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Best no-annual-fee hotel credit cards

May 06, 2021
11 min read
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Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to pay annual fees topping $550 to get the best travel credit card. If you don’t travel enough to use all the benefits that come with a top-tier card — or simply don’t have room in your budget to justify these fees each year — there are still plenty of no-annual-fee cards to choose from.

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When it comes to hotel credit cards, the good news is that a no-annual-fee card can offer you more benefits than you would typically expect. From complimentary (or a pathway to) elite status to earning hotel points on your everyday purchases, you’ll only gain from owning these cards instead of worrying about outsizing the value from cards with no annual fees.

Related: Best hotel credit cards of 2021

While the best hotel card for you will depend on which hotel chain you prefer, the best options of the bunch are the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Card. Both brands are widely prevalent, meaning you have more opportunities to earn and redeem points at properties worldwide.

The best no-annual-fee hotel credit cards for 2021

Comparing the best no-annual-fee hotel credit cards

CardRewards rateIntro bonus
Marriott Bonvoy Bold3x points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 2x on other travel purchases and 1x on all other purchasesEarn 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
Hilton Honors American Express Card7x points on eligible Hilton hotel and resorts purchases, 5x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and at U.S. gas stations and 1x on other eligible purchases.Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
IHG Rewards  Traveler’s Credit CardUp to 15x points at IHG Hotels & Resorts, 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1x points on everything else.Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card15x points at eligible Choice Hotels and 2x points on everything else.Earn 32,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of card membership; earn 8,000-anniversary bonus points every year you spend $10,000 or more on the card.
Best Western Rewards Mastercard16x points on Best Western purchases and 2x points on everything else.Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 within the first three billing cycles after account opening; another 20,000 points when you spend $5,000 every 12 billing cycles.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card1.25x miles on all purchasesEarn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases within your first three months of account opening.

The best no-annual-fee hotel credit cards

Marriott Bonvoy Bold Card: Best card for Marriott

(Photo by Eric Helgas / The Points Guy)

Current sign-up bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

Rewards rate: Earn 3x points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 2x on other travel purchases and 1x on everything else.

Other benefits: You’ll become an automatic Silver Elite member as a cardholder, which gets you perks such as priority late checkout and 10% bonus points on stays. Therefore, you’ll have the ability to earn up to 14x points on eligible Marriott stays (3x points with this card, 10x for being a Marriott Bonvoy member and 1x for Silver Elite). Plus, earn 2x points on all travel purchases, from rideshares to plane tickets. You’ll have the opportunity to improve your elite status the more you stay with Marriott. This card comes with an impressive number of travel and purchase protections, including baggage loss and delay insurance and more. To top it all off, there’s no annual fee (and no foreign transaction fees), meaning you’ll only be a winner from owning this card.

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Analysis: As you build up your credit card portfolio, you’ll eventually want to have a card that earns transferable points, along with an airline card and a hotel card. If Marriott is your hotel chain of choice (we don’t blame you, since there are more than 7,000 properties worldwide to choose from), the Bold is the perfect place to start. With a complimentary jump-start to Silver Elite status, the possibilities are endless to reach higher tiers of Marriott elite status.

Further reading: Marriott Bonvoy Bold card review

APPLY HERE: Marriott Bonvoy Bold

Hilton Honors American Express Card: Best card for Hilton

Current welcome offer: Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.

Rewards rate: Earn 7x points on eligible Hilton hotel and resorts purchases, 5x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and at U.S. gas stations, plus 1x on other eligible purchases.

Other benefits: It’s not often that a no-annual-fee card provides you with as many perks as the Hilton Honors Amex card does. For starters, enjoy complimentary Silver Elite status to get 20% bonus points on stays and a fifth free night benefit. If you spend $20,000 or more on this card in a calendar year, enjoy a bump up to Gold Elite status, which comes with 80% bonus points on stays, room upgrades (upon availability) and free breakfast. In addition to a lucrative rewards rate on Hilton and everyday purchases, you’ll have secondary rental car coverage and no foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees).

Analysis: The Hilton Honors Amex proves that you don’t have to pay an annual fee to get top-notch perks. Its welcome bonus offers a healthy stash of Hilton Honors points (worth up to $480 based on TPG’s valuations) and ample ways to continue earning on your everyday spending. We recommend this card for those who enjoy staying at Hilton properties but want to keep costs as low as possible.

Further reading: Hilton Honors American Express card review

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors American Express

IHG Rewards Traveler Credit Card: Best no-annual-fee card for IHG Hotels

Current sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Rewards rate: Up to 15x points at IHG Hotels & Resorts (5x points for having the card and 10x as an IHG member), 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1x points on everything else.

Other benefits: This hotel card comes with the unique benefit of a fourth-night reward, meaning you’ll pay the price of three nights to stay for a total of four nights. Get a 20% discount on points purchases when you pay for those points with your card. Last but not least, enjoy no foreign transaction fees, cell phone protection and travel and purchase insurance.

Analysis: The current sign-up bonus will get you an estimated $400 in value, according to TPG’s valuation. You’ll have the opportunity to receive IHG Gold Elite status after spending $10,000 or more on this card in a calendar year, which gets you priority check-in, extended check-out and welcome amenity at select hotels. By being strategic with this card, you can get a ton of value without ever paying an annual fee.

Further reading: IHG Traveler card review

APPLY HERE: IHG Traveler card

Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card: Best for Choice Hotels

Current bonus: Earn 32,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of card membership.

Rewards rate: 15x points at eligible Choice Hotels and 2x points on everything else.

Other benefits: If you can spend $10,000 or more on this card each year (roughly $833 per month), you’ll get 8,000-anniversary points posted to your account. You won’t have to keep up with confusing bonus categories with this card, as you’ll earn 2x points on all purchases (15x points at participating Choice Hotels stays). You’ll have Gold Elite status, which unlocks benefits such as an elite welcome gift, early check-in, late checkout and more.

Analysis: Being a Choice Hotels elite member will enhance your hotel experience, and with this card, you’ll be granted this status for free. While not the most lucrative no-annual-fee hotel card out there, this card offers simplicity — a reason to keep it in your wallet each year with the opportunity to earn anniversary points.

Further reading: Choice Privileges card review

Best Western Rewards Mastercard: Best for Best Western

Current bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 within the first three billing cycles after account opening.

Rewards rate: 16x points on Best Western purchases and 2x points on everything else.

Other benefits: After earning a sign-up bonus, you may not find long-term value with a card’s rewards rate. This isn’t the case with the Best Western Mastercard — by spending $5,000 or more every 12 billing cycles, you’ll enjoy an additional 20,000 bonus points. With this card, you’ll also enjoy no foreign transaction fees, 10% off room rates and complimentary Gold status, which guarantees you 10% bonus points for your eligible stays and early check-in and late checkout.

Analysis: The sign-up bonus alone is worth $240, but with the opportunity to earn bonus points every 12 billing cycles, you can find $120 in additional value (based on TPG’s valuation). For a card with no annual fee, this is a convincing offer — this means potentially lots of free nights just by spending on this card.

Further reading: Your ultimate guide to Best Western Rewards

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card: Best for all hotels

(Photo by Eric Helgas/ThePointsGuy)

Current bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases within your first three months of account opening.

Rewards rate: 1.25x miles on all purchases.

Other benefits: While the hotel cards above can get you elite perks or other exclusive benefits, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to limit yourself to one brand. That’s why the VentureOne is our favorite for all hotel stays, as it offers a simple earning scheme (unlimited 1.25x miles on all purchases), plus an even simpler way to redeem. You can redeem your miles at 1 cent each for any hotel (or other travel) charges on your card. If you’re an advanced award traveler, you’ll be happy to know that you can now transfer your Capital One miles to airline and hotel partners to find even more potential value. The hotel partners include ALL Accor Live Limitless, Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards.

Analysis: We like the flexibility that the VentureOne offers. Sure, you won’t get hotel elite status with this card, but you can use this card to pay for hotels from any brand. If all you’re looking for is a way to earn and redeem your travel rewards, this is the card for you. Plus, with no foreign transaction fees, you can take the VentureOne with you anywhere.

Further reading: Capital One VentureOne Review

APPLY HERE: Capital One VentureOne

Bottom line

Almost all of the no-annual-fee hotel cards in this guide get you automatic elite status, plus a pathway to the next level for even better benefits. The best pick for you will first depend on the hotel chain you prefer, but take a deeper look at the ongoing rewards rate and any additional benefits you can get from the card (such as no foreign transaction fees or any travel and purchase protections).

And remember: Since you’re not paying an annual fee on any of these cards, you won’t have to worry about if you’re stretching enough value to justify the cost each year.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex card, click here.

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of the Hotel Pitrizza/Marriott)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023