5 Best $0 the First Year Annual Fee Cards: Try Before You Buy and Pocket a Big Bonus

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The best cards — biggest bonuses, fastest earning, most valuable points — often come with big annual fees attached. For instance the annual fee on the Platinum Card by American Express bumped up to $550. It’s worth it, I carry the card, but it’s a decision.

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 earn a signup bonus and 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 with several whose offers have been recently updated.

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card lets you earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

    With a $0 annual fee the first year, then $95, I suggest that as the number on card to get started with in miles and points. Get Sapphire Reserve later, perhaps, the card’s annual fee makes this the one to get first.

    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. Probably the best all-around credit card, certainly for getting started in the hobby, and with a great signup bonus.

    The card earns two points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. The card has an introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95.

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

    Since in general Chase doesn’t approve this card for folks who have signed up for 5 or more new card accounts in the past 24 months, it’s the first card you should apply for.

  2. Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN offers 50,000 Membership Rewards points after $5,000 spend on purchases with the card within your first 3 months of cardmembership.

    American Express Points Transfer Directly to Etihad

  3. United MileagePlus Explorer Card has a limited-time offer of 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. You also get 5000 more miles adding an authorized user to the account and making a purchase within the same 3 months. 5/24 applies. This offer ends March 15, 2018. (Offer expired)

    The card’s annual fee is now $0 the first year, then $95.

    What’s often overlooked is that cardmembers get access to last seat availability when redeeming awards at the MileagePlus Standard Award level. Unlike Delta and American, last seat availability isn’t offered to everyone. However also unlike Delta and American and even Alaska there are only two award levels, the most you’ll pay for a domestic one-way award is 25,000 miles regardless of saver award inventory. That’s a lot less than Delta and American.

    One benefit of the card for MileagePlus elites is that co-brand cardholders are eligible for upgrades on domestic MileagePlus award travel. Furthermore the card offers primary collision damage waiver for rental cars, and has no foreign currency transaction fees. And cardholder miles don’t expire as long as the credit card account is open.

    Cardholders will still get their checked bag and priority boarding benefits even when purchasing basic economy fares — and the boarding benefit allows them to also avoid the ban on full-sized carry ons.

  4. CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® will give you 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. It has a $0 annual fee the first year, then $95. (Offer expired)

    Cardmembers receive one free checked bag and preferred boarding on American Airlines flights and a companion ticket after $30,000 in spend each year. The 60,000 point offer is gone from both the Citi and Barclaycard personal AAdvantage cards so I’m surprised to see this link for the business card still available..

  5. Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers 75,000 points after spending $3000 within the first 3 months of cardmembership. Now that Marriott points transfer to Starwood, it’s a great offer for Starwood points as well. There’s a $0 annual fee the first year then $85. 5/24 applies. (offer expired)

    Starwood’s Al Maha Desert Resort – Base Room is a Standalone Villa With Private Pool

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. And last but not least, one of the greatest of them all: Ameriprise Amex Platinum.
    Get this in summer, get your airline incidentals (gift cards) $200 for that year, wait until January, get another $200, get your $15 Uber monthly (free ride or food), get your Amex perks discounts (some of which are essentially free money), get free lounge access all over the world, and enjoy the excellent benefits of the Ameriprise Amex Platinum, otherwise $550, but free for the first year.

  2. Billy Bob, the Ameriprise Amex Platinum gives NO signup bonus points, unlike the AmEx Platinum which offers 60,000 Membership Rewards points after a $5,000 spend in the first 3 months.
    However, if you don’t need the MR points, you could sign up for the Ameriprise Amex Platinum, spend $200 on SW giftcards the first calendar year, another $200 on SW giftcards the second calendar year, and $200 on Uber the first year you have the card, then cancel it before paying the annual fee for a profit of $600.

  3. I’m sure Chase will be happy to keep you as a customer after you churn 3 cards in a year (plus all the other ones that have AFs). Not to mention 5/24 rule

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