Female mate choice is considered an important evolutionary agent, but there has been an ongoing debate over the fitness consequences it produces, especially in species that have a resource-free mating system. We examined a potential fitness benefit resulting from the pre-spawning mate preference in Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus, a salmonid fish with no parental care. The females were first allowed to discriminate behaviourally between two males presented to them in a free choice test. We then tested with controlled fertilizations whether the females would accrue indirect genetic benefits for their offspring, as measured by embryonic viability, if they had mated with the male they preferred. Both parental identities influenced offspring survivorship, but the females did not consistently prefer the male which gave her the higher reproductive success. Neither was the degree of male red breeding coloration associated with female preference or the observable genetic quality. In contrast, there was a negative relationship between female coloration and her offspring survivorship, suggesting a significant trade-off in resource investment between sexual ornamentation and reproduction. To conclude, the potential indirect fitness consequences arising from females' pre-spawning mate preference seem to be negligible in early stages of development of Arctic charr. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 103, 602–611.