Posted: 3/16/23 | March 16th, 2023
One of the easiest ways to save money traveling is by
travel hacking. Using credit cards (responsibly) to collect points and miles essentially transforms your everyday spending into free flights, free hotel stays, and other awesome travel perks.
Not only does this stretch your travel budget but it levels up your travel experience, providing free upgrades, lounge access, and much, much more.
Whether you want to be on the road for longer, take more trips, or simply save money on your next vacation, points and miles can get you there.
However, most of the best travel credit cards have annual fees (sometimes huge ones).
While annual fees are usually worth it for frequent travelers (you can get much more value out of a card than its annual fee), if you’re new to travel hacking or don’t travel, you may want to get a no-fee card first.
And there are a lot of no-fee cards out there. Which one do you pick?
Here is my list of the best no-fee travel credit cards so you can start earning points toward free travel today:
1. The Bilt Rewards Mastercard
Without a doubt my favorite no-fee travel card, the Bilt Mastercard enables you to earn points when you pay your rent (as well as on everyday purchases). The card is primarily geared toward travelers and restaurant-goers since it offers 2x points spent on travel and 3x points on dining out.
You can transfer points 1:1 to travel partners, including American Airlines, United, Emirates, Hawaiian, Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, Air France/KLM, Hyatt, and IHG. The fact that you can transfer Bilt points to American Airlines really sets this card apart; no other card’s points are transferable to American, so amassing Bilt points is the only way to get AA points without having an AA card.
Bilt also integrates with point.me, a handy search and booking engine for award flights.
With the Bilt card, you get:
- 1x points on rental payments
- 2x points on travel
- 3x points on dining
- American Airlines as a transfer partner (it’s the only card that does)
- Rent Day benefits: monthly giveaways and challenges as well as 6x points on dining, 4x points on travel, and 2x on all other spending on the 1st of the month
- Travel protection including trip cancellation and delay
- No foreign transaction fees
The Bilt card is absolutely a no-brainer for renters who love to travel. To learn more, read my full Bilt Review. It is the card I use the most right now (especially on rent days).
2. Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
The cards in Capital One’s Venture lineup are all fantastic. While the Venture and Venture X are more well-known, they come with annual fees. If you’re looking for a no-fee card, VentureOne is an excellent option. You’ll earn 1.25x points on all purchases as well as 5x points on travel booked through the Capital One travel portal. Just like the other Venture cards, the points you earn with the VentureOne card can then be transferred to Capital One’s 15+ transfer partners to redeem for flights and hotels.
With this card, you’ll get:
- 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 within 3 months of account opening
- 1.25x points on all purchases
- 5x points on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- Travel accident and car rental insurance
- No foreign transaction fees
3. Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great no-fee card that offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases, 3% back on restaurants and drugstores, and 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. The card also offers travel protections like rental car insurance and trip cancellation/delay. However, it does charge foreign transaction fees, so you don’t want to use it while traveling abroad, only to book travel in advance.
When you sign up for this card, you’ll get:
- Earn an additional 1.5% on all purchases in the first year (up to $20,000)
- 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% cash back on restaurants and drugstores
Another similar option is the Chase Freedom Flex. Freedom Flex offers 5% cash back on quarterly rotating bonus categories, 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on restaurants, and 1% back on all other spending.
CARDS WITH LOW FEES
If the cards above are a little too basic for your travel hacking needs and you want something more intermediate, here’s a quick list of travel credit cards with affordable fees:
Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee) – 3x points on dining, online grocery purchase, and select streaming services, 2x points on travel (5x when booked through the Chase travel portal), travel protections, and a $50 annual hotel credit when you book and prepay through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Capital One Venture ($95 annual fee) – 2x points on all purchases, 5x points on hotels/rental cars booked on Capital One travel, $100 Global Entry/TSA pre-check credit, 2 airport lounge visits per year.
Chase Ink Plus Business Preferred ($95 annual fee) – If you’re a business owner, this card offers 3x points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent each year on shipping, internet, phone, travel, and online advertising, and free cards for employees.
While fee-based cards have better earning structures and travel benefits, if you’re new to the points and miles game, the idea of forking out for an annual fee might put you off from travel cards entirely. But if you love to travel (or want to travel more), not collecting points and miles is the biggest mistake you could make.
No-fee cards are a great place to start so that you can begin to work towards free flights and hotel stays today, without having to think about whether you’re getting enough value out of the card to justify the annual fee.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Want to travel for free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation. They are what keep me traveling so much for so little. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.
Advertiser Disclosure: “Nomadic Matt has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Nomadic Matt and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.”
Editorial Disclosure: “Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.”