Credit Card Bonus Categories: Chase Freedom Flex, Discover It, And More

Rotating Credit Card Bonus Categories
Facebook
Twitter

If you really want to up your credit card game, then it might be time to move beyond simple flat-rate credit cards. Credit cards with bonus categories are the logical next step.

These little treasures offer increased cash back on select purchases, which usually rotate quarterly. For instance, a card may offer increased cash back on gas and streaming services starting in January, only to shift its bonus categories to wholesale clubs and home improvement stores come April, and then to groceries and utilities in July.

The upside is that the bonus categories can award as much as 5% cash back, which for a card with no-annual-fee, is otherworldly.

From the detective’s desk: All of the rotating credit cards featured on Value Sleuths come stamped with a $0 annual fee. You’ll never have to pay a dime for the privilege of having one of these cards, not in the first year, and not ever.

On the downside, you often won’t get to choose your bonus categories. If a card offers 5% cash back at Target this quarter and you haven’t seen the inside of one since it was cool to call it Tarjay, you’re out of luck.

Also, the bonus multiplier typically only applies to the first $1,500 – $2,500 in purchases for that quarter, after which it drops to a pedestrian 1%.

Credit card bonus categories: 2022

The following list provides essential information about the best bonus category credit cards and will help you take the first steps toward plotting out a winning cash back strategy. You’ll learn:

  • Historical bonus categories, to help you predict what a card may offer in the future
  • A calendar of bonus categories for 2022, pending the card already posted them (some do, some do not)
  • If and when you need to activate bonus categories
  • Bonus category cash back caps
  • Any associated welcome bonuses for new cardholders
  • A few helpful nuggets to help you max out rewards

Keep up with this page, because it’s updated anytime something changes, including when a credit card provider posts new bonus categories.


Chase Freedom Flex 5% bonus categories

  • Welcome bonus: Spend $500 on purchases during the first 3 months from account opening and receive 20,000 points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back as a statement credit or deposit into a linked bank account.
  • Intro APR: 0% for 15 months from account opening on purchases, 15.24% – 23.99% after that.
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Redeem for: Statement credits, direct deposits into a bank account, and Amazon.com purchases. For these options, 1 point = $0.01 except for Amazon which is $0.008, and there is no minimum redemption amount. Gift cards start at $5 and you may be subject to a 10% redemption bonus.

From the detective’s desk: Freedom Flex pairs extremely well with Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. Why? Because Freedom points can be upconverted to fully-fledged Ultimate Rewards points, thereby granting access to Chase’s travel partners, and their pretty awesome redemption rates (often way better than 1 pt = $0.01).

How it works: Each quarter, Freedom Flex rolls out between 2-4 bonus categories, which will award 5% on the first $1,500 in purchases, for a maximum of $75 cash back per quarter (or $60 additional cash back considering the base cash back rate is 1%). Bonus categories change each quarter, with many categories showing up at least once per calendar year.

  • Activation: You must activate the 5% cash back categories before generating rewards. The activation period typically starts on the 15th day of the month prior to the upcoming quarter (i.e. March 15 for Q2).
  • Announcement: Bonus categories for the upcoming quarter are announced approximately 15 days before the quarter begins.
  • Retroactive: If you forget to activate your bonus categories until later in the quarter, fear not. Your bonus category spend will be credited retroactively!

Other perks:

  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% on dining at restaurants, which includes takeout and eligible delivery services
  • 3% on drugstore purchases
  • 1% all other
  • Complimentary Shoprunner membership (one year)
  • Spend $20 at Fandango and receive a $5 Fandango Reward
  • Purchase a Hello Fresh meal plan and receive 5% back toward your next Hello Fresh purchase
  • Take 3 rides per month, pay with your Chase Freedom Flex card and earn a $5 credit

From the detective’s desk #2: The Chase Freedom and Freedom Flex cards share the same bonus categories. If you already have a Freedom card (closed to new applicants as of Sept 2020), still consider applying for Freedom Flex, as having both will double your maximum bonus category cash back to $3,000 per quarter.

Chase Freedom Flex and Freedom bonus categories

Period5% cash back categories
Q1 2020 (Jan. 1 - Mar. 31)
  • Gas stations
  • Internet, cable, and phone
  • Select streaming services
Q2 2020 (Apr. 1 - Jun. 30)
  • Grocery stores
  • Gym memberships/fitness clubs
  • Select streaming services
Q3 2020 (Jul. 1 - Sept. 30)
  • Amazon.com
  • Whole Foods Market
Q4 2020 (Oct. 1 - Dec. 31)
  • Walmart
  • PayPal
Q1 2021 (Jan.1 - Mar. 31)
  • Wholesale clubs
  • Internet/cable/phone
  • Select streaming services
Q2 2021 (Apr. 1 - Jun. 30)
  • Gas stations
  • Home improvement stores
Q3 2021 (Jul. 1 - Sept. 30)
  • Grocery stores
  • Select streaming services
Q4 2021 (Oct. 1 - Dec. 31)
  • Walmart
  • PayPal
Q1 2022 (Jan 1. - Mar. 31)
  • eBay
  • Grocery stores
Q2 2022 (Apr. 1 - Jun. 30)`
  • Amazon.com
  • Select streaming services
Q3 2022 (Jul. 1 - Sept. 30)
  • Gas stations
  • Car rentals
  • Movie theaters
  • Select live entertainment

The bottom line: Chase Freedom Flex is uniquely awesome in that it offers both a tiered and categorical bonus structure, as well as other perks typically reserved for cards with an annual fee. Pair it with a Sapphire card, and that 5% cash back will convert to an average of 10% when transferred to a Chase travel partner.

Some of the bonus categories won’t appeal to everyone, and it’s annoying that Chase doesn’t reveal categories more than two weeks ahead of time. Also, the $1,500 bonus category cap is on the low side. Other cards are stepping up their game in this area, Chase needs to as well.

Read our full Chase Freedom Flex review.


Discover it Cash Back 5% bonus categories

  • Welcome bonus: Discover will match all of the cash back earned in your first year, uncapped, starting from the day that you’re approved.
  • Intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, 12.24% – 23.74% after that. 3% intro balance transfer free until July 10. 2022.
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Redeem for: Direct deposits into your bank account, statement credits, or purchases at Amazon.com and PayPal, all at face value. There is no minimum redemption amount. Gift cards start at $5, and you may be able to exchange cash back at a better than 1-to-1 rate.

From the detective’s desk: If you accumulate more than $200 in cash back during the first year, the Discover it welcome offer becomes more lucrative than the one offered by Chase Freedom Flex. However, you will have to wait a year to receive it

How it works: Unlike Chase Freedom Flex, Discover it Cash Back announces its 5% bonus categories for the entire calendar year in one shot. Bonus category rewards are capped at the first $1,500 in purchases for a total of $75 cash back (or $60 additional, considering the base cash back rate is 1%).

Bonus categories tend to be fairly broad, so it’s fairly easy to generate significant value from them. They’re also quite predictable, following a very similar schedule since at least 2019, although there were more deviations than usual in 2022.

  • Activation: 5% cash back categories must be activated. They can be activated at least a couple of weeks before the new quarter begins.
  • Announcement: The bonus categories for the forthcoming year are announced in November. 
  • Retroactive: Discover it Cash Back does not award retroactive rewards, so be sure to activate the bonus categories ahead of time. 

Other perks: Nothing special. All non-bonus category purchases award a standard 1% cash back. Beyond that, the only cool perk is that there are no foreign transaction fees. There are no static bonuses and no complimentary services.

Discover it Cash Back bonus categories

Period5% cash back categories
Q1 2020 (Jan. 1 - Mar. 31)
  • Grocery stores
  • Walgreens
  • CVS
Q2 2020 (Apr. 1 - Jun. 30)
  • Gas stations
  • Uber and Lyft
  • Wholesale clubs
Q3 2020 (Jul. 1 - Sept. 30)
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
Q4 2020 (Oct. 1 - Dec. 31)
  • Amazon.com
  • Target.com
  • Walmart.com
Q1 2021 (Jan.1 - Mar. 31)
  • Grocery stores
  • Walgreens¬†
  • CVS
Q2 2021 (Apr. 1 - Jun. 30)
  • Gas stations
  • Wholesale clubs
  • Select streaming services
Q3 2021 (Jul. 1 - Sept. 30)
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
Q4 2021 (Oct. 1 - Dec. 31)
  • Amazon.com
  • Target.com
  • Walmart.com
Q1 2022 (Jan. 1 - Mar. 31)
  • Grocery stores
  • Fitness club and gym memberships
Q2 2022 (Apr. 1 - Jun. 30)
  • Gas stations
  • Target
Q3 2022 (Jul. 1 - Sept. 30)
  • Restaurants
  • PayPal
Q4 2022 (Oct. 1 - Dec. 31)
  • Amazon.com
  • Digital wallets (Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.)

From the detective’s desk #2: Discover codes Walmart grocery pickup and delivery services as grocery purchases. Oddly, if you purchase groceries in-store, the 5% cash back will not apply.

The bottom line: The main advantage of Discover it Cash Back over Freedom Flex is the former’s broader bonus categories. Gas stations, Amazon, grocery stores, restaurants, PayPal — these are all knockout categories for a card that offers 5% cash back. It’s also nice that Discover lets customers know well in advance what the bonus categories will be, enabling them to plan ahead.

The $1,500 bonus category cap is a drag, as is the lack of static bonus categories. Also, Discover isn’t as widely accepted as other issuers, especially outside the U.S.

This is truly a situational-only card. It just so happens to be one of the best.


Bank of America Cash Rewards bonus categories

  • Welcome bonus: Spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days after opening an account, and receive a $200 cash rewards bonus.
  • Intro APR: 0% on purchases for the first 15 billing cycles, then 14.24% – 24.24%
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Redeem for: Statement credits, direct deposit into a BoA checking/savings account or Merrill account, paper check, or qualifying 529 plan with Merrill. Cash back has a fixed value of $0.01 and there is no minimum redemption requirement except for checks and 529 plans ($25 min).

How it works: Bank of America only offers 3% cash back on its bonus categories, with the upside being that you get to choose the category that you want. Current categories are:

  • Gas
  • Online Shopping
  • Dining
  • Travel
  • Drug stores
  • Home improvement/furnishings

Users can change your category each month. Have a lot of prescriptions to fill, or want to load up on OTC medications for the upcoming flu season? Consider the drug store option for that month. Or maybe you’re planning a road trip, in which case gas or travel might make more sense.

BoA restricts the amount of bonus cash back you can receive to the first $2,500 in purchases, quarterly. At first, this may sound generous. However, it encompasses purchases across all bonus categories — the 3% categories listed above, and the static 2% cash back it offers on grocery and warehouse club purchases.

  • Activation: The default category is gas, but you can change it monthly to whatever you like. If you don’t change your bonus category, then it’ll remain the same as the previous month.
  • Announcement: Since you choose your own category, there are no bonus category announcements.

Other perks: Beyond its bonus categories, Bank of America Cash Rewards offers:

  • 2% cash back on groceries
  • 2% cash back on wholesale clubs
  • 1% cash back for all other purchases
  • A unique opportunity to increase cash back through its Preferred Rewards membership program

If you just so happen to belong to BoA Preferred Rewards, then you can earn between 25%-75% more cash back on credit card purchases. This elevates the 3% cash back tier to between 3.75% – 5.25%, and the 2% tier to 2.5% – 3.5%.

The catch is that in order to qualify, you’ll need to keep a minimum $20,000 combined balance in a Bank of America or Merrill investment account. Here’s a full breakdown.

Preferred Rewards LevelRequired Balance2% Category (Grocery/Wholesale)3% Category (Choice)1% Category (All other)
NoneNone2%3%1%
Gold$20,000 - $49,9992.5%3.75%1.25%
Platinum$50,000 - $99,9993%4.5%1.5%
Platinum Honors$100,000+3.5%5.25%1.75%

From the detective’s desk: Bank of America’s bonus category definitions are exceptionally broad. For instance, the online shopping category includes a wide array of major online retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart, but also less commonly featured ones such as Groupon and Apple.

The bottom line: Given the element of choice and the 3%/2% structure, Bank of America Cash Rewards feels less like a rotating bonus card and more like a tiered rewards card with some flexibility. In that light, it proves very competitive, especially when you consider how broadly its bonus categories are defined.

Of course, if you happen to be a high-ranking Preferred Rewards member, then the cash back rates coast right past the competition. But that’s a titanic “if”. Otherwise, Bank of America Cash Rewards is a solid-filler card, that won’t ever offer you an exceptional cash back rate in any one category, but will nicely fill in the gaps left by other cards in your portfolio.


U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature bonus categories

  • (New) Welcome bonus: Receive a $200 cash back bonus (up from $150) after spending $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening.
  • Intro APR: 0% on balance transfers for the first 12 billing cycles, then 14.24% – 24.24%
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Redeem for: Statement credits or as a deposit made to a U.S. Bank account. It’s also possible to redeem for a U.S. Bank Rewards Card, but those go for $25 minimum, whereas the other options allow for any amount.

How it works: U.S. Bank Cash+ takes the “choose your own adventure” motif to an extreme, allowing customers to select one 2% and two 5% bonus categories each quarter. Cardholders must activate their categories every quarter, but there’s little preventing them from choosing the same categories over and over.

There is no bonus cap on the 2% categories, but the 5% cash back only applies to the first $2,000 in purchases, equating to a maximum of $100 bonus cash back per quarter. At least that’s a half-step up from the $1,500 cap enforced by Chase Freedom Flex and Discover it.

In total there are 12 5% categories to choose from, which are announced at the beginning of the calendar year. They include:

  • TV/Internet and streaming services
  • Home utilities
  • Ground transportation
  • Cell phone providers
  • Department stores
  • Electronic stores
  • Movie theatres
  • Fast food
  • Sporting good stores
  • Gyms/fitness centers
  • Furniture stores
  • Select clothing stores

The 2% categories are more appealing: Gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores. But you can only select one, and the cash back rate is pretty ho-hum.

From the detective’s desk: Gas, dining, and groceries account for a significant chunk of the average person’s everyday expenditures. Regulating these to the 2% category when so many other cards offer better rates is a major deterrent.

  • Activation: 5% and 2% categories must be activated quarterly, even if you don’t intend to change them.
  • Announcement: The bonus categories are listed on the site at all times and don’t appear to really vary that much. 
  • Retroactive: Nope. If you don’t remember to activate your categories, you will not receive retroactive rewards on purchases made earlier in the quarter. 

Other perks: Non-bonus category purchases are worth 1% cash back, which is par for the course. Users also receive 5% cash back on prepaid air, hotel, and car reservations booked through the Rewards Travel Center.

The bottom line: At first glance, U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature appears to be the best bonus category credit card out there.

You’re not forced into categories determined by the issuer. The 5% cash back applies to the first $2,000 in quarterly purchases — $500 bucks more than the limits imposed by Chase and Discover. And there’s a 2% category to boot, and you get to choose that one too!

Then you step back and realize just how narrow and niche the 5% categories are. Sure, Chase and Discover don’t allow you to choose your own categories, but at least they regularly offer 5% cash back on broad categories like gas, groceries, and PayPal. With U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature your options are limited to categories that most of us don’t spend a ton of money on.


Facebook
Twitter

Never miss any important news. Subscribe to our newsletter.