2020 guide to Chase Freedom bonus categories

The Chase Freedom credit card delivers a lot of value for its $0 annual fee. It comes with a $200 welcome bonus if you spend $500 within the first three months, 0% APR for 15 months on both purchases and balance transfers and additional features like a 12-month extended warranty.

But the most appealing feature of this card is undoubtedly the 5% rewards on bonus categories that change, quarterly. While this kind of reward-earning structure is more complicated than, say, a flat-rate cash back card, it gives you a chance to earn cash back at an outsized rate on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter — which works out to be $75. All other purchases will earn an automatic 1% cash back.

That said, having a credit card with rotating categories does involve a bit of work. You’ll need to keep track of the rewards calendar and activate categories to earn the bonus rate. But don’t worry, the activation process is easy, and there are plenty of ways to redeem your rewards too.

Chase Freedom’s first quarter bonus category

The 5% bonus categories kick off in the first quarter (from January to March) with purchases at gas stations, internet and phone services and select streaming services. So whether you’re commuting, binging on Netflix or listening to your favorite playlist, you can be rewarded for what you’re already spending. One thing to look out for is that the bonus cash back applies only to purchases from merchants with a merchant category code matching the bonus rewards category — so check your monthly statements or this merchant checklist.

  • Gas stations: Filling up your gas tank is a recurring need, so it’s great to get outsized rewards for your spending.
  • Internet, cable and phone services: Earn bonus cash back by linking your services to your Chase Freedom card. 
  • Select streaming: The list of eligible services includes Disney+, ESPN+, Netflix, Sling, Vudu, FuboTV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube TV. Bonus cash back is offered for individual purchases and subscriptions.

Activate Chase Freedom bonus categories

One distinguishing feature with Chase Freedom is that you can activate bonus categories later in the quarter, but still get rewarded for purchases for the whole quarter. For example, as long as you register for first quarter categories by March 14, you will get the 5% rewards rate for all your spending on gas, internet, phone and streaming services from January to March.

There are five easy ways to activate bonuses:

  • Online: By visiting ultimaterewards.com or chase.com/freedom.
  • Email: If you have provided your email, Chase will contact you when it’s time to activate, which you can do with just one click.
  • Phone: By speaking to a customer service representative.
  • Branch: By visiting the personal banker of your local Chase branch.
  • ATM: You can even register for bonus categories while making a cash withdrawal.

Redeem your Chase Freedom rewards

Apart from purchases made within one to two weeks of statement closing date, you should see your rewards on the same statement you see your purchases. With Chase Freedom, cash back rewards are tracked as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, so $1 in cash back is the same as 100 points.

You can redeem Chase rewards in several ways. For example, you can redeem online through the Chase rewards portal, where you can make travel bookings, exchange points for gift cards and request statement credits or direct deposits. You can visit your local Chase branch or call customer service too. Some retailers also accept Chase Pay at checkout, giving you a chance to pay with points instantly.

Chase Freedom bonus categories — the year at a glance

The Chase Freedom® 2019 bonus categories were:

  • Q1: Gas stations, tolls and drugstores.
  • Q2: Home improvement stores and grocery stores.
  • Q3: Gas stations and select streaming services.
  • Q4: Department stores, PayPal and Chase Pay.

Based on the 2019 rewards calendar and the years before that, it’s evident Chase rewards customers in areas where they’re already spending, so you can probably expect 2020 bonuses to involve purchases from places like grocery stores, pharmacies, department stores and for using Chase Pay.

More benefits with Chase Ultimate Rewards

As mentioned, a great thing about the Chase Freedom is that it allows you to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can then redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. This program is often considered the best one around — it’s highly flexible, and there’s a variety of ways to redeem points beyond traditional cash back options like direct deposits and statement credits.

The number of redemption options available, and the redemption value for each option, depends on the credit card you have. But what’s worth noting with Chase Freedom is that you can easily turn cash back into travel rewards by using your points to book flights, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

If you pair your Chase Freedom card with a travel credit card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll be able to combine points across these accounts to maximize your redemption power. What’s more, your Ultimate rewards point won’t expire as long as your account remains open, so you can redeem them when it suits you.

Final notes

Although credit cards with rotating categories require a little effort, it’s well worth it in the case of Chase Freedom for the 5% rewards rate. Yes, you’ll need to look out for the bonus categories and register for them to get the full benefit, but Chase makes this process easy by giving you the option to activate online, through email or telephone or by visiting a local branch or ATM. They’ll send email reminders and even award points retroactively.

Then there’s the ability to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which means you can use your rewards as cash back, travel or in whatever way that suits you.

Finally, if you look at Chase Freedom’s offering in its entirety, it delivers excellent value — a welcome bonus, 0% APR period and secondary benefits like purchase protection and extended warranty — all for no annual fee.

Kristie Kwok

Kristie Kwok is a finance content writer with in-depth knowledge of the banking industry from her previous work experience in banks such as UBS, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland. She is a qualified accountant with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, specializing in Accounting and Finance.