The Chase Freedom® credit card has long been a top cash back credit card, earning cardmembers rewards on a diverse range of products and services. But on Sept. 15, 2020, the Chase Freedom officially retired as the highly-anticipated Chase Freedom Flex℠ opened for applications.
The no-annual-fee 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
While the original Chase Freedom will no longer be available to new applicants, the issuer’s recently-announced first-quarter bonus categories for 2021 still apply to existing Freedom cardmembers.
For Jan. through March 2021, Freedom Flex and existing Freedom cardmembers earn 5 percent cash back on wholesale clubs, Internet, cable and phone services and select streaming services 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 calendar—which 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.
Here’s a look at Chase’s first-quarter bonus category for 2021 compared to the 2020 categories, so you can get an idea of what to expect:
|2020 categories||2021 categories|
|Q1: Jan. – March||
|Q2: April – June||
|Q3: July – Sept.||
|Q4: Oct, – Dec.||
Cash back categories earn the everyday 1 percent cash back, plus a bonus 4 percent, which totals to 5 percent back on up to $1,500 in combined bonus category purchases each quarter (activation required, then 1%).
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 the standard unlimited 1 percent cash back per dollar spent, unless they fall under the Flex card’s 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 they’re 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 don’t miss out on any rewards categories.
Once you’ve activated a category, you’ll earn 5 percent cash back on all category purchases during the quarter— even those made before activation that quarter—for up to the $1,500 quarterly purchase maximum, then 1%. If you have multiple Chase accounts, be sure you activate categories for each of them.
Maximize this quarter’s bonus categories
The Q1 Chase Freedom Flex bonus categories for 2021 reward spending at wholesale clubs, Internet, cable and phone services and select streaming services. Here’s how you can make the most of them:
- Fill your fridge: It’s likely the past few months in quarantine meant more grocery store purchases and less eating out for your family. Take advantage of this quarter’s 5% bonus categories after activation by shopping for groceries in bulk at wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club. Some families can probably hit the $1,500 cap on this spending (then 1%), alone. Keep in mind, however, that Costco warehouses only accept Visa cards. That means you’ll be able to take advantage of the Q1 category bonus at Costco stores if you have the Chase Freedom, but not the Freedom Flex as this is a Mastercard. The good news is that Mastercards are accepted on costco.com.
- Earn on bill payments: Your family’s phone plan, Internet access, cable television and select streaming services probably add up. Thankfully, you can now earn significant cash back rewards when you pay for these services with your Freedom Flex card.
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:
- Jan – March 2021: Grocery stores (not including Target and Walmart), Walgreens and CVS
- April – June 2021: Gas stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services
- July – Sept. 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 Discover’s program and Chase’s is that, with Discover, you only earn 5 percent cash back 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 quarter — even if you don’t 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.
There’s one more thing you need to know about the Discover it Cash Back: Discover’s 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.
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 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, you’ll 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 won’t 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 card—such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®—has 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 Bankrate’s picks for the best cash back credit cards in 2021.