These are the 11 best no-annual-fee credit cards for 2021
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There’s no better way to maximize rewards earnings while minimizing costs than by using a credit card with no annual fee. It’s true that cards with no annual fee typically have fewer benefits and lower rewards rates when compared to many of the best credit cards out there, but there are still some no-annual-fee cards out there that are quite valuable.
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Arguably the best cards with no annual fee are the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex because of their flexibility. You’re earning rewards on every purchase, and the card is a great stand-alone cash-back card or complimentary card to an existing Chase Ultimate Rewards card. In this guide, I walk through some of my other favorite cards with no annual fee so you can decide if any are worth your while.
The best no-annual-fee credit cards for 2021
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for beginner cash back
- Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for flexible cash rewards
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for everyday spending
- Citi Rewards+® Card: Best for small purchases
- Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining and entertainment
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: Best for customizable rewards structure
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Best for airline transfer partners
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Best for hotel points
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for beginner travelers
- Chase Freedom Flex: Best for rotating bonus categories (and drugstores, dining and Chase Travel)
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: Best for existing Bank of America customers
Comparing the best no-annual-fee credit cards
|Credit card||Best for||Rewards rate||Intro bonus|
|Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards||Beginner cash back||Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase||$200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||Flexible cash rewards (and drugstores, dining and Chase Travel)||Earn unlimited 1.5% on purchases
5% on drugstores, dining and Chase Travel
|Earn $200 bonus after spending $500 in their first three months of account opening.|
|Citi Double Cash Card||Everyday spending||Earn up to 2% cash back — 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill||N/A|
|Citi Rewards+ Card||Small purchases||Earn 2x ThankYou points at supermarkets and gas stations (up to $6,000 in annual spending; then 1 ThankYou point); all purchases are rounded up to the nearest 10 points||15,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.|
|Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining and entertainment||Earn 3% on dining and entertainment; 2% at grocery stores||$200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Customizable rewards structure||Earn 3% in the category of your choice; 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (on up to $2,500 in combined bonus spending per quarter); then unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases||$200 cash bonus after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening|
|Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card||Airline transfer partners||Earn 1.25x miles on every purchase||20,000 miles after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.|
|Hilton Honors American Express Card||Hotel points||Earn 7x points for eligible Hilton purchases; 5x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; 3x points on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply.||80,000 points after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Beginner travelers||Earn 3x on travel, dining, gas stations and select streaming services||20,000 points after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening|
|Chase Freedom Flex||Rotating bonus categories (and drugstores, dining and Chase Travel)||Earn 5% (up to $1,500) on rotating quarterly bonus categories (activation required)
5% on drugstores, dining and Chase Travel
|$200 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||Existing Bank of America customers||Earn unlimited 1.5x points on every purchase||25,000 points after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening|
The information for Wells Fargo Propel has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Below you’ll find a detailed analysis of each card on the list, including current offers and benefits, to help you choose the no-annual-fee credit card that fits your spending lifestyle.
The best no-annual-fee credit cards
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card: Best for cash back beginners
Current bonus: Earn $200 after you spend $500 in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
Intro and Regular APR: 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 15 months; 15.49% – 25.49% variable APR after that.
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for everyday spending: If you’re looking for a straightforward cash-back card as your first rewards credit card, the Quicksilver is a solid choice. You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, no matter what it is. You can definitely find cards that offer higher cash back rates, but they’ll come with an annual fee, bonus categories to juggle or both. The Quicksilver may not be the flashiest card on this list, but it’s a steady, simple way to earn cash-back rewards on every purchase, no matter what. It’s one of the best cash-back credit cards out there.
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for flexible cash rewards
Current bonus: Earn $200 bonus after spending $500 in their first three months of account opening
Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on purchases and an elevated rate on the following categories:
- 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% back on dining
- 3% back at drugstores
Intro and regular APR: 0% intro APR for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases. After the intro period, a variable APR of 14.99% – 23.74% applies
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for flexibility: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great card for non-bonus spending. You’ll earn 1.5% no matter where you swipe, and no annual fee means it’s perfect for pairing. In fact, it makes up one very important third of the Chase Trifecta, a powerful combination of cards that offers strong earning rates, redemption options and travel perks.
This may not be the most exciting card at face value, but if you also hold a premium Ultimate Rewards-earning card — such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve — you can convert the cash back you earn on the Freedom Unlimited card to points and transfer them to Chase’s airline and hotel partners or redeem directly through the Chase travel portal at a rate of 1.25 cents each (Sapphire Preferred and Ink Preferred) or 1.5 cents (Sapphire Reserve).
The Chase Freedom Unlimited tops this list because of its flexibility as one of the most versatile cash-back credit cards. Plus, the increased bonus categories are stellar for travel, dining and drugstores makes it a solid no-annual-fee card incredibly lucrative — and dare I say it, exciting.
You can use it as a stand-alone card for all spending if you’re a beginner, and then add other Chase travel cards once you’re ready to start digging into the Ultimate Rewards program. This card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, so it won’t be your best option for spending while abroad.
Citi Double Cash Card: Best for everyday spending
Current bonus: N/A
Rewards rate: Earn up to 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you buy and another 1% when you pay your bill.
Intro and Regular APR: 0% Intro APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers after that, then the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within the first four months of account opening.
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for everyday spending: There are no bells or whistles on this card, but if simplicity is what you’re looking for, then the Citi Double Cash Card has it. It earns 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you make the purchase, and another 1% when you pay it off. Citi has also added the ability to transfer the cash-back rewards earned on this card into full-fledged ThankYou Points when paired with the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Premier® Card. The information for the Citi Prestige 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.
In turn, you can then transfer to airlines, making this card much more compelling. It now offers a similar structure as the Chase Freedom Unlimited (flat-rate cash back with the ability to convert to points with card pairings), but you’ll ultimately have to compare Chase and Citi’s transfer partners to decide which card is best for you. Like several other cards on this list, you won’t want to use this card on international purchases because of its 3% foreign transaction fee.
Citi Rewards+ Card: Best for small purchases
Current bonus: Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases with your card within three months of account opening.
Rewards rate: Earn 2x on the first $6,000 spent at supermarkets and gas stations each year (then 1x); points are rounded up to the nearest 10 for every purchase.
Intro and regular APR: 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months from date of account opening. After that, the variable APR will be 13.49% – 23.49% based upon your creditworthiness.
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for small purchases: The Rewards+ Card stands out for its unique earning scheme. In addition to earning 2x ThankYou points on supermarket and gas station purchases (up to $6,000, then 1 ThankYou point per dollar on everything else), points earnings on all purchases are rounded up to the nearest 10 points. So if you buy a $1.99 pack of gum, you’ll earn 10 points. This round-up feature also applies to your 2x purchases.
Buying $31 worth of groceries at a supermarket will earn 70 points total (31 x 2 = 62, rounded up to 70). It’s a great card for maximizing smaller, everyday purchases that otherwise wouldn’t earn much. It is important to note that the points you earn with this card can only be transferred to JetBlue or redeemed toward travel, gift cards or statement credits at a rate of 1 cent per point. However, if you also have the Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Premier® Card, you can move points from the Rewards+ to one of those accounts in order to transfer them to the full selection of Citi airline partners, including Etihad Guest and Singapore KrisFlyer.
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Card: Best for dining and entertainment
Current bonus: Earn $200 after you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening.
Rewards rate: Earn 3% cash back on dining and entertainment and 2% at grocery stores.
Intro and Regular APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases; then a 15.49% – 25.49% variable APR applies
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for dining and entertainment: The tradeoff for this card is that it has a slightly lower rewards rate than the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card in exchange for its no annual fee. But it still packs a punch. Dining and entertainment are defined broadly to include restaurants, takeout, concerts, sporting events, tourist attractions and much more.
Although there are plenty of cards that reward spending on dining, entertainment is a rare bonus category. To get 3% back on those purchases, plus 2% at grocery stores, is an excellent return for a no-annual-fee card.
The information for the Capital One Savor 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.
Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card: Best for customizable rewards structure
Current bonus: Earn $200 cash bonus after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days.
Rewards rate: Earn 3% on the bonus category of your choice; 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (with a $2,500 cap in combined bonus category spending each quarter; then unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Intro and regular APR: 0% intro APR for your first 12 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers (made within the first 60 days). After the intro APR offer ends, a variable APR that’s currently 13.99% to 23.99% will apply. The card has a balance transfer fee either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for customizable rewards structure: If you’re looking for a flexible rewards structure, it’s hard to beat the Bank of America Cash Rewards card. You’ll choose which category earns 3% cash back each month from a list that includes gas stations, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores and home improvements/furnishings. Also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. You’ll earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1%.
As with other Bank of America cards, you can take advantage of the Preferred Rewards program to maximize your earnings. If you’re a Platinum Honors member, you’ll earn 5.25% on the category of your choosing and 3.5% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs. This rewards structure is impressive on its own for a no-annual-fee card, but Preferred Rewards members will be hard-pressed to find a more rewarding cash-back card — especially with no annual fee.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards: Best for airline transfer partners
Current bonus: Earn 20,000 miles after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 1.25x on every purchase.
Intro and regular APR: 0% intro APR for the first 12 months on purchases; 15.49% – 25.49% variable APR after that.
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for airline transfer partners: Beginner travelers who want to earn miles on every purchase without paying an annual fee should consider the VentureOne Rewards Card. While 1.25x on every purchase isn’t the industry standard for no-annual-fee, flat-rate cards, all Capital One miles-earning cards give you access to airline transfer partners, boosting the potential value you get from your rewards. This card is a solid option for any beginner who is looking for a starter card before moving up to one of the best travel credit cards.
Capital One offers the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, with 2x miles on every purchase. Although it comes with a $95 annual fee, you’ll get a higher rewards rate and benefits such as a credit on your TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee (up to $100) in return. While the no annual fee VentureOne card has a lower earning rate, it does have the same transfer options as the more expensive Venture Rewards card so you aren’t losing anything on the redemption side by keeping your costs down.
Hilton Honors American Express Card: Best for hotel points
Current welcome offer: Earn 80,000 Hilton points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.
Rewards rate: Earn 7x points on eligible Hilton purchases; 5x points on U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and 3x points on all other eligible purchases.
Why it’s the best-no-annual fee credit card for hotel points If you’re looking for a low-cost card to maximize your Hilton hotel stays, the Hilton Honors Amex is a solid option. It’s not often you find a no-annual-fee card (see rates and fees) that offers such a high welcome offer and the ability to earn substantial points on bonus spending categories. In addition to raking in Hilton Honors points, this card gives cardholders automatic Hilton Honors Silver status, which includes a 20% points bonus, no resort fees on award stays, standard in-room and lobby Wi-Fi, late checkout, fifth standard-award night free and two bottles of water.
Spend $20,000 on the card in a calendar year and earn an upgrade to Gold through the end of the next calendar year. And this card is among the Amex cards receiving temporary perks to help cardholders maximize reward during the pandemic — bonus points will count toward elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status through the end of the year. This card also has no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees). If you typically spend a significant amount at Hilton properties throughout the year, Hilton and Amex offer cobranded cards that come with better earning rates and perks to help upgrade your travel experiences. However, this is a good starting point for beginners who are just getting into the Hilton Honors program.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express card: Best for travel
Current bonus: Earn 20,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 3x on travel, dining, transit and popular streaming services.
Intro and regular APR: 0% Intro APR for 12 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers. After that your variable APR will be 14.49% to 24.99%.
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee card for travel: The Wells Fargo Propel is a great choice as a first travel credit card. You’re earning 3x (a sizeable rewards bonus for a no-annual-fee card) across a wide range of common spending categories. Because Go Far Rewards points are valued at a fixed one cent each, you don’t have to worry about maximizing redemption options. No matter how you redeem, you know you’re getting the same value from your points.
The biggest exception to this is if you also have the Wells Fargo Visa Signature® card. You can pair the two cards and redeem your points at 1.5 cents each (or 1.75 cents each if you spend at least $50,000 on the Wells Fargo Visa Signature), which gives you an unprecedented return on spending on a no-annual-fee card. Although points and miles gurus might be in the market for cards that allow them to use transfer partners to squeeze every ounce of value out of their points, beginners or light travelers looking for straightforward travel rewards will enjoy the Wells Fargo Propel.
The information for the Wells Fargo Visa Signature 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.
Chase Freedom Flex: Best for rotating bonus categories
Current bonus: Earn $200 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Rewards rate: Earn 5% on up to $1,500 spent on rotating categories each quarter (activation required). Additionally, you’ll earn the following:
- 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% back on dining
- 3% back at drugstores
Intro and regular APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases. After the intro period, the card has a variable APR of 14.99% – 23.74%.
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for rotating bonus categories: The Freedom Flex card has rotating quarterly bonus categories that reward you with 5% cash back, helping you earn in a wide variety of categories each year. Activation is required before you can start earning your 5x points, but it takes less than a minute to activate.
Like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can pair the Chase Freedom Flex with Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards, so that you’re effectively earning 5x points on eligible purchases. Given how valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points are — and considering that the card comes with a $200 (20,000-point) sign-up bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months — this card packs a real punch.
With this versatility, it should come as no surprise that we rank the Chase Freedom Flex as one of our picks for the best rewards credit cards. Just keep in mind that this card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee that makes it unappealing to use when abroad.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: Best for existing Bank of America customers
Current bonus: Earn 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
Rewards rate: Earn 1.5x on all purchases.
Intro and Regular APR: 0% intro APR for the first 12 billing cycles on purchases after that, 14.99% – 22.99% (Variable)
Why it’s the best no-annual-fee credit card for existing Bank of America customers: This is another card that is pretty straightforward. It earns 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases with no limit. It’s not the only card on this list to offer a similar rewards structure, but it does have a unique advantage if you are an existing Bank of America customer.
If you qualify for the Preferred Rewards program, you can increase that earning rate by anywhere from 25% to 75% (depending on how much you have in total assets across accounts with Bank of America). That means you could be earning up to 2.62x on every purchase — which is amazing for a no-annual-fee card. You can redeem points to cover travel expenses such as flights, hotels, rental cars and baggage fees, similar to how the Capital One Venture cards work.
What is an annual fee?
Many credit card issuers charge their customers an annual fee to increase revenue and offset administrative costs like customer service, technology services and the simple act of producing your credit card. These fees will usually appear on your first statement each year in the month that you opened your card. So if you opened a credit card in November, every November you can expect to be charged the annual fee.
Typically speaking, higher annual fees accompany cards with premium benefits like high rewards rates, annual statement credits, lounge access, and other travel perks. Of course, that’s not to say that cards with no annual fee aren’t valuable. But if you have a card with no annual fee, you shouldn’t expect to see a long list of perks accompanying the card.
Who should get a no-annual-fee credit card?
The cards on this list represent the best of the best when it comes to cards with no annual fee, but you’ll find better bonuses, perks and bonus categories on cards with an annual fee. If you’re looking to take multiple free trips a year, fly in premium cabins or stay in luxury hotels, you’ll almost definitely need cards with an annual fee to make that happen. Annual fees might seem counterintuitive if the goal is to get free travel, but if you look at the numbers, you often end up getting far more in return than what you spend in fees.
First-time credit card owners
If you’re new to the credit card game, then you might consider starting out with a no-annual-fee card to make sure it’s right for you. It’s a full-time gig – you’ll be occupied enough with keeping on top of monthly payments and tracking your spending to make sure you reach earning thresholds to worry about making sure you’ve got the cash to pay for its annual fee.
It’s also a great way to start building up credit, for free – so long as you hit your monthly payments, that is. You can also keep them open forever, which increases your average age of accounts. Once you’ve got that down, then maybe upgrade to an annual fee credit card.
Related: Guide to credit card annual fees
Those looking to rebuild credit
Don’t fret if you happen to have bad credit. There are no-annual-fee credit cards available to you and some even have built in tools to help you rebuild that credit to where it once was.
Those who wish to consolidate balances
If you’re struggling to manage several credit card balances, some no annual fee credit cards such as the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card offer of 0% intro APR for 18 months on purchases from date of account opening and a 0% intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers from date of first transfer (then a variable APR of 14.74% to 24.74% applies). Balance transfers must be completed within the first four months of account opening.
Diversification of credit card portfolio
No annual-fee-credit cards also make great complimentary cards to ones with higher annual fees. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited makes an excellent pairing with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
When to downgrade to a No-annual-fee credit card
Many top-rated travel cards with an annual fee offer strong sign-up bonuses that make them a no-brainer for the first year. However, the cards aren’t always useful long term. Maybe your spending habits change, you’ve added new cards that fit your lifestyle better, or you don’t travel as much these days to justify the higher-fee card.
Rather than cancel the card and potentially damage your credit score, it’s better to keep your account open without racking up too many annual fees. An easy way is to downgrade to a no-annual-fee card.
Let’s say you opened the Chase Sapphire Reserve — with its $550 annual fee — because of the bonus and travel perks. For a couple of years, you’re traveling frequently and therefore using the card enough to offset the out-of-pocket fee. However, you eventually start to limit your travel to just once a year or so. The annual fee for Reserve may no longer be worth it since you aren’t using your rewards or taking advantage of the card’s other benefits. Simply downgrade to a Freedom Unlimited, without an annual fee, and your problem is solved.
Be aware that upgrading or downgrading might make it harder for you to earn the bonus on that card in the future, so you’ll have to factor that into your plans. This is especially true with American Express credit cards because of the issuer’s strict welcome offer restrictions.
Comparing top rewards cards and their no-annual-fee counterparts
Some issuers offer similar card options, one with an annual fee and one without. You might ask yourself why you would ever apply for the card with an annual fee if you can get a similar one with no fee. Depending on your spending habits, the annual fee may actually be worth the higher rewards.
Let’s look at Capital One’s credit card lineup — specifically the Savor and Venture credit cards. Both come in a no-annual-fee version as well, in exchange for a lower rewards rate. With the Savor, that extra 1% back you earn will out-earn the SavorOne even with the annual fee difference when you’re spending more than $9,500 on dining and entertainment each year. That’s just under $800 a month on combined dining and entertainment spending.
|Card:||Rewards structure:||Yearly value after annual fee:|
|Savor||4% x $9,500||$285|
|SavorOne||3% x $9,500||$285|
For the Venture cards, you’ll need to spend at least $12,667 each year on the card in order to out-earn the no annual fee VentureOne. Since the Venture earns 2x miles across all purchases, that means you only have to spend $1,056 per month on the card to make the Venture worth it.
|Card:||Rewards structure:||Yearly value after annual fee:|
|Venture||2 miles x $12,667||$158.34|
|VentureOne||1.25 miles x $12,667||$158.33|
The more you spend on your credit card each month, the more likely it is that the annual fee version of the card is a better investment long term. However, individuals who won’t be spending that much on a credit card each month can still benefit from the no-annual-fee version.
How to pair no annual fee and annual fee cards
Starting out with a no annual fee card is always a good idea. It helps you to learn how to manage your finances and is the first step to being a pro at the points and miles game. Once you’ve got that down, it’s worth considering pairing your no annual fee credit card with one that charges an annual fee to bolster your earning and reward potential.
Let’s look at an example. If you already have the Chase Unlimited Freedom card, you’ll already be earning a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases, 5% cash back on travel, 3% on dining as well as 3% on drugstores. So, it would be worth your while to use this card on purchases which fit into those elevated categories, then switch to a travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve for spending on groceries (for which you’d earn 2x points), gas and other spends.
This means you’ll continue to earn great cash back, while benefiting at the same time from great travel rewards like travel credits. That said, you don’t to pair it with a travel rewards card, there are many others you could choose from that would be more inline with your lifestyle if travel isn’t something you do often.
As you can see, you don’t need to pay an annual fee to earn valuable rewards with a credit card. Whether they earn cash back or points that can be redeemed toward travel, the options listed above represent great opportunities to rack up rewards. There are cases when a credit card’s benefits can justify paying an annual fee, but it’s good to know that there are several solid no-annual-fee options as well.
Additional reporting by Daniel Ross.
Featured image by skaman306 via GettyImages
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex card, please click here.
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- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
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