2020 guide to Discover it® Cash Back categories

What’s special about the Discover it® Cash Back credit card is the attention-grabbing 5% cash back rate on bonus categories that change on a quarterly basis. These categories are usually broad and are likely to match the spending of many cardholders. Think grocery, gas and restaurants, for example. You can earn the 5% cash back on a maximum of $1,500 per quarter, which works out to be $75. All other purchases will earn an automatic 1% cash back. So, if you’re after generous rewards on day-to-day purchases, then the Discover it Cash Back is it.

But here’s the thing: to be awarded the 5% cash back, you have to activate the bonus categories first. This means to maximize your rewards, you’ve got to keep track of the rewards calendar, and activate as soon as possible. 

Discover it Cash Back’s first quarter bonus category

Bonus categories, Jan 1 to Mar 31:

The 5% bonus categories kick off in the first quarter with purchases from grocery stores and pharmacies. This covers a broad range of everyday spending, such as food items, beauty merchandise, personal care items and so forth. 

  • Grocery stores: Covers your weekly shop from grocery stores but excludes purchases from Target, Walmart, convenience stores, gas stations, warehouse clubs, discount stores and supercenters.
  • Walgreens and CVS: For buying in-store, online or through the Walgreens or CVS app.

Bonus categories, Apr 1 to Jun 30:

Bonus rewards in the second quarter shift to spending at gas stations, wholesale clubs and Uber and Lyft.

  • Gas stations: Purchases from gas stations affiliated with supermarkets and supercenters may not qualify.
  • Wholesale clubs: Spending on affiliated services, like travel and cellphone purchases, may not qualify.
  • Uber and Lyft: Valid for all rides in the US.

Bonus categories, Jul 1 to Sep 30:

The third quarter bonus categories give you something back for eating out at restaurants and using PayPal.

  • Restaurants: These include full-service restaurants, cafes and fast food outlets.
  • PayPal: Valid for point-of-sale transactions, when using your PayPal wallet online and when you send money to family and friends through PayPal (using your Discover card).

Bonus categories, Oct 1 to Dec 31:

The final quarter bonus categories will be handy for all your festive season needs, with 5% cash back on Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com.

  • Amazon.com: Includes whatever you buy through Amazon.com checkout, like digital downloads, Amazon gift cards, Amazon Fresh Orders, Amazon Local Deals, Prime subscriptions and items from the online marketplace.
  • Walmart.com: Includes orders from Walmart.com and the Walmart app, but affiliate purchases might not qualify.
  • Target.com: Includes orders made online or through the Target app, but spending on targetoptical.com and targetphoto.com is excluded.

Activate Discover it Cash Back bonus categories

The process of getting the Discover it Cash Back bonus categories going is straightforward. First, make sure your Discover it Cash Back card is active. Second, log into your account online so you can see the bonus categories. Then finally, click to activate.

You’ll need to do this every quarter, but the good news is, you can activate up to two months before the quarter begins, so you’ll start earning the 5% cash back from the moment the qualifying period commences. For example, you can activate quarter two bonus categories from February 1, 2020, even though the qualifying period runs from April 1, 2020.

Redeeming your Discover it Cash Back rewards

Cash back rewards can be redeemed online or over the phone.

Online redemption is basically like online shopping with a couple of differences. You log in to your account from the Discover website, select the “Rewards” option in the navigation bar then “See All” to get to the redemption page, which tells you how much cash back bonus you have available.

You’ll see different ways to redeem your cash back bonus too. You can:

  • Receive as cash in any amount, any time, by having your cash back deposited into your back account or used as statement credit.
  • Use at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Exchange for gift cards of at least $20, with $5 added for free.
  • Make a charitable donation.

Once you’ve decided what you’d like to redeem, add it to your order. Review your selection, confirm and submit.

Remember, if the bonus categories are in line with your spending, the best way to maximize your rewards is to ensure you activate them each quarter, and use your Discover card to pay for your purchases up to the quarterly maximum. You can potentially time big-ticket items to get more cash back, too. Another strategy is to pair the 5% card with a flat-rate credit card so you can get beyond the 1% offered on purchases that don’t qualify for the extra bonus.

Final notes

If you want to start earning generous cash back on everyday spending, it’s worth considering the Discover it Cash Back credit card. Given the solid 5% cash back on purchases from bonus categories per quarter, it’s one of the most popular rotating rewards cards around. Its broad bonus categories will likely match the spending patterns of many consumers, and activating them is easily done online or over the phone. Redemption is flexible and straightforward, and your rewards won’t expire. Add to this the 0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers, and you’ve got a fantastic value proposition for a $0 annual fee.

To maximize your overall rewards, make sure bonus categories are activated as soon as possible every quarter. Try timing big purchases according to the rewards calendar. And if you want to go one step further, pair it with a flat-rate credit card that offers more than 1% cash back on purchases.

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.