Why I love the Chase Freedom Flex

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Every three months, I eagerly anticipate the unveiling of the next 5 percent cash back categories on the Chase Freedom Flex℠ card. This week, we learned that the October, November and December categories are Walmart and PayPal. Note that activation is required, and the 5 percent rate applies on up to $1,500 in quarterly spending. After that, the rate drops to 1 percent.

I’m only using two credit cards these days, and I really appreciate the Chase Freedom Flex’s versatility. Aside from the rotating bonus categories, its additional rewards categories include:

  • 5 percent cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
  • 5 percent cash back on Lyft rides (through March 2022)
  • 3 percent cash back on drugstore purchases
  • 3 percent cash back on dining
  • 1 percent cash back on everything else

How I’ve used the rotating quarterly categories in 2021

In the first three months of 2021, the Freedom Flex’s rotating 5 percent categories were wholesale clubs, select streaming services, and cable, internet and phone services.

I was able to time it so that I made four cable, internet and phone service payments between January 1 and March 31, netting $37.69 cash back on $753.78 that I would have spent anyway (I don’t belong to any wholesale clubs, and I get even more cash back on eligible streaming purchases via my other credit card, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express).

In April, May and June, the Freedom Flex gave 5 percent cash back on gas stations and home improvement stores. I spent $491.18 and got $24.56 back.

While I only made it about halfway to the quarterly spending cap in Q1 and roughly a third of the way in Q2, I easily hit the $1,500 limit in Q3 when grocery stores were eligible for 5 percent cash back (select streaming services were also included, and Target and Walmart were excluded).

There’s a very good chance I’ll be able to max out the Q4 categories as well, especially since PayPal is accepted so widely and I can use PayPal Key as a virtual card number when PayPal is not directly accepted.

As of September 14, my year-to-date Freedom Flex cash back redemptions totaled $365.50. I’m especially enjoying the fact that my rewards currently stretch 10 percent further (through Sept. 30) when I redeem for statement credits that offset eligible dining purchases (up to $250 in rewards).

That essentially means that the 5 percent categories are worth 5.5 percent cash back for a limited time, the 3 percent categories earn an effective 3.3 percent cash back and the 1 percent “everything else” rate is temporarily 1.1 percent.

Additional cardholder benefits

Besides cash back, I love the Freedom Flex’s purchase protection benefit. It saved me $299 last year when my wife broke her Apple Watch soon after buying it. The free coverage is good for 120 days after you buy something. It pays for theft and eligible damages, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.

Other buyer protections offered by the Freedom Flex include:

  • Extended warranty coverage (this tacks an additional year onto manufacturers’ warranties of three years or less).
  • Cell phone insurance (worth up to $800 per claim and $1,000 per year when you pay your monthly cell phone bill with your Freedom Flex card, capped at two claims per 12 months with a $50 deductible per claim).
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance (this offers reimbursement up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for prepaid, nonrefundable passenger fares if your trip is canceled or cut short by illness, severe weather or other eligible reasons).

These are all unusually valuable perks, especially considering the Freedom Flex does not charge an annual fee.

Other ways to save

Every time I buy something online, I try to remember to click through the Shop Through Chase shopping portal. Basically, if you log into your Chase Ultimate Rewards account and use their link to an eligible retailer and buy something with your Chase credit card, you’ll be rewarded with additional cash back. It’s an affiliate marketing play.

Examples include 25 bonus points per dollar (basically an extra 25 percent cash back) at Restaurant.com, 20 bonus points per dollar at SendFlowers.com, 10 at Grubhub, eight at Bass Pro Shops, five at Macys.com and many, many more.

Freedom Flex cardholders are also eligible for digital coupons known as Chase Offers. I recently used two of these, earning an extra 10 percent cash back at ExxonMobil and Panera Bread.

New cardholders earn a $200 bonus after spending $500 within three months of opening the account. And they get 5 percent cash back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in their first year.

There’s also a 0 percent interest rate promotion on new purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (after that, the variable APR ranges from 14.99 percent to 24.74 percent).

Redemption: Cash back or transferable travel points?

If you choose, you can pair the Freedom Flex with one of the three Chase cards that allow points transfers to airlines and hotels (the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card). Chase, arguably more than any other card issuer, tries to foster loyalty through an ecosystem effect.

That is, many cardholders find it valuable to hold multiple Chase cards that maximize various spending categories, which can then be combined and redeemed for free flights and hotel stays. That could involve transferring to airline and hotel partners, which is more complicated but often the most rewarding, or booking travel through Chase.

Personally, I prefer cash back, so I use the Freedom Flex as a standalone cash back card, but if you have the Freedom Flex and love to travel, you should strongly consider pairing it with another Chase card that stretches your points even further.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@bankrate.com and I’d be happy to help.