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The Chase Freedom Flex℠ Card and its predecessor, the original Chase Freedom Credit Card, are among the most popular no-annual-fee cash-back credit cards on the market. That’s due in part to their distinctive rewards programs, which pay up to 5% cash back on select purchases.
However, there’s a twist. The original Freedom card restricts 5% cash-back earnings to a handful of favored spending categories that change each quarter. Chase also caps the amount of bonus cash back you can earn each quarter at $75 across all bonus categories, or $1,500 in total purchases.
Regular purchases and bonus category purchases above the quarterly spending cap earn unlimited 1% cash back. But it’s clearly in the cardholder’s financial interest to maximize bonus cash-back earnings each quarter.
The Freedom Flex card is more generous, with a permanent 5% cash-back category covering travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal and a separate 3% cash-back category covering drugstore and restaurant purchases. But Freedom Flex also has 5% bonus categories that offer serious value for cardholders able to match their spending accordingly.
That’s not as difficult as it sounds. There are plenty of ways to boost your cash-back earnings on the Chase Freedom cards’ 5% bonus cash-back categories this quarter.
Chase Freedom 5% Bonus Category Calendar: 2020 and 2021
But first, let’s look at the Chase Freedom cards’ 5% categories for 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.
- Q1 2020: Gas stations, Internet/cable/phone services, select streaming services
- Q2 2020: Grocery stores, fitness club and gym memberships
- Q3 2020: Amazon.com and Whole Foods market
- Q4 2020: Walmart and PayPal
- Q1 2021: Warehouse clubs, Internet/cable/phone services, select streaming services
To earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined category purchases this quarter, you must manually activate your bonus cash back. Log into your account and click “Activate” near the 5% cash-back icon. As long as you activate by the 14th day of the quarter’s last month (that’s March 14, June 14, Sept. 14, and Dec. 14), all bonus category spending up to the quarterly cap earns cash back retroactive to the quarter’s very first day.
Note: While the 2020 categories are no longer in effect, they exemplify Chase Freedom 5% cash-back categories. All have appeared at various points in the past, so it’s reasonable for cardholders to expect them to return at some point in the future — perhaps later in 2021.
Chase Freedom 5% Bonus Categories: Q1 2021
From Jan. 1 through March 31, 2021, Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex have three bonus cash-back categories: warehouse clubs; Internet, cable, and phone services; and select streaming services.
This category covers purchases at warehouse clubs (warehouse stores) like Sam’s Club, BJ’s Wholesale, and Costco. However, there’s a significant limitation for regular Costco shoppers: Costco doesn’t accept Mastercard in-store or at its fuel pumps, which means these two Mastercard products are only good for use on purchases at Costco.com.
Internet, Cable, & Phone Services
This category covers purchases made with telecommunications providers, Internet service providers, phone companies, and cable TV providers. Eligible services include but aren’t necessarily limited to:
- Home Internet service
- Landline telephone service
- Cellular telephone services and data plans
- Cable TV service
- Flat-rate multiservice bundles provided by telecom companies, like cable-Internet and cable-Internet-landline
Purchases of telecommunications equipment, such as smartphones and modems, generally don’t qualify for bonus cash back unless you make them directly with eligible service providers as part of a service package.
Select Streaming Services
This category covers purchases made with select streaming content providers, including:
Some eligible providers may not be listed here. Since the streaming landscape is in constant flux, check with Chase for a complete list of eligible providers. And to be sure you capture 5% cash back on all eligible streaming purchases, designate your Chase Freedom or Freedom Flex card as your autopay method for all eligible services through the end of March.
Chase Freedom 5% Bonus Categories: Q1 2020
From Jan. 1 through March 31, 2020, Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex had three bonus cash-back categories: gas stations; Internet, cable, and phone services; and select streaming services.
This category covers purchases made at gas stations and travel centers, usually including:
- Gasoline purchases made at the pump
- Gasoline purchases made inside the store or with the attendant on duty
- Purchases made inside convenience stores attached to gas stations, such as snacks, beverages, and automotive supplies
“Gas station purchases” generally do not include purchases made at gas stations associated with warehouse stores like Costco or superstores like Kroger.
At automotive shops or service stations with gas pumps present, purchases of auto-repair services, automotive parts, car washes, and other automotive products and services may or may not count as “gas station purchases” for cash-back purposes. It all depends on the merchant category code used by the vendor.
Internet, Cable, & Phone Services
This category was identical to the corresponding Q1 2021 category.
Select Streaming Services
This category was identical to the corresponding Q1 2021 category.
Chase Freedom 5% Bonus Categories: Q2 2020
From April 1 through June 30, 2020, Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex had two bonus cash-back categories: grocery stores and fitness club and gym memberships.
This category includes most purchases made at grocery stores and supermarkets with the notable exception of Walmart and Target locations with supermarket sections. Purchases of the following are generally excluded from bonus cash back calculations:
- Lottery tickets
- Money orders
- Gift cards
- Other cash-like purchases made at the customer service desk
Certain other grocery store purchases may not qualify for 5% bonus cash back, including purchases from stores’ prepared foods sections, restaurants and cafes (such as Starbucks and food courts) within supermarkets, and alcohol sold separately from other grocery items.
Fitness Club and Gym Memberships
This category covers membership fees and a la carte purchases (such as personal training sessions and room reservations) made with gyms, fitness clubs, and other businesses devoted to physical fitness and recreation.
Depending on how purchases are categorized, sales of products (such as personal care products and nutritional supplements) and prepared foods at fitness center locations offering them may not qualify for bonus cash back earnings.
Chase Freedom 5% Bonus Categories: Q3 2020
From July 1 through Sept. 30, 2020, Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex had two bonus cash-back categories: Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market purchases.
Unlike some Chase Freedom 5% cash-back categories, this quarter’s are straightforward. All eligible net purchases made on Amazon.com and at Whole Foods Market locations (including online orders for pickup or delivery) qualify for bonus cash back. Portions of purchases made with redeemed Ultimate Rewards points (using Chase’s Shop With Points feature) aren’t eligible for cash back.
Chase Freedom 5% Bonus Categories: Q4 2020
From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex had two bonus cash-back categories: Walmart and PayPal.
This category covers eligible purchases made at physical Walmart stores and at Walmart.com, including purchases of perishable items like produce and seasonal items that might not be available in-store or online year-round.
Depending on how these purchases are categorized, cash-like purchases or transactions such as lottery tickets and money orders may not qualify for cash back. Also, Walmart and Walmart.com purchases made using PayPal qualify only for 5% cash back, rather than 10% cash back (as one might assume).
This category covers eligible PayPal purchases made using a Chase Freedom or Freedom Flex card linked to the user’s PayPal account. Because PayPal is accepted by millions of merchants worldwide, this is an unusually versatile category that should be fairly easy to fully exploit.
How Chase Tracks Cash Back
The Chase Freedom cards’ cash-back accounting is a bit technical, but there’s not much math involved.
Like most credit card issuers, Chase distinguishes between purchases eligible to earn cash back and cashlike transactions, which aren’t cash-back-eligible. Examples of cashlike transactions include:
- Balance transfers
- Cash advances, including ATM withdrawals
- Purchases of gift cards
- Purchases of lottery tickets, casino chips, and other gaming tokens
Cash-back-eligible purchases include most net purchases made with merchants online and in the real world. “Net purchases” means the total transaction amount (including tax, if applicable) minus any refunds, discounts, or chargebacks.
All cash-back-eligible purchases earn 1% cash back with no caps or restrictions on earning potential. Eligible purchases in the bonus categories earn an additional 4% cash back for a total of 5% cash back — up to the $1,500 combined quarterly spending limit, after which bonus category purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. Chase Freedom’s credit card statements distinguish between 1% base cash back and 4% bonus cash back.
6 Tips to Earn More Cash Back With Chase Freedom
No matter what’s earning 5% this quarter, use these tips to maximize your Chase Freedom cards’ bonus cash-back earnings.
1. Set a Reminder to Activate Bonus Cash Back Each Quarter
If you forget to activate your bonus categories by the middle of the last month of the quarter, you won’t earn any cash back during those three months — meaning you miss out on up to $75 in bonus cash-back earnings.
Chase sends out activation reminder emails about two weeks before the start of each quarter. Clicking the link in the email activates your bonus cash back with no sign-in required.
Otherwise, set a calendar reminder for the first day of the quarter and activate your bonus cash back then. Remember, bonus cash back is retroactive to the beginning of the quarter when you activate by the 14th of its last month.
2. Avoid Using Digital Wallets or Third-Party Payment Apps
Chase warns that transactions made using digital wallets like Apple Pay and third-party payment apps like Square and Paypal may code differently than standard transactions. If that happens, you earn just 1% cash back, even when you buy from bonus category merchants. To be safe, don’t use these apps for bonus category purchases.
3. Set Up Autopay With Bonus Category Merchants
A week or two before the start of the quarter, set up autopay with merchants eligible for bonus cash back in the coming three months. You can usually set up autopay with any merchant that sends you a monthly bill or charges a monthly subscription fee. That typically includes:
- Streaming content providers
- Telecommunications companies
- Digital media providers
- Grocery delivery services
If you don’t want your Freedom card to remain your default payment method after the quarter ends, set a calendar reminder to remove the card from each autopay vendor.
4. Plan Bonus Category Purchases in Advance
Chase reveals the coming quarter’s cash-back categories several weeks — and sometimes longer — before the quarter begins.
As soon as you know what they are, start gaming out your bonus category spending for the next three months. For instance, if you know home improvement store purchases will earn bonus cash back next quarter, you can move up the start date of that long-planned DIY home improvement project — or at least buy the supplies you’re sure to need when the time comes.
This strategy works best for nonurgent purchases you don’t regularly make since it’s easy to put those on the back burner. But it’s also effective for essential recurring spending, like your weekly grocery bill. Get into the habit of grabbing your Freedom card and hitting the supermarket, say, every Saturday at 9am to max out your 5% cash-back earnings for the quarter.
5. Make Major Purchases With Eligible Merchants If It’s Cost-Effective
If you don’t have to spend more to do so or the effort of shopping around isn’t worth your time, reward bonus category merchants with business that could just as easily have gone to other merchants. For instance, if gas station spending earns 5% back this quarter and your car needs work, have a gas station mechanic handle the repair, not a dealership or standalone repair shop. On a $500 mechanic’s bill, you’ll earn $25 cash back — not a bad discount.
6. Always Carry Your Freedom Card With You
Finally, keep your Freedom or Freedom Flex card in your wallet at all times, even if it’s not your everyday spending card. You never know when you’ll come across an opportunity to earn bonus cash back.
If you can maximize your Chase Freedom cards’ 5% cash-back categories quarter after quarter, you earn $300 in bonus cash back every year. That’s on top of the unlimited 1% cash back on regular purchases if you use your Chase Freedom card for everyday spending.
It does take effort to maintain a perfect cash-back record with the Chase Freedom Flex℠ Card. For starters, you must remember to activate your bonus categories each quarter. You also have to make sure you’re actually earning bonus cash back when you think you are — something that’s less likely when you use a digital wallet or third-party payment app like PayPal. And if you don’t usually spend much in a particular quarter’s favored categories, earning all your cash back on purchases for that quarter might not be possible.
But for many, a challenge like this is just what they need to think more intentionally about their spending. Earning 5% cash back is a victory in and of itself, but finding ways to swap unnecessary transactions for bonus category purchases you need to make anyway — that’s even better.
For a detailed overview of the Chase Freedom Flex card, check out our Chase Freedom Flex credit card review.
Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.