The Chase Freedom Flex℠ card recently announced its 5 percent cash back categories for Q1 2022: grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target) and eBay. Activation is required, and cardholders earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in quarterly spending, then 1 percent cash back after that.
I’m surprised by the choice because groceries just made an appearance in Q3 2021. Still, as a Freedom Flex cardholder who spends a lot of money at supermarkets, I’ll never complain about opportunities to maximize this spending category. In fact, this will be the third quarter in a row that I can earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in grocery spending with this card.
Officially, the Freedom Flex’s standard 5 percent cash back categories in Q4 2021 are PayPal and Walmart, but Chase is also running a top spend bonus promotion that gives customers an extra 4 percent cash back on up to $1,500 spent in their top eligible category from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2021. I hit the $1,500 PayPal limit and also spent $1,500 at grocery stores, earning 5 percent cash back in each category.
This was perfect timing for me because I had already maxed out the annual $6,000 limit on U.S. supermarket purchases that earn 6 percent cash back with my Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (after that, the rate drops to 1 percent).
My family of four spends a little over $1,000 per month on groceries. Between these two cards, I earned about $550 in cash back on groceries in 2021. I’ll start 2022 on the right foot thanks to the Freedom Flex, and then I’ll switch to the Blue Cash Preferred.
One potential disappointment
Many cash back lovers have the Freedom Flex and the Discover it® Cash Back, which has a very similar structure (5 percent cash back after activation on up to $1,500 in spending on rotating quarterly categories). The beauty of this strategy is that usually the cards’ quarterly bonus categories are different, giving you many opportunities to earn 5 percent cash back.
Unfortunately, Q1 2022 is a rare quarter in which Chase and Discover have a lot of overlap between their eligible categories (Discover’s are grocery stores, fitness club and gym memberships).
If you spend a lot on eBay or fitness club/gym memberships, this isn’t a terrible conflict of interest because you could prioritize eBay on the Chase card and fitness clubs/gyms on the Discover card and target groceries on the remaining card. Some people might also spend enough on groceries to reach a combined $3,000 quarterly spending threshold or at least come close (you’d need to spend roughly $230 on groceries per week to max this out in a 13-week quarter).
You could consider buying gift cards at a grocery store to help you reach the limit, too (especially since many grocery stores have gift card racks that offer a wide variety of cards).
Looking further ahead
Discover has already announced its complete 2022 calendar. Gas stations and Target will be the 5 percent categories in Q2; restaurants and PayPal are teed up for Q3; and Amazon.com and digital wallets are slated for Q4. Those last two should be very easy to maximize.
The second quarter is probably going to be the toughest for most people. The average American household spent just $131 on gas per month in 2020 and $175 per month in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Target should help them pick up the slack because it sells such a wide variety of merchandise.
We don’t know what the rest of the 2022 Freedom Flex calendar will look like. Using the past as a guide, I think there’s a good chance the fourth quarter will have a strong holiday shopping angle. The second and third quarters are harder to predict. I’d assume that gas stations will be on there at some point. Streaming services, internet/cable/phone bills and home improvement stores have also been frequent inclusions at various points over the past few years.
Other valuable Freedom Flex benefits
Even when you may not love a certain quarter’s 5 percent cash back categories, the Freedom Flex is a very useful card because it always gives 5 percent cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 percent cash back on dining and at drugstores and 1 percent cash back on everything else. Also, through March 2022, Lyft rides qualify for 5 percent cash back.
This year, I maxed out the 5 percent rotating categories in Q3 and Q4, plus the Q4 top spend bonus. I didn’t get as much value from the rotating categories in Q1 (when I only spent half of the $1,500 maximum) or in Q2 (when I only hit a third of the limit), but I’m still a big fan of this card. It doesn’t charge an annual fee, its purchase protection benefit saved me $299 last year and it’s my go-to dining card.
There have been rumblings that Chase might ditch the Freedom Flex’s rotating categories in favor of a more permanent version of the top spend bonus. That’s essentially what the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card does: It gives 5 percent cash back on each user’s top eligible spending category every billing cycle (up to $500 in purchases, with 1 percent cash back on everything else).
The beauty of this structure is that it doesn’t require the cardholder to do extra calculations, and there’s no need to worry that the top earning category won’t fit your lifestyle. If Chase were to bring this feature to the Freedom Flex instead of the current rotating categories, it could differentiate itself via the other 5 percent and 3 percent categories, which could be a smart move.
The bottom line
It’s easy to see why the Freedom Flex is so popular. When you consider the total package, there’s truly something for everyone. While we don’t yet know what the 5 percent categories will be in Q2 2022 and beyond, I’m confident that this will continue to be a versatile cash-back card that I use regularly.
Travel enthusiasts also love the Freedom Flex because they can pool their rewards points with other Chase cards, potentially stretching them even further with a transferable points card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to help.