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COVID-19 has turned the world of travel upside down. But just because you're stuck at home, doesn't mean you can't take action that will save you real money on a trip you can take in the near future.
For some, a long flight (or even a short one) might be out of the question at the moment. But that doesn't mean you can't safely fight the cabin fever. As domestic travel begins to open back up, a little road trip to explore your own state might be just what you need—especially if you can use points to cover the costs.
It's hard to justify paying an upfront fee for a card that offers travel benefits that you might not use for a while. So we've put together the top cards with no annual fees and a bonus you can use soon to pay for a low-risk weekend getaway.
Which Card Should You Choose?
Unlike premium hotel rewards cards, which often feature high-end perks like complimentary elite status or free night certificates, no-fee hotel cards are comparatively light on benefits. The most important factor in choosing a card, outside of your feelings towards the hotel brand, will likely be the welcome offer.
If you see yourself staying with more than one hotel brand during your travels, we've also included some flexible rewards cards towards the bottom of the post. Unlike the hotel cards that lock you in with a single brand, these cards come with a bonus that works more like cash back, giving you more redemption options.
If you're on the fence about whether it makes sense to pay an annual fee, we've included a link to our review of each card's premium counterpart so you can evaluate the alternatives.
Top Hotel Cards with No Annual Fee
Hotel rewards cards are a great way to reduce the cost of your next getaway. These entry-level cards are an ideal starting point if you want to avoid annual fees.
IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card
The IHG Rewards Traveler Card (our full review) comes with arguably the best welcome bonus among the no-annual-fee hotel cards. The current offer is an all-time high, and it isn't likely to stick around for too much longer.
- 15x points total per $1 spent when you stay at an IHG hotel
- 2X points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants.
- 1X point per $1 spent on all other purchases
The earning for spending at IHG hotels breaks down as follows:
- Earn 5X points for being a IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Cardmember
- Earn 10X points from IHG® for being an IHG® Rewards Club Member (Being a cardholder is not required to earn this bonus for participating in the IHG® loyalty program)
Perhaps the best feature of this card is the fourth night free benefit. When booking an award stay of four or more nights, cardholders will only pay the points required for three nights.
IHG Rewards recently implemented dynamic award pricing, which means the number of points you need for a stay can vary depending on demand. Right now, that's great news because many award stays are pricing far below the regular cost.
If you end up a little short of the points you need for your weekend getaway, IHG points and cash bookings make it possible to pay a little extra cash to reduce the number of points you need. This is a huge benefit if you want to use your welcome bonus from the IHG Rewards Traveler Card for a trip right away.
Hilton Honors American Express Card
The Hilton Amex (our full review) is also featuring a great welcome bonus. It's our policy to share the best publicly available offer we know about, so make sure to check the notice above if you decide this card is the best fit.
- 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.
- Earn 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio.
- Earn 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
- Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees. Enjoy international travel without additional fees on purchases made abroad.
- Enjoy complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status with your Card. Plus, spend $20,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn an upgrade to Hilton Honors Gold status through the end of the next calendar year.
- No Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- Rates & Fees
- 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Honors portfolio of brands
- 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations
- 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card
If you don't have enough points for a redemption after earning your welcome bonus, Hilton's Points & Money option lets you pay extra cash to reduce the points you need for an award.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card
Marriott's no-annual-fee rewards card offers a welcome bonus as high as 50,000 points a few times per year. Right now, one of those offers is active, so this is a great time to apply.
- Limited Time Offer! Earn 50,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card from CHASE® with no annual fee!
- Earn 3X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy™.
- 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains).
- 1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, qualifying you for Silver Elite Status. Restrictions apply.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Earn unlimited Marriott Bonvoy points and get Free Night Stays faster.
- 3X points for every $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
- 2X points on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains)
- 1X point on all other purchases
The most valuable perk of the Bonvoy Bold (our full review) is that it provides 15 Elite Night Credits each year just for holding the card. That's good enough for automatic Silver Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy and leaves you only ten nights shy of achieving Gold Elite, which requires 25 nights.
Keep in mind, Marriott co-brand cards feature complicated application restrictions that are easily misunderstood. You can learn more here.
Flexible Rewards Cards with No Annual Fee
If you want the flexibility to stay with any hotel brand or use your rewards to cover other types of travel expenses, you'll be better off choosing a flexible rewards card. Fortunately, several no-annual-fee options come with a bonus that can give your trip a real financial boost.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
The Freedom Unlimited (our full review) is the best everyday spending card within the Ultimate Rewards family of cards, earning 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
- Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
- Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
- No annual fee.
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
- No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
- Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase
- Earn 3% on dining at restaurants
- Earn 3% on drugstore purchases
- Earn 1.5% on all purchases
- New Cardmembers earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
The card is marketed as a cashback card, and points are worth 1¢ each as cashback or through the Chase Travel Portal. However, if you also hold a premium Ultimate Rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can transfer points to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One VentureOne has a welcome offer of 20,000 once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, and earns 1.25x miles per dollar on every purchase.
- 20,000 Miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.; worth $200 in travel if redeemed for a fixed-value, or potentially much more when transferred to airline partners
- 1.25 Miles on every purchase, plus earn 5 Miles on hotel bookings and car rentals through Capital One Travel
- 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR after that
- No foreign transaction fees
- $0 annual fee
- Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
- 5 Miles on hotels and car rentals through Capital One Travel
This card maintains a unique place in the points and miles space. Most flexible-rewards cards, including the Freedom Unlimited, require you to purchase travel through a specific website or travel portal. With Capital One Venture Miles, you can redeem towards the cost of any travel purchase at a fixed value of 1¢ per mile.
Venture Miles can also be transferred to more than a dozen loyalty programs, and you don't need to hold a premium card with an annual fee to transfer to partners. Capital One hotel partners include Accor Live Limitless (at 2:1) and Wyndham Rewards (at 1,000:750).
The Capital One VentureOne has the added flexibility of redeeming points for a statement credit to cover any travel purchase. However, the Freedom Unlimited has a higher everyday earning rate, and, while the cards feature identical welcome offers, the Freedom Unlimited has a more affordable minimum spending requirement to earn it.
There are some great cards out there with modest annual fees that are easily justified by their benefits. But if you don't want to commit to paying for benefits you aren't sure you'll use, a no-annual-fee card can make perfect sense. Entry-level hotel cards are a great way to build your rewards balance and score some perks that can make your stay more comfortable.
That said, if you find yourself spending more than a few nights per year with a single hotel brand, you will likely get more value from a premium hotel credit card that offers additional benefits like annual free night certificates, elite status, and a higher points-earning capacity.
If you prefer to keep your options open, the flexible rewards cards in this post (or their premium counterparts) can help you save on a stay with any hotel brand or a different type of travel expense entirely.
For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Hilton Honors American Express Card (Rates & Fees), and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (Rates & Fees)
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