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How to maximize your rewards with Chase Freedom® cash back categories

In a Nutshell

Chase Freedom® cash back categories change every quarter, offering new opportunities to earn bonus rewards. Here’s how to make the most of your rewards throughout the year.

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Looking for a high-earning rewards credit card that doesn’t have an annual fee?

Consider Chase Freedom®, which offers 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating bonus categories each quarter you activate, and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

The Chase Freedom® rewards structure is more complicated than some other credit card rewards programsCapital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, offers a straightforward 1.5 percent back on all purchases.

But with a little extra planning, Chase Freedom® can yield bigger cash back rewards.

First, let’s clarify what we mean when we say “cash back rewards.”

With Chase Freedom®, cash back rewards are tracked as points. Each Ultimate Rewards® point is worth 1 cent, so 100 points equal $1 in redemption value.

There is no minimum to redeem for cash back. You can redeem those points for cash through statement credits or electronic deposits into most U.S. checking and savings accounts.

Ultimate Rewards® points can also be redeemed for gift cards, to book travel through the Ultimate Rewards® travel portal, or to pay for part or all of eligible purchases on

Don’t feel compelled to redeem them all in a hurry, though, as points don’t expire as long as your account remains open.

Ready to maximize your rewards with Chase Freedom® cash back categories? Follow these tips.

  1. Start with the sign-up bonus.
  2. Don’t forget to activate your quarterly bonus.
  3. Keep track of the categories and eligible merchants.
  4. Buy gift cards to max out your quarterly bonus limit.
  5. Pair your Chase Freedom® with one of Chase’s Sapphire cards.

Start with the sign-up bonus.

That’s right — you can get a big-time head start with a $150 bonus (equal to 15,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards® points) after spending $500 worth of purchases within three months of opening an account.

Chase Freedom® features a few other incentives for new cardholders, such as a 0 percent intro APR annual percentage rate (APR) on purchases and balance transfers made within the first 15 months, which then converts to 15.99 to 24.74 percent.

Don’t forget to activate your quarterly bonus.

If you forget to activate your bonus before the quarterly deadline, you’ll still earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases — but you’ll miss out on the bigger, category-specific bonus for that quarter. For this reason, Chase Freedom® is probably best for people willing to take a more hands-on approach to credit card rewards.

Heads up if you have more than one Chase account: You’ll need to activate the bonus for each of your accounts every quarter.

Here are a few ways you can activate the bonus:

You may need to enter your name, ZIP code and the last four digits on your Chase Freedom® card depending on the activation method you use.

There’s a deadline to activate, which is usually a couple of months after the quarter starts (the deadline for the 2017 April–June bonus period is June 14, for example).

As long as you activate the bonus by the deadline, you’ll earn bonus points for all the eligible purchases you make during the bonus period, including the ones you made before activation.

Keep track of the categories and eligible merchants.

In the past, Chase Freedom® rewards categories have included gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, wholesale clubs, department stores and Once a new quarterly bonus period begins, you’ll want to keep track of which purchases will earn you extra cash back.

Crystal Stemberger, who runs the personal finance blog Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, says she makes a tiny printout with the rewards categories and tapes it to her Chase Freedom® card.

In addition to knowing the general categories, you may also want to review and write down the list of included and excluded merchants for the quarter.

For example, Chase doesn’t count Walmart and Target as grocery stores for bonus rewards purposes in the April–June 2017 quarter.

Buy gift cards to max out your quarterly bonus limit.

At most, you can earn $75 in cash back rewards by making $1,500 in combined qualifying purchases per quarter. But if you’re struggling to get to that $1,500 maximum with your everyday purchases, consider buying gift cards to make up the difference.

Just make sure you can afford the card balance (or afford to pay it off), of course.

Tiffany Alexy, founder of Earn Like a Girl, approves of this strategy: “I usually purchase gift cards to max out the points bonus and use the gift cards the rest of the year.”

While this is a savvy way to maximize points, you should note that some stores may not let you buy gift cards with a credit card.

Also, you’ll want to make sure you actually use the gift cards. If you lose them or forget about them, you’ll basically have wasted money just to score a small amount of cash back.

Pair your Chase Freedom® with one of Chase’s Sapphire cards.

Once you’ve accumulated enough Ultimate Rewards® points, you’ll want to decide how best to use them.

You can redeem points for cash back, but you may be able to get even more value if you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card (This offer is no longer available on our site).

That’s because you can transfer Ultimate Rewards® points from your Chase Freedom® to one of these cards, and then redeem them for travel purchases using the Ultimate Rewards® travel portal so your points are worth even more.

When booking travel with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card account, 100 points equals $1.25, and with Chase Sapphire Reserve℠, 100 points equals $1.50.

With both Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ cards, you can also transfer your Ultimate Rewards® points to select airline and hotel partners’ frequent-traveler programs.

Bottom line

The Chase Freedom® rewards program may demand a little extra effort, but the rewards can be big. For cardholders willing to track rotating categories and adjust their spending accordingly, it can be a powerful rewards-booster.

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