections are also pretty comprehensive for a no-annual-fee card, and include trip-delay reimbursement, baggage-delay insurance and lost-luggage reimbursement.
Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature – No Annual Fee
Welcome offer: 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase – enough for up to two free nights
Earning: This card earns 3x points at participating By Wyndham hotels, Wyndham Vacation Rental North America properties, and Wyndham timeshare properties; 2x points on gas, utility and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart); and 1x everywhere else. Cardholders can redeem their points at more than 8,000 properties within the chain’s 20 brands in more than 80 countries. The card also confers automatic Wyndham Gold status. It is currently offering a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on balance transfers (then a variable APR of 17.99% to 26.74% applies).
If you like to travel, but don’t want to pay an annual fee for a credit card, you have options. The welcome bonuses can be quite generous and there are surprisingly robust travel perks with some of these cards. Plus none of them charge foreign exchange fees, which can add up if you travel regularly outside of the country.
Despite some limits, these cards offer solid ways to earn rewards.
Featured image via Getty Images.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Amex card, click here.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card from Chase® with no annual fee!
- Limited Time Offer! Earn 50,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn 3X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
- 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains)
- 1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
- Receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, qualifying you for Silver Elite Status. Restrictions apply.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Earn Unlimited Marriott Bonvoy points and get Free Night Stays faster.