We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
My top 9 premium cards you can try for free are:
Some of the offers in the table below are no longer available.
|Card Name||Sign-Up Bonus|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||50,000 Venture Miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
|With the personal version you'll earn 25,000 Starwood points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
With the small business version you'll earn 25,000 Starwood points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
|United MileagePlus® Explorer Card||40,000 United Airlines miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN||50,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
|Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard||40,000 Barclaycard Arrival miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening|
|Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express||25,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening|
Signing-up for credit cards with big bonuses is the easiest and fast way to earn LOTS of miles & points.
“Premium” cards often come with the best bonuses, plus valuable perks, like the ability to earn transferable points, bonus spending categories, free checked bags, and more. But they usually charge an annual fee.
That said, some premium cards waive the annual fee the first year. So you can try out the card for free for ~10 months, and decide whether it’s worth it!
2018 Best Premium Credit Cards
In some cases, it’s worth paying the annual fee. But paying an annual fee might not make sense for your particular situation! Luckily, some cards waive the annual fee the first year. So you can keep the card for nearly a year, then cancel it if you decide it isn’t worth it.
It’s fairly easy to cancel a card without issue from the bank. Lots of times you can send a secure message or make a ~5 minute phone call. The credit card issuer might even offer you an incentive to keep the card or waive the annual fee again. It certainly never hurts to ask!
Here are my 8 favorite “premium” cards that waive the annual fee the first year of card membership!
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
You can earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening a Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
That’s worth $625 in travel booked through the Chase’s Travel Portal. And possibly more if you transfer your points to travel partners like Hyatt, United Airlines, Korean Air, and more.
Emily and I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt for 6 free nights at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, where rooms can easily cost $500+ per night!
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll also earn:
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases worldwide
- Primary car rental insurance – Covers damage or theft to your rental car, when you pay for the rental with your card
- Trip delay reimbursement – Get up to $500 back per ticket when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours
- NO foreign transaction fees
And (of course!) the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. So you can use the card for free for ~10 months, and decide if you like it enough to pay the annual fee.
2. Capital One Venture Rewards Card
The Capital One Venture card comes with 50,000 Venture miles (worth $500 in travel) after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.
In addition to the valuable sign-up bonus, you’ll get:
- 2 Venture miles per $1 you spend on all purchases
- NO foreign transaction fees
Plus, the $95 annual fee waived the first year!
The card also comes with Visa Signature Benefits, which include:
- Rental car insurance – Secondary protection against collision or theft
- Travel accident insurance – Up to $250,000 insurance for accidental loss of life, limb, sight, speech or hearing
- Lost luggage insurance – Up to $3,000 per trip, provided the luggage was lost from theft or misdirection by the airline, cruise, etc.
If you’re new to miles & points, and plan to apply for lots of cards later, I would NOT recommend starting with the Capital One Venture card. Because there are other credit cards with better sign-up bonuses that earn more valuable points and have better travel benefits.
And when you apply for a Capital One card, they request your credit from ALL 3 credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) in the US.
3 and 4. AMEX Starwood Cards
I really like the Starwood cards because there are so many ways to use Starwood points for Big Travel. It’s good for MORE than hotel stays!
You’ll also get:
- 2 points per $1 you spend at Starwood hotels (includes Aloft, Design Hotels, Element, Four Points, Le Meridien, Sheraton, St Regis, The Luxury Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Westin and Wbrand hotels) and Marriott hotels
- 1 Starwood point per $1 you spend on everything else
- Unlimited use of Boingo Wi-Fi hotspots (excluding in-flight)
- 2 stay credits or 5 night credits toward Starwood Elite Status
- Terms & limitations apply
The cards do NOT have foreign transaction fees, so they are handy to travel with worldwide! And the small business version of the card also comes with access to Sheraton Club lounges (free breakfast and hors d’oeuvres) for cardholder and 1 guest staying in the same room (3rd-party bookings are excluded).
And the $95 annual fee for both cards is waived the first year. So you can use either card for ~10 months, then decide whether it’s worth keeping.
I wrote about the pros and cons of keeping AMEX cards beyond the first year and recommended keeping the AMEX Starwood (personal or small business) card. Because Starwood points are hard to earn. And Starwood points are valuable because you can transfer them to airlines, or use them for hotel stays, special events, or gift cards.
Note: American Express only allows folks to get the sign-up bonus ONCE per person, per lifetime on ALL their cards.
5. Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer Card
With the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card, you’ll earn 40,000 United Airlines miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. And another 5,000 United Airlines miles after adding an authorized user and making a purchase within the same timeframe.
You’ll also get:
- 2 United Airlines miles per $1 you spend on United Airlines
- 1 United Airlines mile per $1 you spend on all other purchases
- 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 on your card each year
- 2 United Club passes per year
- First checked bag free when you use your card to pay for your ticket
- Priority boarding
40,000 United Airlines miles is more than enough for a round-trip coach ticket within the US. Or a one-way coach ticket to Europe!
Plus, you’ll see more available award seats than folks who don’t have the card! That makes the card even more valuable!
The $95 annual fee is waived the first year. And there are no foreign transaction fees, which makes it a good card to use when you’re overseas.
This is NOT the biggest sign-up bonus we’ve ever seen on this card. And folks are often targeted for better offers. So you might want to hold off to wait for a better deal!
6. AMEX Business Gold Rewards Card
You can earn 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards points with the AMEX Business Gold Rewards card after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.
These flexible points are extremely valuable for folks looking to get Big Travel with Small Money!
You’ll also get:
- 3X AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend in 1 of 5 categories of your choice
- 2X AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend on the 4 remaining categories
- 1X AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend on other purchases
- Terms and limitations apply
The normal sign-up bonus is 25,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points. So getting double the regular sign-up bonus is a terrific deal!
Some folks even receive targeted offers to earn 75,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points. So be sure to check your mail.
When you include the points you’ll earn from meeting the minimum spending requirement, you’ll have at least 55,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points, which is enough for a one-way Business Class flight from the US to Western Europe using Air Canada Aeroplan miles.
Just remember, American Express only allows folks to get the sign-up bonus ONCE per person, per lifetime on ALL their cards. So if you’ve had this card before, you will NOT be eligible to earn the sign-up bonus again.
That said, AMEX small business credit cards are very appealing to folks in the miles & points hobby because they do NOT appear on your personal credit report. So opening cards will NOT hurt your chances of being approved for Chase cards.
7. Barclaycard Arrival Plus Card
With the sign-up bonus on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card, you’ll earn 40,000 Barclaycard Arrival miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
You’ll also get:
- 2X Barclaycard Arrival miles per $1 you spend on all purchases
- No foreign transaction fees
- Chip-and-PIN capability for use overseas
The $89 annual fee is waived the first year.
The sign-up bonus alone is worth $400 in statement credits for travel purchases of $100+, because your miles are worth 1 cent each. And you’ll get 5% of your miles back when you redeem them for travel.
This effectively makes the card a 2.1% back card when you redeem miles for travel. The minimum redemption amount is $100 (10,000 miles).
If you use your miles for cash back, your miles are only worth 0.5 cents each, and the minimum redemption amount is $25 (5,000 miles). Redeeming this way, the sign-up bonus worth $200 in cash back.
So it’s a better deal to use your points for statement credits on travel purchases.
Because there are other no-annual-fee cards that earn similar cash back, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus is a great choice for the sign-up bonus. But not good for keeping beyond the first year, when you’ll have to pay the $89 annual fee.
Million Mile Secrets team member Meghan closed her Barclaycard Arrival Plus with a very quick phone call after deciding it wasn’t worth it any longer. But it was definitely worth trying, because it didn’t cost her a thing. And she got over $400 worth of travel from it!
8. Citi American Airlines Platinum Card
You’ll earn 60,000 American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening a Citi American Airlines Platinum Select card.
You’ll also get your first bag checked for free on domestic itineraries for you and up to 4 traveling companions plus priority boarding.
60,000 American Airlines miles is a good sign-up bonus! It’s worth 2 round-trip coach tickets within the US, which cost only 25,000 American Airlines miles a piece. Or 45,000 American Airlines miles for a round-trip coach saver award ticket to Europe during the off-peak season!
And especially because the $99 annual fee is waived the first year! So you can rack up more American Airlines miles, then decide whether it makes sense for you to keep the card.
9. AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card
With the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card, you’ll earn 25,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.
You can use 25,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points towards $250 in paid travel booked through the AMEX Travel Portal at 1 cent per point. But you’ll usually get a better deal by transferring your points to partners like British Airways, Flying Blue, or Etihad.
With the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card, you’ll also get:
- 3X points per $1 you spend on airfare purchased directly from airlines
- 2X points per $1 you spend at US gas stations, US supermarkets, and US restaurants
- 1X point per $1 you spend on everything else
- $100 per calendar year in airline incidental fee credits (baggage fees, change fees, etc.)
- NO foreign transaction fees
- Transfer points to participating frequent traveler programs
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $195
- Terms and limitations apply
Just keep in mind, there are sometimes higher targeted offers available for this card. And you can only receive the sign-up bonus on American Express cards once per lifetime.
My top 9 premium travel cards you can try for free are:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Capital One Venture Card
- AMEX Starwood personal & small business
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
- AMEX Business Gold Rewards
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus
- Citi American Airlines Platinum
- AMEX Premier Rewards Gold
These cards come with fantastic sign-up bonuses and will help you get lots of Big Travel with Small Money. And the annual fee on ALL of these cards is waived the first year! So you can try them out for free. Then decide whether paying the annual fee is worth it for your particular situation!
Let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations that didn’t make the list!