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Chase Freedom Flex 2021 bonus categories

Bankrate logo Bankrate 3 days ago Aja McClanahan
a close up of a computer: BestStockFoto/Shutterstock © BestStockFoto/Shutterstock BestStockFoto/Shutterstock

Chase has long been a top issuer forcash back credit cards that earn cardmembers rewards on a diverse range of products and services. Its newest rotating bonus category option, the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Flex, earns its owners:

  • 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined bonus category purchases each quarter you activate (then 1 percent)
  • 5 percent on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 5 percent cash back on Lyft rides (through March 2022)
  • 3 percent on dining(including restaurants, takeout and eligible delivery services)
  • 3 percent on drugstore purchases
  • 1 percent on all other purchases
a screen shot of a computer: Chase mobile app © BestStockFoto/Shutterstock Chase mobile app

While the original Chase Freedom credit card will no longer be available to new applicants, the issuer’s recently announced second-quarter bonus categories for 2021 still apply to existing Freedom cardmembers.

For April through June 2021, Freedom Flex and existing Freedom cardmembers earn 5 percent cash back at gas stations and home improvement stores when they activate (up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent).

Freedom Flex 2021 cash back bonus calendar

The first step to maximizing your bonus category rewards is keeping up with the Freedom Flex rewards calendarwhich means knowing which Chase categories are eligible to earn the bonus cash back. There are new categories every quarter, and Chase announces these categories shortly before the quarter begins.

Heres a look at Chases first-quarter bonus category for 2021 compared to the 2020 categories, so you can get an idea of what to expect:

2020 categories2021 categories
Q1: January to March
  • Gas stations
  • Internet, cable and phone services
  • Select streaming services
  • Wholesale clubs
  • Internet, cable and phone services
  • Select streaming services
Q2: April to June
  • Grocery stores (not including Target or Walmart purchases)
  • Fitness club and gym memberships
  • Gas stations
  • Home improvement stores
Q3: July to September
  • Amazon.com
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target)
  • Select streaming services: Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Netflix, Sling, Vudu, Fubo TV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube TV
Q4: October to December
  • Walmart and PayPal
  • TBD

Cash back categories earn the everyday 1 percent cash back, plus a bonus 4 percent, which totals 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in combined bonus category purchases each quarter (activation required, then 1 percent).

This cash back bonus gives you the potential to earn $75 in cash back each quarter you reach the $1,500 spending cap. Purchases that are made outside of the bonus categories will earn at least the standard unlimited 1 percent cash back per dollar spent unless they fall under the Flex cards new year-round bonus categories.

How to activate your Chase bonus categories

Bonus categories must be activated each quarter to receive the full 5 percent cash back, and you can ensure theyre activated in a number of ways.

One of the easiest activation methods is using the Chase Mobile app. Rewards can also be activated online through your account hub, by phone, email or at a designated Chase location. If you need a reminder to activate, try setting one in your calendar to make sure you dont miss out on any rewards categories.

Once youve activated a category, youll earn 5 percent cash back on all category purchases during the quartereven those made before activation that quarterfor up to the $1,500 quarterly purchase maximum, then 1 percent. If you have multiple Chase accounts, be sure you activate categories for each of them.

Maximize this quarters bonus categories

The Q2 Chase Freedom Flex bonus categories for 2021 reward spending at gas stations and home improvement stores. Heres how you can make the most of them:

  • Fill your tank: Its likely that if you’ve done any traveling in the past year, it’s been by car. Now, take advantage of this quarters bonus categories after activation by swiping your Freedom Flex card at gas stations.
  • Earn at home improvement stores: Spring is around the corner, making it the perfect time to start a home improvement project. Whether it’s upgrading your mailbox, fixing a leaky faucet or building a birdhouse for your yard, you can now earn significant cash back rewards by making purchases for these projects (using your Freedom Flex card) at a home improvement store.

Get a head start on planning for Q3 bonus categories with these tips:

  • Focus on grocery store spending: You can load up on nonperishable food items, re-stock your deep freezer or spend on various non-food items offered at your local grocer. Many grocery stores have plenty of items that you can earn cash back on including supplies, gift cards and other goods.
  • Pay up your streaming subscription: Get discounts on the following streaming services: Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Netflix, Sling, Vudu, Fubo TV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube TV. Some streaming services offer discounts with annual billing arrangements. If possible, opt for annual billing. With an additional 5 percent back, you can save even more.

Comparison: Chase Freedom Flex rotating categories vs. Discover it Cash Back bonus categories

The Discover it Cash Back also offers rotating bonus categories, and, like the Freedom Flex, you can earn a total of 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in bonus category purchases per quarter (then 1 percent, when activated), plus 1 percent cash back on everything else.

Unlike Chase, Discover announces its full year of bonus categories in advance. Here are the Discover it Cash Back bonus categories for 2021:

  • JanMarch 2021:Grocery stores (not including Target and Walmart), Walgreens and CVS
  • AprilJune 2021: Gas stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services
  • JulySept. 2021: Restaurants and PayPal
  • Oct.Dec. 2021: Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com

Chase and Discover both like to reward similar types of spending with grocery, gas station and drugstore spending as some of the most popular and repetitive categories. If you really want to maximize your cash back rewards, you could apply for both the Freedom Flex and the Discover it Cash Back cards and use them simultaneously.

The one big difference between Discovers program and Chases is that with Discover, you earn 5 percent cash back only on rotating bonus category purchases after you activate (on up to $1,500 in bonus category purchases per quarter (then 1 percent).

With Chase, you earn 5 percent cash back on all bonus category purchases made within the designated quartereven if you dont activate your bonus categories until the last possible date. No matter which cash back card you choose, make sure you activate those categories to avoid losing out on rewards.

Theres one more thing you need to know about the Discover it Cash Back: Discovers Cashback Match program will match all of the cash back you earn during your first year as a cardholder. If you max out your bonus category spending and earn $75 cash back per quarter for the entire year, Discover will match your $300 with another $300 in cash back rewards.

Comparison: Chase Freedom Flex rotating categories vs. Citi Custom Cash Card bonus categories

Citi’s new Citi Custom Cash Card doesn’t have rotating categories like the Freedom Flex but it does deliver a new way to earn 5 percent cash back on changing categories.

Instead of activating quarterly categories, you automatically earn 5 percent cash back on your top spending category each billing cycle (up to $500, then 1 percent back). All other purchases earn 1 percent rewards.

At the end of the billing cycle, you can earn 5 percent cash back on purchases within one of these 10 categories:

  • Restaurants
  • Gas stations
  • Grocery stores
  • Select travel
  • Select transit
  • Select streaming services
  • Drugstores
  • Home improvement stores
  • Fitness clubs
  • Live entertainment

The Citi Custom Cash is a much lower-maintenance card since you don’t need to remember specific bonus categories or activation dates, and the same roster of 5 percent bonus categories are set in stone year-round.

Granted, you can’t outright select which bonus category you want each billing cycle, but you can track your spending and put bigger expenses that would eclipse your desired category on another rewards card.

Speaking of available categories, you also get a wider variety of purchases that may earn 5 percent back with the Citi Custom Cash. The Freedom Flex and other rotating category cards typically have around seven or eight bonus categories throughout the year instead of a full 10.

The Custom Cash card’s categories are also a bit more general instead of brand-based. For example, instead of the Freedom Flex’s Whole Foods Market category in Q3 of 2020, the Citi Double Cash can earn 5 percent back at grocery stores in general.

The Freedom Flex’s 5 percent rotating category structure does have a few advantages, however, over the Custom Cash card’s rewards style. Most apparent is that the Freedom Flex’s bonus categories don’t have a spending cap each billing cycle. Each card’s quarterly spending total cap equals out, but the Freedom Flex card’s approach makes it easier to maximize cash back if you have bigger purchases or a billing cycle with particularly heavy spending.

The Freedom Flex typically has two or three 5 percent bonus categories at once as well. This is even better for smaller categories like streaming services that might not be your biggest expense each month since you won’t have to leave extra cash back on the table if you can’t max out your top category.

The Freedom Flex’s quarterly categories also tend to be a bit more diverse according to the season. For instance, you’ll usually earn 5 percent back on major online retailers like Amazon.com each year, but the Citi Custom Cash doesn’t earn rewards for online shopping at all.

Although the Custom Cash card’s categories are geared more toward everyday spending and have rare offerings like live entertainment rewards, you’ll probably only earn boosted cash back on grocery store purchases or other costly categories like dining each billing cycle if it’s your primary credit card.

How to redeem rewards with Freedom Flex

In order to redeem rewards, your account must be open and in good standing. Rewards are tracked as points, and each dollar earned in cash back is equal to 100 points. Cash back can be redeemed as a statement credit or a direct deposit into an eligible checking or savings account at a U.S. bank.

Your cash back rewards should show up immediately to your credit card account, once redeemed. When you check your statement, youll see bonus category rewards listed as Bonus from Q1 5 percent category. As long as your account is open and in good standing, your points wont expire.

You can also redeem your points using the Chase Ultimate Rewards hub. Points can be redeemed through Ultimate Rewards for travel, gift cards, experiences, online shopping and more.

Alternatively, pairing the Freedom Flex with a more premium Chase credit cardsuch as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reservehas the potential to boost your redemption value between 25 percent and 50 percent, if you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Both of these premium cards charge an annual fee, however, so make sure your return in cash back will be worth the annual investment before you apply.

The bottom line

The Freedom Flex is a stellar cash back option if you have good to excellent credit and use your card to do shopping in a variety of places. For further information on the ideal cash back card for you, check out Bankrates picks for the best cash back credit cards in 2021.

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