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Many credit cards, especially those with excellent benefits and lucrative sign-up bonuses, have annual fees. Many of the top travel rewards credit cards have annual fees that range from $95 per year to $550 per year. Although these cards can provide excellent rewards and benefits, paying the annual fee can be painful.

Fortunately, some credit cards waive the annual fee for new cardholders during the first year. This gives you a chance to use the card for a year before having to decide whether the annual fee is worth the rewards and benefits provided by the card.

Although there are some solid cards that never charge an annual fee, this guide focuses on cards that have an annual fee but waive it for your first year with the card. Some of the cards that have waived annual fees for the first year are listed below in order of their current bonus, with the most valued bonuses listed first.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Current bonus: 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. According to TPG’s latest valuations, this bonus is worth $1,200.

Standout benefits: Earn 2x on travel and dining; 1x on all other purchases. Earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Benefits include no foreign transaction fees, primary auto rental collision damage waiver, trip cancellation/interruption insurance and baggage delay insurance.

Annual fee: $95

Quick take: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a solid travel rewards card, especially if you don’t travel that much but can get good value out of the Chase Ultimate Rewards bonus, the travel benefits and the 2x on dining and restaurants. For more information on this card, check out the following posts:

Citi Premier Card

Current bonus: 50,000 ThankYou Points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. That’s equal to $850 based on TPG’s valuations.

Standout benefits: Earn 3x on travel (including most gas stations); 2x on dining out and entertainment; 1x on all other purchases. No foreign transaction fees.

Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95

Quick take: The Citi Premier is a solid mid-level travel credit card for those looking for more benefits than the no-fee Citi Rewards+ Card provides but less of an annual fee than the Citi Prestige. For more information on this card, check out the following posts:

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Current bonus: 50,000 AAdvantage miles, worth $700 based on TPG valuations, after spending $2,500 in the first three months.  Alternatively, the business version of this card — the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard — offers a two-tier bonus: 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months and an additional 10,000 miles after spending $10,000 in the first 12 months.

Standout benefits: Earn 2x at restaurants and gas stations and on eligible American Airlines purchases; 1x on all other purchases. First checked bag free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation. No foreign transaction fees. Earn a $100 American Airlines flight discount after spending $20,000 or more in purchases during your card year and renewing your card.

Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $99

Quick take: The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard can be particularly helpful if you fly American Airlines domestically in basic economy or as a family, domestically on awards or frequently on awards. For more information on this card, check out the following posts:

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Current bonus: 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. TPG’s latest valuations peg the value of this bonus at $675. The business version of this card — the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express — offers the exact same bonus as the personal card.

Standout benefits: Earn 6x at participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels; 2x on all other eligible purchases. Complimentary Silver Elite status. No foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees). Receive one Free Night Award that can be used for one night at a redemption level at or under 35,000 points every year after your account anniversary. Complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi subscription. Secondary car rental loss and damage insurance, purchase protection, return protection and extended warranty protection.

Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95 (See Rates & Fees)

Quick take: Both of these cards will be replaced by new Marriott Bonvoy-branded cards in February. So, if you’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to sign-up for a SPG card, now is the time to do so. The business card has more bonus categories than the personal card, so if you’re eligible for the business card that will likely be the better choice.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Current bonus: 50,000 Capital One Venture miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months. Since you can now transfer Capital One miles to airline partners, TPG’s latest valuations peg the value of this sign-up bonus at $700. But, you can also continue to redeem Capital One points for a fixed value of 1 cent each if you prefer.

Standout benefits: Earn 10x on Hotels.com bookings at Hotels.com/Venture; 2x on all other purchases. Benefits include extended warranty protection, secondary auto rental collision damage waiver, no foreign transaction fees and a $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck fee rebate every four years.

Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95

Quick take: This card can be particularly valuable when booking hotels through Hotels.com/Venture. For more information on this card, check out the following posts:

United Explorer Card

Current bonus: 40,000 United miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months.  According to TPG’s latest valuations, the 40,000 miles are worth $520. Alternatively, the business version of this card — the United Explorer Business Card — offers 50,000 United miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

Standout benefits: Earn 2x at restaurants, hotels booked directly and on purchases from United; 1x on all other purchases. Application fee credit for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) every four years. When flying on United-operated flights you’ll get a free checked bag for you and a companion on the same reservation when you purchase your ticket from United using this card, priority boarding, two United Club passes per year, 25% back on in-flight purchases and complimentary premier upgrades on award tickets. Other benefits include trip delay reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, primary auto rental collision damage waiver, purchase protection, extended warranty protection and no foreign transaction fees.

Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95

Quick take: The United Explorer Card can provide a lot of value if you fly United frequently, especially if you don’t have elite status with a Star Alliance airline. The redesigned card launched in June 2018, so check out the following posts to learn more about it:

Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card

Current bonus: $500 cash bonus after spending $3,000 within the first three months.

Standout benefits: Earn 4% cash back on dining and entertainment; 2% cash back at grocery stores; 1% cash back on all other purchases. Receive a monthly statement credit for a Postmates Unlimited monthly membership through Dec. 2019. No foreign transaction fees. Extended warranty protection and price protection.

Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95

Quick take: If you like the simplicity of cash back rewards and spend a lot in the dining and entertainment categories, this card may be a great fit. Here are a few posts about the card:

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

American express gold delta skymiles credit card

Current bonus: 30,000 Delta miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months. Based on TPG’s valuations, the Delta miles bonus is worth $360. Plus, you’ll get a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within the first 3 months.

Standout benefits: Earn 2x on purchases made directly with Delta; 1x on all other purchases. When traveling on Delta-marketed and Delta-operated flights, the primary cardholder and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation get their first bag is checked for free and priority boarding. The primary cardholder and up to two companions can purchase discounted access to a Delta SkyClub when traveling on Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight. Other benefits include 20% back on in-flight purchases with Delta, extended warranty protection, return protection, purchase protection and no foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees).

Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95 (See Rates & Fees)

Quick take: Although this isn’t the best welcome bonus we’ve seen for this card, it could still be worth getting the card now if you have travel on Delta soon and need to check a bag. The first free checked bag benefit is particularly valuable for groups and families that travel together frequently on Delta but don’t have status.

Bottom Line

As this list demonstrates, you don’t have to pay a steep annual fee to enjoy great perks with a travel rewards credit card. In fact, for all the cards listed above you don’t have to pay an annual fee at all for the first 12 months. This lets you see the value of the card’s rewards and benefits during the first year before having to decide whether the value of these rewards and benefits justifies paying the annual fee.

Granted, new cardholder bonuses usually make the first year of card membership the most lucrative. However, depending on your travel patterns, at least one card in the list above could be worthwhile long-term due to its earning potential and travel/shopping benefits.

For rates and fees of the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card, please click here.

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2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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