Travel Credit Cards That Waive Annual Fees
Premium travel rewards cards can unlock great benefits, but annual fees of $95, $450 or even $550 give people pause. However, many top travel cards actually waive the fee for the first year, giving you time to take advantage of perks before deciding if it’s worthwhile long-term.
In this guide, we’ll highlight travel credit cards that forego the annual fee for the first 12 months or longer. We’ll compare ongoing perks beyond just the initial fee waiver to help determine if these cards make sense for your needs.
Why Credit Cards Offer Fee Waivers
Here are some of the reasons travel reward cards waive annual fees initially:
- Gives cardholders a risk-free opportunity to try premium benefits
- Allows you to earn a large intro bonus before deciding on paying the fee
- Incentivizes new applicants who may be hesitant about high annual costs
- Promotes customer loyalty by establishing a commitment before charging
- Provides flexibility to cancel without penalty if the benefits don’t justify the eventual fee
Annual fee waivers let you evaluate if a card aligns with your spending and travel habits before paying long-term. But don’t forget to consider the ongoing rewards and perks as well when deciding whether to keep it.
Cards With Annual Fee Waived First Year
Here are some popular travel cards with no fee for the first 12 months:
Chase Sapphire Preferred®
- $95 annual fee waived first year
- 60,000 point signup bonus after spending $4k in 3 months
- 5x points on travel purchased through Chase
Capital One Venture Rewards
- $95 fee waived first year
- 75,000 mile signup bonus after spending $4k in 3 months
- 5X miles on Capital One Travel purchases
United Explorer Card
- $0 intro annual fee for first year, then $95
- 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2k in 3 months
- First checked bag free on United flights
Hilton Honors American Express Card
- $0 annual fee
- 80,000 Hilton points after spending $1k in 3 months
- Complimentary Hilton Silver status
Marriott Bonvoy BoundlessTM Card
- $0 annual fee for the first year, then $95
- 3X points on Marriott purchases
- 1 free night award annually after account anniversary
IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card
- $0 annual fee first year, then $99
- 125k bonus points after spending $3k in 3 months
- Reward night each card anniversary
Additional Cards With Waived Annual Fees
Here are some other travel cards that forego annual fees for longer than just the first year:
Penfed Pathfinder Rewards Visa – $100 airline fee credit each year
United GatewaySM Card – No annual fee
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card – $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUpSM Card – No annual fee for the first year, then $99
Aeroplan® Credit Card – No annual fee first year, then $95
When the ongoing annual fee is low, like $95, the waiver helps determine if you’ll utilize benefits before committing to the long-term cost.
Weighing Benefits Versus Annual Fees
Once your initial annual fee waiver period ends, here are some factors to weigh when considering if you should keep the card and pay the annual cost:
- How much would you otherwise spend out of pocket for the card’s perks?
- Do you frequently use and maximize benefits like lounge access, credits, elite status, etc?
- Do the bonus point earning rates on the card align with your largest spending?
- Does the card fill a gap in your wallet rewards strategy?
- Have you utilized the introductory signup bonus and referral offers?
- Does the card provide enough incremental value beyond your other cards?
- If canceled, is there another no-fee card to switch to while keeping your credit line?
You likely want to pay the annual fee if the card delivers high personalized value that exceeds the cost.
Tips for Maximizing Fee-Waived Card Benefits
To maximize value during the annual fee waiver period:
- Complete minimum spend for the welcome bonus fast to earn points sooner
- Use card credits like travel and dining early in the year while they’re available
- Book award flights and hotels to get outsized value from point redemptions
- Use card-specific discounts like hotel elite status for free breakfast or late checkout
- Check your point earnings to ensure you receive referral bonuses and credits
- Add authorized users to earn more points from additional cardholder spending
- Use mobile apps like Priority Pass and LoungeBuddy to access airport lounge visits
- Take advantage of any card anniversary points or elite status renewal perks
When You May Want to Cancel After the Fee Hits
Here are some signs that cancelling a card once the annual fee hits may make sense:
- You’re no longer eligible for a new cardholder signup bonus you want to earn
- Your travel habits have changed and you’re no longer maximizing key card benefits
- An alternative card offers you higher rewards value long-term
- You need to scale back cards and simplify your credit profile
- An annual fee hike makes the card no longer worthwhile
- You’re focused on reducing household expenses
- The card is not your oldest account so closing won’t significantly impact length of credit history
Downgrading to a no-fee version of the same issuer often makes more sense than an outright cancellation. But closing a card is sometimes the right move if it no longer aligns with your spending and travel habits.
Closing Thoughts on First Year Fee Waivers
Getting to try out premium travel card perks before paying a hefty annual fee makes it low risk to apply for cards that otherwise give you pause. Use the introductory period to truly test how much value you will derive from access to airport lounges, elite status, annual certificates, and other benefits.
But don’t forget to look beyond just the first year waiver when evaluating a card. Consider the ongoing rewards structures and long-term value aligned to your lifestyle. Travel habits change, so remaining objective about a card’s benefits ensures you get the highest value over time.