Best credit cards with waived annual fees the first year

Jun 24, 2021

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Applying for a premium credit card is an important financial decision, but it doesn’t have to be costly. Some of the top travel rewards credit cards currently offer waived annual fees alongside generous new account bonuses.

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Today we take a look at cards you can test drive the first year before determining if they deserve a long-term spot in your wallet.

In This Post

Why apply for a card with a waived annual fee?

The market for travel rewards cards is almost unbelievably competitive, with new cards and improved offers appearing on these pages almost daily. But at the same time, the business model for premium rewards cards is to charge cardholders a substantial annual fee to recoup some of the costs of the rewards and benefits offered.

Unfortunately, you don’t always know exactly how much value you’ll be able to realize from each offer. At least not until you’ve tried it. Over the last 30 years, I’ve held dozens of rewards cards. Some I got primarily for the welcome bonus but ended up keeping due to the continued value of the rewards and benefits offered. But with other cards, I optimistically opened an account, assuming that it would deliver real long-term value, only to be disappointed.

But if you apply for a card without an annual fee, you have the first year to take it for a test drive and see what it can do for you without any financial commitment. Does the rewards program deliver on its promises? Are the benefits easy to use? Is the customer service acceptable? These are questions that you might not be able to answer until you’ve spent a year using a card.

And if you’re on the fence regarding the value of the card’s annual fee, having it waived the first year can effectively cut in half the average fee you pay during your account’s first two years.

Related: Guide to credit card annual fees

Top personal travel rewards cards with the first year’s annual fee waived

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

With an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $99 annual fee (see rates and fees), this card sits in the middle of is Delta’s lineup of SkyMiles cards, between the no-annual-fee Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card (see rates and fees) and the $250 Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (see rates and fees). New applicants currently earn 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

This card always offers 2x miles at restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets and on eligible Delta purchases, and 1x miles on other purchases. Benefits include 20% off inflight purchases, a free checked bag on Delta flights and a $100 Delta flight credit each year you spend $10,000 on your card.

Related: Perfect for infrequent Delta flyers: Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card review

APPLY HERE: Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard®

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Don’t count this card out until you’ve learned the details of the new Free Spirit program. This card offers you 40,000 bonus points plus a $100 companion flight voucher after making at least $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening. You’ll also earn 3x points per dollar spent on Spirit purchases, 2x on dining and grocery stores and 1x on all other purchases. Other benefits include Zone 2 shortcut boarding, a 25% rebate on inflight food and beverage purchases and a $100 companion flight voucher each anniversary after making at least $5,000 in purchases within the prior year. After your account’s first year, there’s a $79 annual fee for this card.

The information for the Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard 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: 5 things you should know about Spirit’s revamped credit card lineup

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard

(Image by The Points Guy)

This card breaks a bunch of new ground by offering you 1 qualifying mile toward elite status for every dollar spent on purchases, just as if you were flying Frontier. This allows you to obtain elite status through spending alone if you choose easily. You also receive 50,000 bonus miles after spending just $500 within 90 days of account opening.

This card also features 5x miles for eligible purchases made at flyfrontier.com, 3x miles at restaurants and 1x miles on all other purchases. Other benefits include Zone 2 priority boarding, a waiver of award redemption fees and a $100 flight voucher each account anniversary after spending $2,500 or more on purchases with your card during your card membership year. After the first year, this card has a $79 annual fee.

The information for the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard 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: Priority boarding, family pooling and yearly voucher: Frontier Airlines World Mastercard review

United Explorer Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

This venerable United card currently offers new applicants 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. You earn 2x miles on United Airlines purchases, hotel stays (when booked with the hotel), dining (including eligible delivery services), and 1x miles on all other purchases. Benefits include a free checked bag, priority boarding, two, one-time United Club passes, 25% back on United inflight purchases and up to $100 in credits toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees.(Up to $100) And don’t forget that this card offers you expanded access to United award flights at the saver level. After your account’s first year, this card has a $95 annual fee.

Related: Premium perks without a high annual fee: United Explorer Card review

APPLY HERE: United Explorer Card

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

American Airlines AAdvantage is one of the last remaining U.S. frequent flyer programs with a published award chart (along with Alaska). This card offers you 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn double miles not just on eligible American Airlines purchases but also at restaurants and on gas. Benefits include a free checked bag, priority boarding and a 25% savings on inflight purchases. This card also offers a $125 American Airlines flight discount after spending $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renewing your card. After your account’s first year, this card has a $99 annual fee.

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select 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: American Airlines perks at a lower cost: Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard review

U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card

This card offers new applicants 50,000 bonus points worth $500 toward travel, merchandise, gift cards and cash back after spending $3,000 within 120 days of account opening. You also earn 4x points on travel and gas station purchases, 2x points on grocery stores, grocery delivery, dining, streaming services, and 1x points on all other eligible purchases. And you receive a $30 credit for annual streaming service purchases such as Netflix and Spotify®. You even get up to $100 in statement credits toward a TSA Precheck or Global Entry application every four years. After your account’s first year, there’s a $95 annual fee for this card.

Related: Bonus rewards in 5 categories: U.S. Bank Altitude Connect Visa Signature Card review

APPLY HERE: U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card 

Top small-business travel rewards cards with the first year’s annual fee waived

Business Green Rewards Card from American Express

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The small-business version of American Express’ iconic Green Card currently offers new applicants 15,000 bonus Membership Rewards points when you use it to spend $3,000 within three months of account opening. It offers 2x points on eligible purchases from amextravel.com and 1x points for all other eligible purchases. After the account’s first year, there’s a $95 annual fee for this card.

The information for the Business Green Rewards Card from American Express 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: Large bonus, limited earning: Amex Business Green Rewards Card review

Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The small-business version of this SkyMiles card currently offers new applicants 70,000 bonus miles, and a $50 statement credit after spending $2,000 in purchases the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021. Cardholders earn 2x miles on eligible Delta purchases, at restaurants and on U.S. shipping purchases and U.S. purchases for advertising in select media. As with the personal version, benefits include priority boarding, 20% off inflight purchases, a free checked bag on Delta flights and a $100 Delta flight credit each calendar year you spend $10,000 on your card. Your introductory annual fee for the Delta SkyMiles Gold Business American Express Card will be $0 introductory annual fee for your first year of Card Membership, then $99 (see rates and fees).

Related: Credit card review: Delta SkyMiles Gold Business American Express Card

APPLY HERE: Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card

Capital One Spark Miles for Business

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Capital One currently offers new applicants 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,500 within your account’s first three months from account opening. You also earn double miles on all purchases, with no limits. Miles are worth 1 cent each as statement credits toward travel purchases or transferred to airline miles and hotel points with a newly expanded list of travel partners. After the account’s first year, there’s a $95 annual fee for this card.

Related: Double miles on everything: Capital One Spark Miles for Business credit card review

APPLY HERE: Capital One Spark Miles for Business

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The small-business version of this card offers you 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within four months of account opening. You earn double miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, as well as at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and gas stations.

Benefits include a free checked bag, preferred boarding and a 25% savings on inflight purchases. You can also earn an American Airlines companion certificate after spending $30,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renewing your card(account must remain open at least 45 days after anniversary date). Redeeming the certificate costs $99 for the ticketing fee plus $21.60 to $43.20 in government taxes and fees, based on itinerary. After your account’s first year, this card has a $99 annual fee.

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select 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: CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard credit card review

APPLY HERE: CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

Bottom line

It’s always nice when a credit issuer gives you the chance to try their product before you buy it. By taking a look at these cards that have their first year’s annual fee waived, you may decide to give one of these cards a chance to earn your business without having to pay an annual fee upfront.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Blue Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Business Amex card, click here.

Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.