Solid No Fee Credit Cards – Hotel and Airline Edition
The inflation of credit card earning rates for everyday spend has become comical. I’m watching out for which card shows up first with a 10x everywhere earning rate, nevermind what the point currency is. Often, we justify annual fees based on elevated earning rates or other benefits. That’s great, but a big segment of credit cardholders aren’t interested in paying annual fees. Even for those of us who are usually okay with annual fees, how fun is it paying those for hotel and airline cards during the pandemic? What no fee credit cards are worth considering, whether it be for solid earning or other benefits? Let’s take a look!
Hotel Credit Cards
Hilton Honors American Express Card
I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with the no fee Hilton Amex card, mostly due to the great upgrade offers Amex has provided in the past. But I will always return back to the no fee card. Indeed, I plan to do so in early 2021 when my Aspire fee comes due. Why? Excellent earning for my favorite hotel loyalty program.
Cardholders earn 5x Hilton Honors points at U.S. Supermarkets, restaurants, and U.S. gas stations. Beyond these and the 7x hotel category, cardholders earn 3x points everywhere else. The card comes with Hilton Honors Silver status, and a mere $20k annual spend grants Gold status. In my opinion, Hilton Honors Gold is the most valuable mid-tier hotel status out there (hello, free breakfast).
Plus, holding this card allows one to upgrade to the more lucrative Surpass or Aspire cards, whether it be for a periodic upgrade offer or to take advantage of those cards’ benefits. I’m perfectly happy permanently using one of my four Amex credit card slots with a Hilton card.
Chase IHG Rewards Club Traveler Card
While the IHG Premier card takes up most of the spotlight, the no fee IHG Rewards Club Traveler card is a quality alternative. This no fee card currently offers a 100k welcome offer for $2k spend. For those of you looking to top of your IHG balance, the Traveler card earns 2x points at grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations. You earn an additional 5x points on IHG stays and 1x elsewhere. Importantly, this card unlocks the ability to book “fourth night free” awards, where you get four nights for the price of three when redeeming IHG points. Rounding out the major benefits, cardholders are awarded Gold status simply by holding the card. I’m a holder of the legacy IHG Select card, and I’m definitely jealous of the Traveler’s fourth night free capability.
Hotels.com Rewards Card
Admittedly, the Hotels.com Rewards Card is not one I paid much attention to upon launch, although Mark has touted its benefits from the start. I’ve recently come to consider the card in a different light, though. The current welcome offer is a pedestrian free night worth $125 after $1k spend. I’ll spare the in-the-weeds details on Hotels.com “stamps” and such; quite simply, this card works out to be a 2.2% return on all spend. That’s a respectable rate, especially for Hotels.com enthusiasts. Cardholders also enjoy complimentary Silver membership for the first year, which can include free breakfast, transportation, and Wi-Fi at certain properties.
From a different angle, I appreciate the flexibility of this currency. Of course a cardholder has to book his or her reward through Hotels.com, but he or she can be a hotel “free agent.” The rewards can be used on a variety of lodging brands. I simply can’t think of a more flexible hotel-affiliated credit card. I’ll be considering this card in the future.
Airline Credit Cards
Citi AAdvantage MileUp Card
First up, let’s go over what I consider to be the wackiest American Airlines card, the MileUp! The current welcome offer is 10k AAdvantage miles and a $50 statement credit for $500 spend. While not super-lucrative, it’s a nice return for such minimal spend. Cardholders earn 2x miles on all grocery store spend, in addition to 2x on AA flights and 1x everywhere else. I consider the MileUp to be the standout 2x-earning airline card at grocery stores primarily because the AAdvantage program does not participate in the large bank transferrable points programs (Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and ThankYou). Beyond other cards with welcome offers (and annual fees), the MileUp card is one of the quickest options for earning AAdvantage miles in bulk. For those unexpected food/strong drink needs during the flight, cardholders save 25%.
Another reason I’m a fan of this card is due to Citi’s liberal card product change policy. After you have enjoyed this card, you can easily change it to a card from an entirely different product line in the Citi portfolio, such as the Double Cash. Likewise, if you’ve had the MileUp before, got rid of it, and want that 2x earning again, simply product change from another Citi card. For now, I’m loving the 2x earning at grocery stores; also I enjoy holding AA cards with two banks – Citi’s MileUp and Barclays’ Aviator Blue.
United MileagePlus Card
The no fee United MileagePlus Card couldn’t be more blandly-named. Likewise to the earning structure – 1 mile per $2 spent. So what’s the big deal? This card gives expanded access to saver-level rewards on United. And many of us know how difficult finding saver awards on United can be. Anything else worth mentioning? Nope, not really. That extra access feature alone makes this card super-beneficial.
You cannot apply for this card; the easiest way to obtain it is via product change from a United Explorer card. While I don’t plan to be under 5/24 again ever, this card (and the Hyatt card, maybe) are the Chase cards I wish I had.
JetBlue Card from Barclays
The no fee JetBlue card earns 3x on JetBlue purchases, 2x at grocery stores and restaurants, and 1x everywhere else. Have you noticed a pattern forming? I like 2x-earning-at-grocery airline cards. Currently, the card offers 10k JetBlue points after $1k spend. Cardholders also enjoy 50% off cocktails and food purchases in-flight.
I like this option for frequent JetBlue customers who take advantage of points pooling, the ability to share points with others to obtain award flights faster. JetBlue doesn’t fly to my area, so I’m not a huge participant in their currency (at least, not since 3x JetBlue points anytime at Amazon went away). However, I would definitely consider this card if or when they ever show up at my regional airports.
Of course, the above is not an all-inclusive list of no fee hotel and airline cards. Indeed, I’ll soon be writing about the new versions of Wyndham cards, including the no fee Earner card. Regardless, never forget that no fee versions are available for most of your hotel and airline cards. Often, these versions can be beneficial (enough) while minimizing your card costs. During the pandemic, it’s worth considering all of your cost-cutting options, and picking no fee credit cards is low-hanging fruit for many of us. And yes, no fee cards can be fun! What are your favorite no fee credit cards in the hotel and airline categories?