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, Capital One 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 bumped 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.
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.
- IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has increased its signup bonus to let you earn 80,000 points after $1,000 spend on purchases in the first three months after account opening. [Offer expired] You also get 5000 bonus points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the same three-month period. 5/24 reportedly doesn’t apply for this card the way it does for Sapphire Preferred, folks with 5 or more new credit card accounts in the past 24 months should still be eligible for this card.
This is a $0 annual fee the first year card, and $49 thereafter. This is arguably the best hotel credit card to get for the signup bonus and to keep for its ongoing benefits. You get an annual free night at card renewal and a 10% rebate on the points you spend up to 100,000 points per year.
- 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.