Get 5% Cash Back on These Categories with Your Chase Freedom or Freedom Flex

Activate your bonus categories each quarter to earn some serious dough.
Last updated Sep 15, 2021 | By Lindsay Frankel
Woman shopping in the produce department at the grocery store

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While premium credit cards may rack up plenty of points per dollar, it’s rare to find a credit card with no annual fee that earns more than 3% cash back in any category. But with both the Chase Freedom and the Chase Freedom Flex Card, cardholders have the opportunity to earn 5% cash back in select bonus categories.

Chase offers new categories every three months, often in popular spending sectors, like gas stations and grocery stores. You’re required to activate the bonus categories to earn your 5% cash back rewards, but you’ll be able to rack up points faster with your purchases in select categories.

In this article

How do Chase Freedom’s rotating bonus categories work?

Prior to each quarter, Chase releases one or more bonus categories that will earn 5% cash back for those three months. You’ll need to activate the bonus cashback categories in your account by the indicated deadline.

Once the category is activated, you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made within the bonus categories. That means you could potentially earn $75 in rewards per quarter, after which you’ll continue to earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

You can redeem your cash back from the bonus categories like you would any other cash back that you earned. So you can turn it into a statement credit, gift cards, travel, or shop on Amazon.

What are the 2021 Chase Freedom bonus categories?

It’s important to be aware of the current Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Flex bonus categories, especially if you use other credit cards as well. If the 5% cash back offer beats the rewards you’ll get with other cards, you’ll want to put purchases in the bonus categories on your Chase Freedom or Freedom Flex card.

Here are the current bonus categories:

Chase bonus categories for 2021
First quarter: January-March Select streaming services; internet, cable and phone services; and wholesale clubs
Second quarter: April-June
Gas stations, home improvement stores (like Home Depot and Lowes)
Third quarter: July-September Grocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart) and select streaming services
Fourth quarter: October-December Walmart, PayPal (qualifying purchases made using PayPal at Walmart will only earn a total of 5%)

While we can’t predict the future quarterly bonus categories, it’s likely a safe bet that they’ll include retailers and services many shoppers use frequently. Here’s a look at some of the past categories in the Chase cashback calendar:

2019-2020 Chase bonus categories
October-December 2020
Walmart, PayPal
July-September 2020 Amazon.com, Whole Foods
April-June 2020 Grocery stores, gym memberships, and fitness club memberships
January-March 2020 Gas stations; internet, cable and phone services; select streaming services (includes Netflix, Sling, Vudu, FuboTV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify, Hulu and ESPN+)
October-December 2019 Department stores, Paypal, Chase Pay
July-September 2019 Gas stations, streaming services (includes Netflix, Hulu, Sling, Vudu, FuboTV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, and Spotify)
April-June 2019 Grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target), home improvement stores
January-March 2019 Gas stations, tolls, drugstores

How to activate the bonus categories

There are a few ways to activate your Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex bonus categories each quarter.

  • Online: Visit Chase.com/freedom and click “Activate your 5%.” From there, you’ll be prompted to enter your last name, the last four digits of your card number, and your billing zip code. Then click “Activate Now.”
  • Email: Chase allows you to provide your email address to receive an email reminder when it’s time to activate your bonus categories. From there, you’ll just need to click the link in the email.
  • Phone: You can get assistance with the activation of your bonus categories from a human if you call the number on the back of your card.
  • Visit a Chase location: If you want to talk to someone in person, a personal banker at any Chase location can assist you.
  • ATM: While making a cash withdrawal, you can activate your Chase Freedom bonus categories with just one click.

Remember, you can only earn those sweet rewards points if you activate the bonus categories before the deadline. Chase will even help you set a calendar reminder to make sure you don’t forget.

However, it doesn’t really matter when you activate the categories, so long as you do so before the deadline. Even if you activate your rewards the day before the deadline, all your eligible purchases dating back to the beginning of the quarter will be counted.

It’s often a good idea to track your spending in the bonus categories. That way, you can switch to a card that gives you more points per dollar once you reach the $1,500 spending cap for the 5% cash back rewards.

Your credit card statement should show you the rewards you’ve earned each month. A budgeting app like Mint can also help you keep track of your spending within certain categories.

FAQs

How do I activate Chase Freedom categories?

To activate Chase Freedom categories on your Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Flex cards, start by navigating to your Chase online account or mobile app. Once you’re in your account or the Chase mobile app, select the applicable Chase card and then click on the “Activate” option to activate your Chase Freedom categories.

Is the Chase Freedom Flex good?

The Chase Freedom Flex is one of the best no-annual-fee cashback cards available. It offers cash back on every purchase you make, including everyday expenses like dining and drugstore purchases.

You also get the added benefit of earning bonus cash back on rotating categories each quarter. These categories have previously included purchases from Amazon.com, gas stations, home improvement stores, and grocery stores. In addition, the Freedom Flex is one of a select number of credit cards that provides a cell phone protection benefit

Does Chase Freedom Unlimited have bonus categories?

The Chase Freedom Unlimited doesn’t have rotating categories that change every quarter like the Chase Freedom Flex, but it has fixed spending categories where you can earn bonus rewards.

This includes 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5% cash back on Lyft rides, and 3% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases. Your cashback earning rate for all other purchases is 1.5%.


Is the Chase Freedom Flex card right for you?

The Chase Freedom card is no longer open to applications, but Chase has released the brand-new Freedom Flex Mastercard to replace it. But should you apply for the Freedom Flex?

If you won’t remember to activate the bonus categories and mindfully use your card for spending in those categories each quarter, this may not be the credit card offer for you. Instead, compare the best cashback credit cards with more robust rewards on everyday purchases, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited, for other options.

If you already have one of the premium Chase credit cards that earns Ultimate Rewards points — either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve — pairing that card with the Chase Freedom could help you maximize your rewards. That’s because you may be able to transfer your Chase Freedom Flex points to your premium card, which could offer a better value for your points. If you choose this strategy, consider using your premium card for non-bonus spending if it will earn you more points.

In addition to the 5% cash back you can earn in bonus categories, the Chase Freedom Flex card offers a number of other perks and a generous sign-up bonus. New applicants can earn $200 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months, plus earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including target or walmart; up to $12,000 in the first year). There’s also an introductory APR of 0% for 15 months on purchases, which can help you finance a large purchase. Plus, you’ll get standard protections along with free access to your credit score.

While the Chase Freedom Flex Card may not be your first choice if travel rewards or other perks are your main priority, the extra cash back on bonus categories can make this card a great addition to a strategic spender’s wallet.

Seriously Powerful Cashback Card

Intro Offer

$200

Annual Fee

$0

Rewards Rate

up to 5% cash back

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • $200 sign-up bonus
  • Up to 5% cash back on spending
  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (up to $12k your first year)
  • Lyft and DoorDash perks

Drawbacks

  • Has foreign transaction fee
Card Details
  • Earn $200 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months, plus earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart; up to $12,000 in the first year)
  • 5% on rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and drugstores; and 1% on all other purchases
  • Intro purchase 0% offer: 0% for 15 months then 14.99% to 23.74% (variable)

Author Details

Lindsay Frankel Lindsay Frankel is a Denver-based freelance writer who specializes in credit cards, travel, budgeting/saving, and shopping. She has been featured in several finance publications, including LendingTree. When she's not writing, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors, playing music, or cuddling with her rescue pup.