Best Overall, Best for Cash Back

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Ratings as a No Annual Fee Card
4.8
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On Capital One's Website
Current Offer

Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.49% - 25.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 15 Months
Balance Transfer Fee There is no standard balance transfer fee for this card.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    Capital One's Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card is our choice for best overall no-annual-fee credit card and best cash back card. Quicksilver Rewards provides the opportunity to earn unlimited cash back on all purchases, offers introductory APR on new purchases and generally has low fees. It also waives all foreign transaction fees, which is a rarity among cash back credit cards and makes this a good card for international travel.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Simple rewards program with a solid return
    • Decent introductory offers on purchases
    • No annual or foreign transaction fees
    • No penalty APR

    Cons

    • No bonus rewards rates
    • One-time bonus is relatively modest
    • APR can be comparatively high
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
    • Every purchase earns 1.5% cash back, and the total cash back you can earn is unlimited.
    • Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months.
    • No foreign transaction fees.

Best for Dininig

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Ratings as a No Annual Fee Card
4.6
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On Capital One's Website
Current Offer

Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.49% - 25.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3% cash back on dining, 3% on entertainment, 2% at grocery stores, and 1% on all other purchases.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 15 Months
Balance Transfer Fee There is no standard balance transfer fee for this card.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Capital One® SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is our choice for the best no-annual-fee card option for those seeking to maximize dining rewards as SavorOne allows you to earn unlimited 3% cash back on all dining expenditures. SavorOne also provides 1% cash back on all other expenditures but another paired card that provides higher cash back or rewards can be a prove to be a good strategy for optimizing overall spending.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Generous cash rewards on dining and entertainment
    • Doesn’t impose some frequent fees

    Cons

    • 0% APR introductory offer is less generous than most
    • Small introductory cash bonus
    • Excellent credit recommended
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
    • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores, and 1% on all other purchases.
    • Rewards don't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem cash back for any amount.
    • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 15 months.
    • No foreign transaction fees.

Best for Students

Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

Ratings as a No Annual Fee Card
4.6
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
Full Review
Apply Now
On Bank of America's Website
Current Offer

25,000 bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening - which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 14.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Billing Cycles
Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Bank of America Travel Rewards Student Card is our choice for best student card with no annual fee. While many student credit cards charge no annual fee, we consider this card a step above due to its excellent travel rewards earning structure combined with its introductory interest offer, no foreign transaction fees and credit education features.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Decent (1.5 points per dollar spent) travel-rewards earnings, and no tiers to manage
    • Pay off purchases for 12 months with no interest
    • Friendly to foreign travel

    Cons

    • Rewards aren't transferable
    • No 0% APR balance transfer offer
    • Relatively high spending ($1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening) required for 25,000-point introductory one-time bonus
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn 25,000 points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening.
    • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points.
    • Preferred Rewards members earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase That means you could earn up to 2.62 points for every $1 you spend, everywhere, every time.

Best for Hotels

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Ratings as a No Annual Fee Card
4.6
Hilton Honors American Express Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On American Express' Website
Current Offer

Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.74% - 24.74% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 7 points per $1 for eligible Hilton purchases. 5 points per $1 for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations. 3 points per $1 for all other eligible purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee None
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Hilton Honors American Express is our choice for best no-annual-fee hotel card because of the value of Hilton rewards points and the ability to earn substantial rewards with bonus points for Hilton stays and on popular spending categories like restaurants, gas and groceries. Hilton also offers one of the largest hotel chain footprints, making it a practical choice for those seeking to earn and redeem points for future hotel stays.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Rewards are competitive
    • Easy to stack rewards as a Hilton Honors loyalty program member
    • Fast track your way to Hilton Honors Gold status

    Cons

    • Short on premium travel perks
    • No introductory APR for purchases or balance transfers
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
    • Complimentary Silver Status
    • 7 points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio.
    • 5 points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations
    • 3 points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.

Best for Business

Ink Business Unlimited

Ratings as a No Annual Fee Card
3.6
Ink Business Unlimited
Full Review
Apply Now
On Chase's Website
Current Offer

$500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 13.24% - 19.24% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Months
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Cash Advance APR (%) 24.99%
Cash Advance Fee Either $15 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    We chose the Chase Ink Business Unlimited card as the best choice for business card without an annual fee because of its unlimited rewards earnings structure and ability to pair with a fee-based Chase Ultimate Rewards consumer or business card to consolidate points. This can be an excellent business card option for small business owners who either don't anticipate earning sufficient rewards to justify an annual fee or those who may already have the Chase Ink Preferred, Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Strong introductory offers
    • Versatile rewards program

    Cons

    • No bonus rewards categories
    • Middling flat rewards rate
    • Chase card service to businesses has been below par
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening.
    • Earn unlimited 1.5% Cash Back rewards on every purchase made for your business.
    • Redeem your rewards for cash back, gift cards, travel and more through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
    • Employee cards let you set individual spending limits and help you earn rewards even faster.

Best for Travel

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card

Ratings as a No Annual Fee Card
4.6
Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On Bank of America's Website
Current Offer

25,000 bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening - which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 14.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Billing Cycles
Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card is our pick for the best travel card option with no annual fee because of its strong bonus rewards on all spending regardless of category. The Travel Rewards card charges no foreign transaction fees, which will be a compelling feature once international travel opens back up.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Earn points on every purchase, with no spending caps
    • No annual or foreign transaction fees
    • High-net-worth Bank of America and Merrill customers receive points bonuses

    Cons

    • Rewards rates are relatively modest
    • Reward points can't be transferred
    • Premium travel benefits aren't included
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn 25,000 points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening.
    • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points.
    • Preferred Rewards members earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase That means you could earn up to 2.62 points for every $1 you spend, everywhere, every time.

What Is an Annual Fee?

An annual fee is a fee imposed by some credit card issuers on their cardholders each year. This fee, sometimes called an annual membership fee, is similar to the membership fee you might pay for an Amazon Prime account or a Costco wholesale club membership and is designed to offset some or all of the costs that the card issuer incurs in providing the card to consumers. In decades past, banks often charged modest annual fees as a matter of course on many of their products, but competitive pressures ushered in no-annual-fee offers as a marketing inducement. 

No-annual-fee credit card offers then became the standard due to competitive pressures, except in cases of unusually lucrative rewards programs, large upfront bonuses, or for cards aimed at people with impaired credit (in which case the fee helps offset the increased losses typically associated with subprime lending).  

What Is the Average Annual Fee for a Credit Card?

For cards that charge them, annual fees can range from as low as $25 up to an eye-popping $550 for ultra premium cards like The Platinum Card from American Express. Many popular general travel cards and most co-branded airline and hotel rewards credit cards charge annual fees, but these tend to be under $100 per year and are sometimes waived for the first year. However, there are still many travel and even co-branded no-annual-fee options available, allowing you to avoid this expense entirely, though with diminished rewards.

Who Is a No-Annual-Fee Card Right For?

No-annual-fee credit cards are best suited for those who are averse to paying fees for one of several reasons — they can’t afford them, can’t justify them due to low spending/low rewards earnings, or simply because they don’t feel that they should have to pay to use a credit card, even one with rewards.

For people who can’t afford the fee because they are on a limited budget or are paying down outstanding balances, avoiding an annual fee can certainly make sense. People who want to earn cash back, points, or miles but aren’t sure they’ll earn enough throughout the year to justify the fee are another audience for no-annual fee cards. These types of cards, when they offer 1.5% cash back on all purchases or extra points/miles for certain categories of spending, can be an excellent, low-maintenance back-up card to use in combination with another rewards card that carries an annual fee but offers more generous rewards in other categories.   

While the majority of no-annual-fee credit cards are reserved for people with good to excellent credit scores, there are some options for those with less than stellar credit or no credit history at all. Those include certain secured credit cards (which require a security deposit) and several non-secured cards from a few national issuers that specialize in non-prime consumers.  

What Are the Pros and Cons of No-Annual-Fee Credit Cards?

Pros
  • Inexpensive to carry (assuming no other fees or interest are incurred)

  • Often provide cash back, points, and miles-based rewards

  • May have introductory APR offers on purchases and balance transfers

  • No need to generate enough rewards to justify an annual fee

Cons
  • Smaller introductory bonuses, if any, compared with more lucrative rewards cards that charge annual fees

  • Fewer features and insurance coverages vs. premium cards

  • Can easily become inactive if not used

How Do You Choose a No-Annual-Fee Credit Card?

Choosing a credit card with no annual fee starts with deciding whether you are truly annual-fee-averse for any of the reasons mentioned above. Then the question becomes which type of no-annual-fee is right for you. 

For example, a no-annual-fee card that offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for a year or more can be a good choice for anyone with existing high-interest credit card debt. However, if you expect to carry a balance over time and think you may be tempted to spend more than you would otherwise in order to earn rewards, it may be best to skip cards with that feature.

For people who want rewards (either from a single card or in conjunction with another card), it’s useful to analyze your spending patterns. There are numerous no-annual-fee cards that provide bonus earnings for everyday spending categories like groceries, gasoline, drug stores, or monthly streaming services. Or, if you simply find the whole rewards earning and tracking game a bore, then a card that pays a flat percentage in cash back, points, or miles could be a better bet. 

If you are willing to play the game, however, there are no-annual-fee credit cards that offer compelling bonus cash back percentages (up to a quarterly or annual cap on eligible spending in fixed or rotating purchase categories). They can be lucrative, but they may require jumping through some hoops in terms of staying informed and registering on the issuer’s website.  

Another consideration is the process for redeeming rewards. Few, if any, cards provide automatic redemption, but cash back cards offer the simplest and most straightforward options, such as a statement credit, check, bank deposit, or gift card. The rewards on points and miles cards must usually be redeemed online for travel, merchandise, or gift cards through a special rewards portal and can be less transparent in terms of redemption value. 

To decide which no-annual-fee credit card best suits your needs, we invite you to read our extensive and objective product reviews and consider how each card stacks up relative to other cards in their respective category in terms of fees, interest rates, rewards, customer service/security, and benefits.  

About Our List of No-Annual-Fee Credit Cards

To arrive at our list of best no-annual-fee credit cards we filtered our list of nearly 300 credit cards for cards that never charge an annual fee (cards that simply waive the fee in year one are not considered). From this filtered list we then objectively chose no-annual-fee winners for each subcategory based on their star ratings and feature quality.

Methodology

Information Gathering

In order to track and assess the U.S. domestic credit card market, we gather scores of data points on more than 300 cards. This data is collected manually from both card-issuer websites and publicly available sources. 

To ensure our information is as up-to-date as possible, we deploy automated tools that monitor changes in such key data as annual percentage rates, introductory rates, introductory periods, bonus offers, rewards earnings rates, fees and card benefits. We then rapidly make any needed updates to our card listings, reviews, and recommendations to ensure that readers have the most reliable information and advice. 

Initial Scoring

Once we collect credit card data we organize it in our database according to features, which roll up into feature sets (such as rewards, interest, fees, benefits and Security/Customer Service). Each individual card feature is assigned a star rating score on a 1 to 5 scale using a formula. For instance, for a one-time bonus score we would use a formula like (if bonus is $500 or greater, then assign a score of 5; if $300-$499 then 4, and so forth). Weighting of scores. Once all of each card’s features have received a score we apply a weighting factor to each feature to arrive at a weighted average score for each card (according to the general category in which it resides, such as travel rewards). 

This weighting process allows us to assign significantly more emphasis to the attributes important to a particular category, and downplay those that are less relevant to it. That allows us to objectively identify cards that stand out in their category, and why they do. For example, we apply significantly higher weight to such travel-specific features as airport lounge access or primary rental car insurance than we do to attributes such as interest rates or fees that might be more strongly considered for other categories, such as balance-transfer cards.

Earnings rates

Another critical factor we consider when rating and ranking travel cards and other types of rewards cards are the cards’ effective earnings rates. We first calculate the average value of points or miles for all the rewards cards in our database, a painstaking process that entails collecting all airline fare data by carrier across scores of popular domestic and international city-pairs along with per-night hotel charges at all major hotel brands. 

The required points and miles for air travel or hotel stays from the various reward programs is then used to calculate an effective earnings rate for each card. That allows our readers to make the most informed choices. By putting a card’s large one-time bonus or earnings rates into context across many dimensions and card features, they can more readily weigh the card’s benefits relative to its costs. Uncovering the true but often opaque redemption value of rewards points or miles is, we feel, the only reliable way to make cogent choices among competing value-based cards.  

Card Features We Score

As mentioned in our methodology explanation, we place significant weight on certain travel-related features in determining our ratings for each card. Specifically, we place over 50% of our overall assessment score on the combination of the following factors:  

  • Maximum value of any one-time bonus, whether in points or miles.
  • Initial card spending required to earn any bonus.
  • Redemption value of the bonus miles or points.
  • Global card acceptance, as detailed by the four card networks (Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover).
  • Options to redeem points or miles with travel partners, both airline and hotel.

Another consideration are the cards’ coverage, if any, in these travel-related areas: 

  • Car-rental collision insurance, whether primary or secondary.
  • Travel accident insurance.
  • Lost or delayed luggage insurance.
  • Insurance for trip cancellation, interruption, or delay.
  • Cell phone loss or damage.
  • Roadside assistance and towing.
  • Emergency travel medical/dental benefits.

General, non-travel related features that we consider and score include:

  • Interest rates, including both introductory and regular APRs for purchases and balance transfers.
  • Fees, including those for annual membership, late payments, cash advances and foreign transactions.
  • Security/customer service features.
  • Other non-travel benefits, such as free credit scores, ID theft protection and contactless payment capability.

How We Reach Our Final Assessments

We rely mostly on the objective scores created by our rating algorithms to determine which card is chosen as the best travel rewards credit card, as well as the ones deemed best for one-time bonuses and as co-branded airline and hotel choices. 

However, we may make some adjustments from time to time, to both features and weightings that could affect rankings, which can be influenced by subjective input from our credit card experts. Any potential modifications will be consistent with Investopedia’s belief that consumers are best served by travel cards that:

  • Provide superior value in earning awards travel.
  • Charge reasonable interest rates in the event that balances are carried month to month.
  • Charge fewer and/or more reasonable fees.
  • Provide solid customer service, based on the number and quality of customer service features
  • Have helpful and protective security features.