Try Before You Buy: 3 Great Premium Cards You Can Try for Free

I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).

The best cards — biggest bonuses, fastest earning, most valuable points — often come with big annual fees attached. For instance the annual fee on the American Express Platinum card is going up to $550.

Cards without perks like airport lounge access, but that still earn transferrable points, usually run about a hundred dollars a year. However, some cards waive the annual fee for the first year. So you can try the card at no cost — see if you like it, know that you’re getting value out of it, before incurring a fee in year two (and if you’re not getting enough value out of the card, you can cancel before the fee hits).

In other words, you can try before you buy. Here are my favorite cards that have a $0 annual fee the first year.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns some of the most valuable points — transferrable to a variety of airline and hotel programs — and earns them quickly with double points on travel and dining.

    It’s also got a great signup bonus with 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You can earn another 5,000 bonus points when you add your first authorized user to the account and make a purchase in the same 3 months from account opening. The card’s usual $95 annual fee is $0 the first year.

    Points transfer to United, Hyatt, Southwest, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Air France KLM, Marriott Rewards, IHG Rewards Club, and Ritz-Carlton.

    best credit card bonus offers
    Transfer Points and Redeem for Singapore Airlines A380 Suites

    Since in general they don’t appear to be approving folks who have signed up for 5 or more cards in the past 24 months it’s the first card you should apply for.

  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is offering 35,000 bonus Starpoints® as a signup bonus for only the second time in its history, and this ends April 5: 25,000 after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months plus an extra 10,000 ter you make an additional $2,000 in purchases within the first 6 months. There’s a possibility that — given Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood — we might not see a 35,000 point signup offer again. The card, which I’ve had since 2001, has a $0 introductory annual fees for the first year then $95. (Offer expired)

    Not only are Starwood points great for hotels of course they transfer one-to-one into the most airline miles and you get 5000 bonus miles when transferring points to 20,000 miles. The card earns the single most valuable points currency.

    W Doha

  • The Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express earns triple Membership Rewards points for airfare purchased directly from airlines and double points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and at US supermarkets (terms and limitations apply and all that).

    Most intriguingly, it comes with a $100 airline fee credit that it works in much the same way as the fee credit for the Platinum cards — you pick an airline from their available list for the credit and in some cases even online purchases of electronic airline gift cards will reimburse, even though they aren’t supposed to.

    What’s especially interesting is that the card has a $0 annual fee the first year (then $195). During the first annual fee year it’s possible to get the $100 fee credit twice (once in each of two calendar years). So you’re actually making a profit on the card in my view.

    Etihad First Class

There are cards that are really valuable with no annual fee at all, such as the Amex Everyday (the only no annual fee card whose points transfer one-to-one into miles) and Citi Double Cash Card for cash back.

However if you want a premium card but want to ‘try before you buy’ and commit to an annual fee, these are three fantastic options.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. @Gary, good post. Still some good opportunities to collect big signup bonus points up front.

    One minor correction: the second-to-last sentence above should be updated to say “Amex Everyday” instead of “Amex Everyday Preferred”. The link to the Amex Everyday is correct, but the text says Everyday Preferred (which has a $95 annual fee).

  2. I was going to let this one go until this: “Since in general they don’t appear to be approving folks who have signed up for 5 or more cards in the past 24 months it’s the first card you should apply for. ”

    That’s precisely why you should first go for the hands-down superior card, which is the Chase Sapphire Reserve visa that earns 3X and has a first-year AF of -$150 and essentially $0 AF the first 2 years, before wasting a Chase card and finding yourself in the “5/24” territory. And if you are still under “5/24”, get the perfect companion to the CSR, the no-AF Chase Freedom Unlimited, which earns 1.5X on EVERYTHING and will get you 15K bonus UR points after a $500 spend if you apply between now and April 18. It’s simply an unbeatable combo for cruising toward bigger and better rewards.

  3. The Ameriprise AMEX Platinum card with the first year annual fee is the BEST, but then again you don’t get a referral for that one.

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