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When choosing a travel credit card, you want to balance the rewards it earns and benefits it provides against the annual fee. The problem is that it can be hard to know if the rewards and benefits are worth the cost of the card.
Many rewards credit cards waive the first year's annual fee so you can test out the card's features before committing yourself to paying a fee. Here, we've compiled a list of the best travel credit cards that waive the first year's annual fee so you can try them for yourself.
Top first year free credit cards for travel
There are many rewarding travel credit cards to choose from, but most charge an annual fee on the first statement. These five travel credit cards waive the annual fee the first year so you can decide for yourself whether paying it will be worth it:
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® earns 2 miles on American Airlines purchases and spending at gas stations and restaurants. All other purchases earn 1 mile per $1 spent. Big spenders will receive a $125 American flight discount after completing $20,000 or more in purchases by their account anniversary date. This benefit is applicable annually.
While traveling on American Airlines, cardholders and up to four companions on the same reservation will receive their first checked bag for free. You'll also enjoy preferred boarding so you can get to your seat faster. During your flight, you’ll receive a 25% discount on in-flight beverages and food. When traveling internationally, there are no foreign transaction fees on your purchases.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card comes with a solid welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months. Terms Apply.
You'll also get 2x miles on purchases with Delta, as well as at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants worldwide. Terms apply.
» Learn more: How do airline miles work?
Cardholders receive the first checked bag free for up to nine people per reservation. You can also earn a $100 Delta flight credit after making $10,000 in purchases each calendar year. The annual fee is $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99. Terms apply.
United℠ Explorer Card
The United℠ Explorer Card offers the following welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Spending on this card earns 2 miles per $1 spent on United and at restaurants and hotels, while everything else receives 1 mile per $1 spent.
If you pay for a flight with this card, your first checked bag is free for you and one companion, and you'll both receive priority boarding. United offers a 25% discount on in-flight purchases and two complimentary United Club passes each year. MileagePlus Premier members also receive complimentary upgrades on award tickets, when available.
The card also reimburses up to $100 for Global Entry, NEXUS or TSA PreCheck once every four years. There are no foreign transaction fees to worry about when traveling internationally. The annual fee is $0 intro for the first year, then $95. Cardholders also get one year of complimentary DashPass.
» Learn more: Best United credit cards
Although these cards didn't make the cut as some of the best travel rewards cards with a $0 annual fee for the first year, they're worth looking closer at if none of the above satisfy your search.
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card. Cash rewards.
» Learn more: The beginner's guide to travel points and miles
Why would you pay an annual fee for a travel credit card?
Credit cards with annual fees tend to have more recurring benefits and bigger category bonuses. For example, the American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp® has no annual fee, but it also doesn't offer free checked bags or an opportunity to earn a $125 flight discount annually. And some benefits, such as a free hotel night on your cardmember anniversary, only kick in after you've paid your first annual fee. Here are a few reasons why you might consider paying a rewards credit card annual fee:
Save money on flights
Airline credit cards can save travelers money on checked bag fees, priority boarding and in-flight purchases. With most airlines charging $30 each way on domestic flights for a passenger's first bag, those fees can add up in a hurry. For a family of four, checking bags for a single vacation could cost $240 round-trip.
Airport lounge access
Airport lounges are often a respite from the hard seats, spotty Wi-Fi and limited power outlets of the terminal. Although some lounges are crowded, many travelers still seek them out as a way to enjoy themselves before a flight. Most lounges provide complimentary beverages, snacks and wireless internet, while some even offer massages, full meals and showers.
Annual free nights at hotels
One of the benefits of having a hotel credit card is that many of them include a free night each year. The value of these "free" hotel nights is often considerably higher than the cost of most hotel credit card annual fees. Plus, automatic elite status is generally included. This means you can take advantage of those elite benefits, even if this is your first stay with that hotel brand.
If you're shopping for a rewards card with a waived annual fee for the first year
Figuring out how to choose a travel rewards card can be overwhelming, but these cards give you a year-long runway to test out benefits before you commit and pay a fee. If none of these feel like the right option, consider browsing our roundup of the best no annual fee travel credit cards.
The information related to Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card