The best no-annual-fee credit cards of 2019
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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, but there are a few no-annual-fee cards out there that are quite valuable. In this guide, I’m walking through my favorite cards with no annual fee so you can decide if any are worth your while.
The best no annual fee credit cards of 2019
- Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for pairing with Chase cards
- Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card: Best for Hotels.com purchases
- Citi Rewards+℠ Card: Best for small purchases
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for beginner travelers
- Citi® Double Cash Card: Best for flat-rate rewards
- Chase Freedom®: Best for rotating bonus categories
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Best for Hilton rewards
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card: Best for existing Bank of America customers
- Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining and entertainment
- Discover it® Cash Back: Best for first-year cash back
- Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for everyday spending
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: Best for flexible rewards structure
Best no-annual-fee credit cards quick comparison
|Credit card||Best for||Rewards rate||Intro bonus|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||Pairing with Chase cards||Earn unlimited 1.5% on all purchases||$150 after spending $500 in the first three months|
|Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card||Hotels.com purchases||Earn 1.25x miles on every purchase; 10x points at hotels.com/venture through Jan. 31, 2020||20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months|
|Citi Rewards+ Card||Small purchases||Earn 2x at supermarkets and gas stations (up to $6,000 in annual spending); all purchases are rounded up to the nearest 10 points||15,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Beginner travelers||Earn 3x on travel, dining, gas stations and select streaming services||30,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months|
|Citi Double Cash Card||Flat-rate rewards||Earn up to 2% cash back — 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill||N/A|
|Chase Freedom||Rotating bonus categories||Earn 5% (up to $1,500) on rotating quarterly bonus categories||$150 after spending $500 in the first three months|
|Hilton Honors American Express Card||Hilton rewards||Earn 7x for Hilton purchases; 5x at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations; 3x on all other purchases||75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card||Existing Bank of America customers||Earn unlimited 1.5x on every purchase||25,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days|
|Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining and entertainment||Earn 3% on dining and entertainment; 2% at grocery stores||$150 after spending $500 in the first three months|
|Discover it® Cash Back||First-year cash back||Earn 5% (on up to $1,500) on rotating quarterly bonus categories (activation required)||Discover will match the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards||Everyday spending||Earn unlimited 1.5% on every purchase||$150 after spending $500 in the first three months|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Flexible 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)||$200 after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days|
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
Current bonus: Earn $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
Regular APR: 16.49% – 25.24% variable
My take: 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 third of the Chase Trifecta. 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, you can convert the cash back to points to get 1.5x Ultimate Rewards on all purchases. Those points can be redeemed for travel through the portal at 1.25 or 1.5 cents each, depending on the other Chase cards you have. You can also transfer them to one of Chase’s partners. The Chase Freedom Unlimited tops this list because of its flexibility. 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.
APPLY HERE: Chase Freedom Unlimited
Current bonus: Earn 20,000 miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 1.25x in every purchase; 10x on hotels.com/venture (through Jan. 31, 2020).
Regular APR: 13.74% – 23.74% variable
My take: 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, you’re also earning 10x on eligible Hotels.com purchases through Jan. 31, 2020. 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 mid-tier travel-rewards cards. Capital One offers the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, with 2x on every purchase and 10x on eligible Hotels.com purchases (again, through Jan. 31, 2020). Although it comes with a $95 annual fee (waived the first year), you’ll get a higher rewards rate and benefits such as a credit on your TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee in return.
APPLY HERE: Capital One VentureOne Rewards
Current bonus: Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in 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; points are rounded up to the nearest 10 for every purchase.
Regular APR: 14.99% – 24.99% (Variable)
My take: The Rewards+ Card stands out for its unique earning scheme. In addition to earning 2x points on supermarket and gas station purchases (up to $6,000, then 1 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, Singapore KrisFlyer and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
The information for the Citi Prestige Card and the Citi Premier Card 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.
APPLY HERE: Citi Rewards+ Card
Current bonus: Earn 30,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 3x on travel, dining, transit and popular streaming services.
Regular APR: 15.49% – 27.49% variable
My take: 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 on 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.
APPLY HERE: Wells Fargo Propel Card
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.
Regular APR: 15.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
My take: There are no bells or whistles on this card, but if simplicity is what you’re looking for, then the Citi Double Cash Card is worth considering. It earns 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you make the purchase, and another 1% when you pay it off. Citi recently added the ability to transfer the cash-back rewards earned on this card into full-fledged ThankYou Points that 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.
APPLY HERE: Citi Double Cash
Current bonus: Earn $150 after you spend $500 in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 5% on up to $1,500 spent on rotating categories each quarter.
Regular APR: 16.49% – 25.24% (Variable)
My take: The Freedom card has rotating quarterly bonus categories that reward you with 5% cash back, helping you earn in a wide variety of categories each year. For example, in the fourth quarter of 2019, you can earn bonus rewards on department stores, PayPal and Chase Pay. Like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can pair the Chase Freedom 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 $150 (15,000-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 as one of our picks for the best rewards credit cards. This card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee that makes it unappealing to use when abroad.
APPLY HERE: Chase Freedom
Current bonus: Earn 75,000 Hilton points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.
Rewards rate: Earn 7x on Hilton purchases; 5x on U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and 3x on all other purchases.
Regular APR: 17.24% – 26.24% (Variable)
My take: 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 bonus 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. This card also has no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees). If you’re spending 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.
APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors American Express Card
Current bonus: Earn 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
Rewards rate: Earn 1.5x on all purchases.
Regular APR: 16.49% – 24.49% (Variable)
My take: 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.
APPLY HERE: Bank of America Travel Rewards Card
Current bonus: Earn $150 after spending $500 in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn 3% on dining and entertainment and 2% at grocery stores.
Regular APR: 15.74% – 25.74% (Variable)
My take: 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 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% on groceries, is an excellent return for a no-annual-fee card. However, those who spend significant amounts in these categories will get more value out of the Savor, even with the $95 annual fee.
APPLY HERE: Capital One SavorOne Card
Discover it® Cash Back
Current bonus: Discover will match your first year’s cash back.
Rewards rate: Earn 5% on up to $1,500 each quarter in rotating categories (activation required).
Regular APR: 13.49% – 24.49% (Variable)
My take: Like the Chase Freedom, the Discover it Cash Back has rotating quarterly categories that offer 5% cash back on the first $1,500 in eligible spending and 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases. While you must activate the new categories every quarter, this card can rack up an easy $300 in bonus category cash back annually. Plus, at the end of your first year, you’ll get your cash back matched by Discover. That means you’re essentially earning 10% cash back on bonus categories and 2% on all other spending in your first year. Categories for the fourth quarter of 2019 are Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com.
APPLY HERE: Discover it Cash Back
Current bonus: Earn $150 after spending $500 in the first three months.
Rewards rate: Earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
Regular APR: 15.74% – 25.74% (Variable)
My take: 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.
Check out our full card review.
APPLY HERE: Capital One Quicksilver Card
Current bonus: Earn $200 after spending $1,000 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).
Regular APR: 15.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
My take: 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. 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.
APPLY HERE: Bank of America Cash Rewards Card
Credit cards with a waived annual fee the first year
Many top cards carry annual fees that range from $90 to $500+, but in order to entice customers to try the product, the issuers will waive the annual fee for the first year. This can be a great way to try out more valuable rewards cards without committing to paying higher fees. A few top options in this category include:
Current bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months
Standout benefits: Earn 10x miles on Hotels.com bookings at Hotels.com/Venture through Jan. 31, 2020, and 2x on all other purchases. Benefits include extended-warranty protection, secondary auto rental collision damage waiver, no foreign transaction fees and a $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck fee rebate every four years.
Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
APPLY HERE: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Current bonus: Earn $300 after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months.
Standout benefits: Earn 4% back on dining and entertainment, plus 2% at grocery stores. This card earns an extra 1% back on dining and entertainment compared to its no-annual-fee little brother the Capital One SavorOne. You can also get 8% back on eligible Vivid Seats purchases through May 2020. While 1% may not seem like a huge jump in rewards, it’s more than worth it if you spend significant portions of your budget on dining and entertainment purchases.
Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
APPLY HERE: Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
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 June, every June 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?
These cards are great for credit card beginners who don’t spend enough on their cards to offset the cost of annual fees. They also make great complimentary cards to ones with higher annual fees. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited makes an excellent pairing to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You’ll earn 1.5% back on the categories that don’t earn 3x with the Reserve, and you’ll be able to pool your rewards for maximum value.
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.
When to downgrade your annual fee credit card
Many top-rated travel cards with an annual fee offer strong welcome 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 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 is no longer worth it since you aren’t using your rewards or taking advantage of the card’s other benefits. Simply downgrade to a Chase Freedom or Freedom Unlimited, both of which come with no 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 bonus 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 outearn 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, not including the added bonus you get through Vivid Seats.
|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 outearn 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.
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 Katie Genter and Ethan Steinberg.
Featured photo by Matt Dutile/Getty Images.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex card, please click here.
Updated on 12/2/19
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page for the best no-annual-fee credit cards, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.
One of the most unique benefits of this card is that you can get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your Wells Fargo Propel Amex. This card is also a great option for gas purchases since you'll earn 3X points and the 30,000 point sign up bonus is worth $300 cash back.
- Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that’s a $300 cash redemption value
- $0 annual fee and no foreign currency conversion fee
- Earn 3X points on eating out and ordering in
- Earn 3X points on travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
- Earn 3X points on gas stations, rideshares and transit
- Earn 3X points on popular streaming services
- Earn 1X points on other purchases
- Select "Apply Now" to learn more about the product features, terms and conditions
- Rates & Fees