Guide to the 2021 Discover Cash Back calendar

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While some cash back credit cards offer a flat rate of rewards for each dollar you spend, the Discover it® Cash Back takes a different approach. Cardholders do earn a flat 1 percent back for all regular spending, but they also earn 5 percent back (activation required) on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in rotating categories (then 1 percent). The Discover it Cash Back also comes with no annual fee, which makes it a smart card to keep for the long haul.

Discover also takes a different approach when it comes to welcome bonuses. Instead of a traditional bonus you can earn when you meet a minimum spending requirement, Discover will match all the rewards you earn after the first 12 months. This means that if you earn $200 in cash back your first year, Discover will match that amount to a total of $400 after year one.

If you’re thinking you might want to sign up for the Discover it Cash Back, then you’ll likely want to know which categories you can earn heightened cash back rewards in. This guide explains the Discover it Cash Back calendar and, in particular, Discover’s rotating categories for all of 2021.

Discover’s 2021 cash back bonus calendar

The fact that this card’s bonus categories change each quarter really helps it stand out (and Discover is pretty good about including categories most people can use). Note that, as we mentioned already, the Discover cash back calendar shows which categories dole out heightened cash back rewards throughout the year.

If your goal is maximizing your rewards, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the Discover cash back calendar for 2021. Below, you can also compare Discover calendar details for 2020 to see which spending categories remain consistent over time.

2020 Discover it categories 2021 Discover it categories
Q1: Jan. through March
  • Grocery stores
  • Walgreens
  • CVS
  • Grocery stores
  • Walgreens
  • CVS

 

Q2: April through June
  • Gas stations
  • Wholesale clubs
  • Uber and Lyft
  • Gas stations
  • Wholesale Clubs
  • Select Streaming Services
Q3: July through Sept.
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
Q4: Oct. through Dec.
  • Amazon.com
  • Target.com
  • Walmart.com
  • Amazon.com
  • Target.com
  • Walmart.com

As you can see, the Discover it Cash Back calendar for 2021 includes many of the same bonus categories as it did in 2020. The main difference is in April through June of 2021 when you’ll earn (upon activation) 5 percent back on select streaming services instead of Uber and Lyft (up to $1,500 per quarter on purchases, then 1 percent) on top of the other categories like gas stations and wholesale clubs.

How to activate Discover categories

One detail to note about the Discover it Cash Back (and the Discover it® Student Cash Back for that matter) is the fact that you won’t earn heightened cash back rewards in bonus categories unless you “activate” this feature on your card. Fortunately, you can easily activate your bonus categories on your credit card’s online account management page.

If you’re not sure whether you’ve activated each quarter’s bonus categories, you can also check using the Discover website. On the cash back calendar page, you can click where it says to “log in to see if you’re activated.”

Making the most of this quarter’s bonus categories

We’re still in the first quarter of 2021, which means you still have the chance to rack up 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent on grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS, then 1 percent (activation required). To get the most out of this quarter’s bonus categories, consider these tips:

  • Use your Discover it Cash Back to stock up on groceries. Take care of your weekly (or daily) grocery needs by paying with your Discover it Cash Back card.
  • Have prescriptions? Pay with your Discover it Cash Back. Maximize this quarter’s bonus categories by swiping your card for any CVS and Walgreens purchases—from birthday cards and balloons to Band-Aids.

How do the Discover it Cash Back bonus categories compare to Chase Freedom Flex℠?

If you like the way the Discover it® Cash Back lets you earn bonus rewards in categories that change every three months, you should also check out the Chase Freedom Flex℠. This cash back credit card also offers 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent in combined purchases in rotating bonus categories each quarter after activation (then 1 percent), as well as 1 percent back on all other purchases.

You also earn 5 percent back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5 percent on Lyft rides (through March 2022), 3 percent back on drugstore and dining purchases and 1 percent on everything else.

Unlike the Discover it Cash Back, however, Chase doesn’t announce its full calendar of categories at the beginning of each year. Here are the current categories they have announced so far:

Chase Freedom Flex categories for 2021:

  • Q1 (Jan. through March): Wholesale clubs, Internet, cable and phone services and select streaming services
  • Q2 (April through June): Gas stations and home improvement stores

Make sure to read our Chase Freedom Flex review to find out more about how this card works.

How to redeem Discover rewards

Unlike some other cash back credit cards that make you build up a minimum balance of rewards before you can cash them in, the Discover it Cash Back lets you redeem rewards for cash back into a bank account or purchases made through Amazon.com or PayPal.com in any amount.

You can also redeem your rewards for a gift card when you’ve accrued at least $5 in your rewards account. Cardmembers can redeem their Cashback Bonus for a physical or digital Partner Gift Card with 5 percent to 20 percent added value to each gift card (depending on the merchant). Partner gift cards range from $5 to $200 in increments of $5. You can also donate your cash back earnings to charity.

Rewards earned with Discover credit cards also never expire as long as your account is open, so you can keep earning until you’re ready to redeem.

The bottom line

The Discover it Cash Back card makes it easy to earn rewards without an annual fee, but you’ll get more out of your card if you pay attention to the rotating bonus categories it offers. This is especially true during the first year you’re a cardmember since Discover will match all the rewards you earn after 12 months are up.

Just be sure to “activate” your bonus rewards each quarter, so you don’t miss out.