How to Binge on Top Shows for Free

Most streaming services offer free trials to first-time subscribers, so it’s possible to feast on a tower of see-food without paying a dime. These trials extend from one week to 30 days, but the onus is on the new subscriber to cancel just before their credit card is charged.

Timing is everything when it comes to wringing the most content out of any free trial. Not all services roll out an entire season at once. In the case of Star Trek: Discovery , for instance, CBS All Access adds episodes on a weekly basis. When the season ends, you’re able to watch all the archived shows. So, it would be wise to let a new season’s episodes accumulate until they’re all out. And if you want to enjoy another original All Access series, The Good Fight, you need to know that the last of the 13 episodes in The Good Wife spinoff’s second season won’t be posted until the last Sunday in May. Good things come to those who wait.

With premium cable channels making their content available to non-cable subscribers, the consumer is in a position to find a better deal. When my cable operator started charging $15 a month for Starz after the first year of a two-year agreement in which it had been included in a promotional package, I dropped it to keep my monthly FiOS bill from rising above $200. But I was already hooked on Outlander. What to do?

As an Amazon Prime subscriber, I noticed I could add Starz for just $8.99 a month. Even better, I could try out the channel for a week. Though chomping at the bit to catch up on the fate of Claire and Jamie, I chose to hold my horses. The day after the Season Three finale aired on cable, I added the Amazon channel to my smart TV, then binged on the series before the week ran out. By cancelling in time, I paid nothing.

I’m planning to take Hulu for a spin next. If you’re curious about why its original series, The Handmaiden’s Tale, keeps winning awards, plan on starting your free 30-day trial around mid-June. That’s because the show’s sophomore season, which wraps around a pregnant Offred (Elisabeth Moss), was set to premiere in late April and conclude this July. Hulu is spacing out the 13 new episodes on a weekly basis. So, starting your trial with the last episode in sight should give you enough time to binge on both seasons and also check how The Mindy Project turned out after it moved from Fox to Hulu.

To put your mind at ease, I’ve read the fine print on these streaming deals so you don’t have to (at your own peril). Hulu’s legalese is typical for a service that takes your credit card information. You’re required to provide a payment method to access a subscription, including a free trial. You won’t actually be charged until the trial period ends. If you do nothing, a recurring payment will appear on your credit card statement. However, if you cancel before the trial ends, you’ll incur only periodic e-mails with discount offers to come back. So, it’s important to keep track of when your free trial began and the date your paid subscription will be applied to your credit card. If you miss the cutoff, there are no partial monthly refunds. You’ll have access until the next billing cycle.

One caveat is that these free trials are one-time offers. Unless you’re attuned to deleting cookies, switching credit cards, and registering under an alias, these streaming services won’t be so amenable to giving you a second free ride.