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Best Category Spending Bonuses from No Annual Fee Credit Cards

In my service providing free credit card advice to travelers, I’ve had several people ask me recently about no annual fee cards. Sure, many cards offer no annual fee in the first year, but that fee will kick in in the second year and you have to make a decision about whether to keep it. For people with lower spend, oftentimes the fee doesn’t make up for the benefits provided.

With that in mind, I thought I would pull together a chart of the best category spending bonuses from credit cards with no annual fee. This list differs pretty significantly from a list where cards with a fee are included (see here). Hope it’s useful

CategoryBest No Annual Fee Credit Card to UseBonus You ReceiveNotes
Airline Tickets, Hotels, Car RentalTravelocity No Annual Fee Amex 3X Travelocity Points per dollar spent at Travelocity. Equal to roughly 3% back in Travelocity Credit.Can be as much as 6% cash back. When you accumulate 20,000 points, they redeem at 2 cents per point in Travelocity credit, instead of 1 cent per point.
Hotels (Except Hilton)Travelocity No Annual Fee Amex 3X Travelocity Points per dollar spent at Travelocity. Equal to roughly 3% back in Travelocity Credit.Can be as much as 6% cash back. When you accumulate 20,000 points, they redeem at 2 cents per point in Travelocity credit, instead of 1 cent per point.
Hilton Hotels6 Hilton Points per dollar spentHilton points are considered to be worth roughly .6 cents per point, to you're getting something like 3.6 cents in value per dollar.
Also, you'll get 50,000 points after spending $1,500 in 6 months.
Car RentalTravelocity No Annual Fee Amex 3X Travelocity Points per dollar spent at Travelocity. Equal to roughly 3% back in Travelocity Credit.Can be as much as 6% cash back. When you accumulate 20,000 points, they redeem at 2 cents per point in Travelocity credit, instead of 1 cent per point.
GasPenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa5% Cash Back
GroceriesAmerican Express Blue Cash Everyday3% Cash Back
RestaurantsCiti Forward5x ThankYou points
5 Thank You Points is worth 3.1% cash back or 5% cash back in the form of gift cards.
Business Services (Office Supplies, Wireless Access, Phone, Cable)Ink Cash Business Credit Card or Ink Classic Business Card5% RebateInk Cash Business Credit Card gets you 5% rebate in cash. Ink Classic Business Card gets you 5% in points, which can be converted to cash. Also $250 or 25,000 points after $5,000 spend in 3 months.
Straight Cash BackFidelity American Rewards Express and Priceline Rewards Visa 2% Cash BackYou can get 5% cash back on Name Your Own Price Hotels. it’s not exactly cash back, but it’s close. You earn 2 points per dollar spent, and those 2 points convert to 2 cents credit on your card. You can pay off items on your credit card using those points.
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  1. but what about the blue preferred from amex. isn’t that 6% on groceries?

    • Yes, but there’s an annual fee. Granted, most people would have the annual fee covered by the extra 3% cash back.

      • right. i am trying to find out if the 6% on groceries applies on overseas groceries also. although there’d be a 3% foreign currency charge, i’d still come out ahead 3%. would u know?

        • Typically the savings are awarded based on the classification of the merchant account with credit card rewards programs. For example, if you go to a Kroger or Stop & Shop the merchant classification is always right as it will show up as grocery store or something like that. When you go shopping overseas and buy groceries, the merchant classification is almost always different from country to country. I would call Amex directly to see what their policy is for actually awarding the rebates but I’d expect that even if they do that you will have to make a follow-up phone call after the fact when you return from a trip to lobby that you bought something at a grocery store.

          Hope this helps.

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