How to have a credit card strategy with no annual fees

If you ask TPG staffers for a credit card recommendation, there’s a good chance we’ll recommend a card that has an annual fee. Most of our favorite cards come with many benefits that provide value well beyond their annual fee costs, so we consider them well worth paying.

But you don’t have to pay an annual fee to have a solid credit card strategy. Whether you’re new to credit cards and hesitant to make that kind of commitment or you’re sticking to a tight budget, you may decide to opt for one (or more) of the great no-annual-fee credit cards on the market.

Here are some ways to have a credit card strategy without paying an annual fee.

Cash-back strategy

You’ll find the most no-annual-fee credit cards in the cash-back category. Many beginners prefer the flexibility of cash-back rewards, but they also appeal to more advanced users who don’t have the time (or the inclination) to worry about maximizing points and miles.


To make the most of your cash-back rewards, try to have one flat-rate earning card, one with consistent bonus categories and one with rotating categories.

For example, you could stack the following cards:

  • Citi® Double Cash Card (see rates and fees): Earn 2% back on all purchases — 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill.
  • Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Earn 3% back at grocery stores and on dining, entertainment and popular streaming services, and enjoy waived foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees) on purchases outside the U.S.
  • Chase Freedom Flex: Earn 5% back on purchases in rotating bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in combined spending each quarter after activation), 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases.

Just be aware that some cash-back cards do charge an annual fee, so check the card’s fine print around fees before applying.

Related: Best cash-back credit cards

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Travel rewards strategy

However, even those who want to earn travel rewards on their cards can utilize no-annual-fee options.

Hotel and airline cobranded cards

Generally, airline and hotel cobranded cards that don’t charge annual fees won’t come with many perks, but some do offer automatic elite status that includes on-property benefits and may qualify you for free nights. The Hilton Honors American Express Card, for example, comes with automatic Silver status with Hilton, which allows you to take advantage of the program’s fifth-night-free benefit.

Related: How to get your fourth or fifth night free on award stays

Transferable rewards cards

While not very common, some no-annual-fee cards earn transferable rewards. The Amex Everyday Credit Card, for example, has no annual fee and earns Membership Rewards points that you can transfer to any of Amex’s 21 hotel and airline partners.


You can also take advantage of the ultimate no-annual-fee rewards duo: the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees) and the Capital One SavorOne (see rates and fees). Alone, the VentureOne earns 1.25 transferable Capital One miles per dollar. Even though the SavorOne is a cash-back card, holding both allows you to combine your rewards from both cards and take advantage of the VentureOne’s full range of redemption options and the SavorOne’s bonus-earning opportunities.

The information for the Amex EveryDay Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Transferable miles with no annual fees: The Capital One SavorOne and VentureOne duo

Bottom line

You don’t have to pay annual fees to have a great card strategy. Whether you want to earn cash back, transferable rewards or just be able to maximize your use of points, there are some great no-annual-fee card options for you to choose from.

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