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The Chase Freedom Flex℠ carries no annual fee and earns an industry-leading 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in categories that rotate quarterly (requires activation), 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores and 1% on all other purchases. This generous rewards rate means that if you plan your spending correctly, you can snag a decent amount of cash back from the bonus categories alone.
Before we dive in and explain how to maximize this opportunity, it’s important to know that while multiple Chase cards have “Freedom” in their name, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is the only Freedom card available to new customers that offers rotating 5% bonus cash-back categories. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Chase Freedom® Student credit card have different rewards structures and do not offer rotating 5% bonus earning categories.
The Chase Freedom Flex earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in categories that rotate quarterly (requires activation), 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores and 1% on all other purchases.
Let’s dig in to how to make the most out of the 5% cash-back categories.
Activate the Categories Each Quarter
Here are the most recent quarterly bonus categories for the Freedom Flex card:
There’s a small, yet crucial, step in order to score that 5% earn rate. You have to “activate” the bonus categories on the card each quarter. To do so, log into your Freedom Flex account and click on the small print where it says “Details” next to where it says 5% cash back and the current months in the quarter.
After you click on “Details”, you’ll get to a screen with a button to click that “activates” or opts you into that quarter’s 5% bonus earnings. In the example below, the bonus categories for the quarter are grocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart) and eBay.
If you forget to activate that quarter’s 5% rotating bonus categories the first day of the new quarter, don’t worry, Chase gives you some leeway and will apply the bonus retroactively to all the purchases you made that quarter. When you log into your card account, you’ll see the cut off date by which you have to activate the bonus. If you don’t activate this by that quarter’s deadline shown on the cash-back calendar, you’ll only earn the ongoing 1% cash-back rate on your spending in those areas.
In the example above, you’ll see that the last date to activate the January-March categories is Mar 14, 2022.
Now that you’ve activated the 5% bonus categories, it’s time to go shopping. But maybe your spending doesn’t align with where you can earn 5%. This is where it’s time to think outside the box and perhaps fulfill some of your shopping needs with the bonus categories in ways you may not normally have considered.
For example, if the bonus categories include grocery stores, many supermarkets will typically sell gift cards to places like Amazon, restaurant chains and retail stores. So you might want to put a few bucks on a gift card to cover your next night out to dinner or a gift for a special occasion. Or, if you have the storage space, max out that $1,500 cap buying household staples like paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning products for the year.
It’s important to know that it only makes sense to maximize the bonus categories if you can pay your credit card in full and on time every month. If you’re spending above your means just to maximize the quarterly bonus categories, you’ll pay far more in interest than the value of any rewards earned.
Don’t Forget the Bonus Categories Are Capped
After you’ve reached the $1,500 cap for the quarter, all other spending in the eligible bonus categories will earn 1%—a rate that can easily be bested by other cards. Your Chase account includes a graphic that measures how much you have left before you’ve hit the maximum earnings of $75. This is particularly helpful if you paired your Freedom with another card. Once you’ve reached that spending cap, you can switch to using a card that earns a higher rate than the 1% you’ll get on the Freedom Flex for purchases outside of the bonus categories.
Earning cash back on a no-annual-fee credit card is a terrific money-saver. Think of it like a discount every time you shop. And 5% cash back sure beats 1% cash back. Of course, you should never buy things you don’t need simply to earn rewards and there is likely to be a time when the categories for a particular quarter simply won’t match up with your spending habits.
But when you can hit that $1,500 spending cap, you’ll earn back $75 that quarter for your efforts—meaning it’s possible to earn a maximum of $300 for the year just on the 5% categories. For a card with no annual fee, that’s a great value. Advanced points and miles players will likely combine those earnings with a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards®-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card where those rewards could be worth up to 25% to 50% more if used to book travel through the Ultimate Rewards site, used to Pay Yourself Back or transferred to hotel and airline partners.