The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
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15 Best Rewards Credit Cards with No Annual Fee

15 Best Rewards Credit Cards with No Annual Fee

credit card advice

Matt Walker
By: Matt Walker
Posted: November 12, 2019

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There’s a reason why everyone wants to know what the best rewards credit cards with no annual fee are. People love to be rewarded, but who wants to pay to earn rewards?

If you’re currently putting your money toward an annual fee just so you can earn cash back, points, or miles, you aren’t being rewarded — you’re earning a return on your investment.

If you’d rather invest your money in actual commodities (or just not hand it over to a credit card company), consider adding one of the cards below that will reward your purchases without making you pay for the privilege.

Best Overall
Cash Back | Miles | Points | Students | Business | Bad Credit | FAQs

Best Overall Rewards Card with No Annual Fee

The Discover it® Cash Back card remains one of our favorite credit cards because it offers rich cash back rewards without hefty fees or hidden charges. This includes a whopping 5% cash back on quarterly categories, including gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and Amazon.com, that you activate up to the quarterly purchase maximum. All other purchases earn 1% cash back, and your rewards never expire.

Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★

5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

But the true beauty of this card comes from Discover’s popular Cashback Match program that effectively doubles the total amount of cash back you earn during your first year with the card. There’s no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn and Discover pays out your rewards match in one lump sum shortly after your first card anniversary.

Best Cash Rewards Cards with No Annual Fees

Cash back cards allow you to earn a percentage back on each purchase you make. Your cash back earnings can add up quickly if you use your card for everyday purchases and then pay your balance in full at the end of the month.

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
16.49% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent
Discover it® Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

5.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
0% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn a one-time $150 cash bonus after 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
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.74% - 25.74% variable APR after that
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months; 15.74% - 25.74% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
  • No foreign transaction fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
15.74% - 25.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

Make sure you know the basics of your card’s rewards structure so you can maximize your earnings from day one. Some cards give your rewards a boost at certain retailers or on specified categories each quarter. Those increases can equal big savings over the long run.

Best Mile Rewards Cards with No Annual Fees

If you’re an avid traveler, you’re likely used to paying fees. Checked bag fees, choose-your-seat fees, late arrival fees — they seem like they never stop. But a good miles card with no annual fee can help upgrade your travel experience and keep your money in your wallet.

Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! The more you earn, the more you get.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Miles Pay You Back. Easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases. Or get cash.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
10.99% for 14 months
13.49% - 24.49% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
N/A
13.74% - 23.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

The cards on our list allow you to redeem your earned miles as statement credits. That means you won’t have to deal with airline restrictions or blackout dates when you’re planning your trip. Plus, you can have greater flexibility in how you redeem your miles since each card has a diverse list of what they consider to be travel expenses.

Best Point Rewards Cards with No Annual Fees

Points are the most flexible credit card rewards option available. That’s because you can turn your points into cash back, travel rewards, merchandise, gift cards, or one of several other options available, depending on your issuer.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card Review

at Bank Of America'ssecure website

EXPERT'S RATING

★★★★★

4.7

OVERALL RATING

0.0/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time and no expiration on points
  • 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days — that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want — you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Comes with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR for 12 billing cycles
N/A
17.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
$0
Excellent/Good

CITI® RATING

★★★★★
4.6

OVERALL RATING

0.0/5.0
  • Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on  net new purchases with your card in the first 3 months of account opening
  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; balance transfers must be made within 4 months of account opening
  • Points are redeemable for gift cards to popular retailers, restaurants, and department and home stores. 2,500 ThankYou® Points can be redeemed for a $25 gift card at thankyou.com
  • Earn 2X Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations
  • Earn 1X Points on all other purchases
  • Round-up to the nearest 10X points on every purchase
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
15.74% - 25.74% (Variable)
$0
Good/Excellent

Your points with the above cards never expire, so you can let them accrue in your account until you’re ready to redeem them. You can build up savings that you can cash in all at once to make a big purchase or take a much-needed vacation.

Best Student Rewards Cards with No Annual Fees

College is expensive enough — who has money for annual fees? With a good student rewards card, you can earn cash back and other perks without having to pay an annual fee.

Discover it® Student Cash Back Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
19.49% Variable
$0
Fair/New to Credit
Discover it® Student chrome Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There's no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 6 months
10.99% for 6 months
19.49% Variable
$0
Fair/New to Credit

STUDENT RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.2/5.0
  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • Enjoy no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Get a head start and build your credit with responsible use
  • Get Eno®, your Capital One® assistant, to manage your account via text, receive alerts, and shop safer online
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
26.99% (Variable)
$0
Average, Fair, Limited

Many student rewards cards also provide statement credit or other bonuses when you maintain good grades. By calling your issuer’s customer service phone number or contacting them online, you can potentially turn your classroom success into cash.

Best Business Rewards Cards with No Annual Fees

Entrepreneurs know all about the costs associated with running a business, so it’s nice when your business credit card isn’t one of those costs. The following business cards feature rich rewards you can use to pay for –- and earn discounts on — your daily operational expenses, without charging an annual fee to the business.

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card Review

at the issuer'ssecure website

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.6/5.0
  • Earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
  • Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 12 months
N/A 12 months
14.74% - 20.74% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back for your business on every purchase, everywhere, no limits or category restrictions
  • Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Save on interest with 0% intro APR on purchases for 9 months; 14.74% - 22.74% variable APR after that
  • No annual fee
  • Free employee cards, which also earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 9 months
N/A
14.74% - 22.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

BUSINESS CARD RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn unlimited 1.5X miles per dollar on every purchase, everywhere, no limits or category restrictions, and miles won't expire for the life of the account
  • Earn a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles – equal to $200 in travel – once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5X miles on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel℠ using a Spark Miles Select card
  • Save on interest with 0% intro APR on purchases for 9 months; 14.74% - 22.74% variable APR after that
  • No annual fee
  • Transfer your miles to 10+ leading travel loyalty programs like JetBlue™, Air Canada, and Emirates™
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 9 months
N/A
14.74% - 22.74% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

Another perk of a good business rewards credit card is that it will help you build a business line of credit — which is vital in today’s competitive landscape but sometimes difficult to do.

Best Rewards Card with No Annual Fee for Bad Credit

The Discover it® Secured card is rare in the secured credit card space because it offers cash back reward options while helping you build — or rebuild — your credit score. With this card, you can earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1% cash back.

Discover it® Secured Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

BAD CREDIT RATING

★★★★

3.9

OVERALL RATING

3.7/5.0
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
10.99% for 6 months
24.49% Variable
$0
New/Rebuilding

Like all secured cards, the Discover it® Secured requires a refundable cash deposit before you can access your available credit. Discover will review your account after eight months to see if you’re eligible to upgrade to an unsecured card, in which case your deposit will be refunded to you.

Which Credit Cards Give the Best Rewards?

We like the Discover it® Cash Back card for its handsome cash payouts on everyday purchases. Discover will award you 5% cash back in quarterly activated categories that include gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and Amazon.com (up to the quarterly maximum). All other purchases earn 1% cash back.

On top of that, the Discover Cashback Match program adds up all of the cash back you earn during your first year with the card and matches it shortly after your first anniversary. There’s no limit as to how much you can earn and Discover pays your rewards in one lump sum.

By leveraging the quarterly categories and paying your monthly bills in full and on time, you can accumulate a substantial amount of cash back during your first year — all with no annual fee or other hidden charges.

And while some points or travel rewards cards may offer a slightly higher yield on your rewards earnings, cash back is simple and versatile. Discover makes it easy to redeem your earned cash back through its mobile application or desktop website. You can even apply your cash back toward Amazon purchases at checkout.

By simply tapping on your earnings in the Discover mobile app, you can choose to have your money deposited into a linked checking account (which takes approximately one to two business days), sent as a paper check (seven to 10 business days), or applied toward your balance as a statement credit (one business day).

Are Credit Cards with Rewards Worth It?

Absolutely…under two conditions. For one, you have nothing to lose if you’re using a rewards card that doesn’t charge an annual fee, like those listed above. You’ll earn rewards — including cash back — for purchases you’re already making, and you won’t have to pay for your benefits.

Required Spend to Make Up Annual Fee with 1% Rate Differential

The second condition is that you’ll need to pay your balance in full every month. If you carry debt on your credit card from month to month, the interest fees will quickly eat away at the value of any rewards you accrue.

Rewards cards are notorious for having higher APRs to offset the cost of the rewards the issuer is doling out. If you know you’re going to carry a balance, check out cards with low ongoing interest rates instead.

Repayment of $5,000 Credit Card Balance w/ 21% APR

With responsible credit behavior, you can actually make money with a good cash back rewards card. The easiest way to do this is to pay your regular monthly bills using your card.

Many electric, cable, and subscription-based services allow you to pay your balance each month with a credit card. Once the charges clear and post to your card — which can take two to three business days — you can immediately use the cash in your checking account to clear the debt from your credit card.

Even with an entry-level 1.5% cash back credit card, you can still earn $15 each month in cash back if you pay $1,000 in bills, grocery store purchases, or gas station fill-ups. That’s $180 each year for doing what you’re already doing. And your potential savings will only increase with a credit card that offers even greater rewards rates.

Just make sure the bill you’re paying doesn’t charge you an extra credit card processing fee for using your card. If this happens, you’ll essentially forfeit your rewards — and maybe even more — just to use your credit card.

What is the Best Credit Card Rewards Program?

The “best” option is the one that complements your financial needs and goals. If you’re a frequent traveler (or you want to be one), then a good travel miles credit card can help get you packing and on your way much faster and affordably.

But if you’re a homebody who just wants to save money on the things you buy, a top cash back card can not only save you money — but it can actually make you money when used responsibly.

If you’re a jack of all trades and want travel rewards one month and cash back the next, then you may be best served with a points credit card that gives you a plethora of options when you’re ready to redeem. If you go by popular opinion to decide what’s best, cash back reigns supreme, with nearly two-thirds of rewards cardholders opting for cash back benefits.

If you’re looking for a wide-ranging rewards program, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is worth consideration. This portal allows you to take the points you accumulate on every purchase and redeem them for cash back, travel deals, discounted merchandise, and several other options.

Keep in mind your points have varying values based on how you choose to redeem them, and most Chase credit cards include an annual fee. But if you’re looking to maximize your rewards and diversify your benefits, you can’t go wrong with Chase.

How Do You Redeem Credit Card Rewards?

Each credit card issuer offers different types of rewards and different ways to redeem those rewards. The one thing they all have in common is that every credit card issuer tries to make it as easy as possible for you to reap your rewards without wasting your time.

Depending on which card you have, you will likely earn cash back, points, or travel miles. There are differences and similarities among the three, especially in how they’re redeemed.

Cash back is just as it seems. You’ll earn a percentage of each purchase back in the form of cash or a statement credit. Most cards have a mobile application that allows you to make payments, check your balance, and track your spending. The app also typically lets you redeem your cash back rewards.

You’ll likely see the change in your balance within 24 hours if you opt for a statement credit. Whereas if you choose to have your cash back directly deposited into a linked checking account, you can typically access the funds within two business days. Receiving a paper check can take a week or longer to process and receive your money.

Point rewards, on the other hand, work very much like cash back, but with more redemption options. You earn points for every dollar you spend using your card. Many cards allow you to redeem your points for cash back, but you can also earn travel discounts, merchandise, event tickets, and other items.

Each issuer offers varying redemption values on its rewards, as shown in the chart below.

Chart Comparing Values of Common Credit Card Rewards Points

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is a great example of a points reward system. Nearly all the cards in the Chase portfolio allow you to earn points, which you then redeem through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

You can receive more value for your points when you cash them out for travel discounts and gift cards than if you redeem your points for merchandise. Whichever option you choose, you can redeem your points easily through the portal or your card’s mobile app.

How you redeem your travel miles depends on the card you have. You earn miles just like points and cash back — with set amounts for each dollar you spend on your card. Some cards allow you to cash your miles in to directly purchase travel accommodations through an airline, hotel, or rental car agency. Others let you redeem the miles for statement credits that refund you for all or part of a recent travel purchase.

Rewards are Less Rewarding when You Pay for Them

Google defines the word “reward” as “a thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.” But it seems much less rewarding when you have to pay for your rewards.

Credit card rewards started as a way to earn consumer brand loyalty and incentivize spending on the card instead of paying with cash.

If someone wants your loyalty, they should pay you — not the other way around. But with one of the best rewards credit cards with no annual fee, you can have your cake and eat it too, without getting a bill from the baker when you’re done.