Which 5% Rotating Bonus Category Card Should I Choose?

Chase, Citi, Discover, U.S. Bank and more offer cards that earn 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories. Here's how they stack up.

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If a credit card offering killer rewards of 5% cash back caught your eye, chances are it's a rotating bonus category card. This means that those ultra-high rewards are earned in specific areas of spending — like supermarkets or gas stations — and those categories generally change every three months.

Typically, these cards don't charge annual fees, although maximizing them does require work. For most cards, you'll have to keep track of those categories, and category "activation" is usually required each quarter. Plus, you'll face a spending cap in those bonus areas, and once you hit it, your earnings drop down to a mediocre 1% back. (You could at that point shift your spending to a flat-rate rewards card that does better than 1% back — but, of course, that's more to keep track of.)

If you're up for the challenge — and the high rewards — of a rotating bonus category card, here's a look at how some of the best stack up.

How to choose a 5% rotating bonus category card

5% back: Your options at a glance

Terms for 5% rotating rewards

Sign-up bonus

Intro APR offer

Chase Freedom Flex℠

5% cash back in quarterly bonus categories on up to $1,500 in combined spending each quarter (activation required). All other non-bonus-category spending earns 1% back. (This card also features fixed bonus rewards in other categories.)

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR.

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to $500 spent, and 1% thereafter. Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.

0% intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR.

Discover it® Cash Back

5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. After that, 1% back.

INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300.

0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR.

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

5% cash back on the first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases each quarter in two categories you choose; 2% cash back in one everyday category; and 1% back on all other spending.

$150 bonus after spending $500 in eligible net purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 12 billing cycles, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR.

ABOC Platinum Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card

5 points per $1 on up to $1,500 in combined spending on categories that change each quarter. After that, 1 point back.

Earn a $150 Statement Credit after you spend $1,200 on purchases within the first 90 days from account opening.

0% on Purchases for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.90% - 22.90% Variable APR.

Nerdy tip: The Citi Dividend Card also features 5% rotating cash-back categories that you activate, as does the Chase Freedom®. But neither card is accepting new applications.

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom Flex
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The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a valuable and potentially lucrative card that you can maximize for everyday spending. It earns 5% cash back in quarterly bonus categories on up to $1,500 in combined spending each quarter. Activation of bonus categories is required. (See the quarterly 5% bonus calendar below.) In addition, it offers:

  • 5% back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • 3% back on dining, including takeout and delivery services.

  • 3% back on drugstore purchases.

  • 1% on all other purchases.

Nerdy tip: Through March 31, 2022, cardholders also earn 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app.

Rewards come in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, which are worth a penny each when redeemed for cash back.

Pros

Cons:

  • Each quarter's bonus categories are announced only a few weeks prior to the activation date and may not align with your spending habits.

  • Additional bonus tiers make the card more complicated to manage than others.

  • There's a foreign transaction fee of 3%.

Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Flex℠ bonus rewards categories for 2021

Q1 (Jan. 1 - March 31)

• Wholesale clubs. • Select streaming services. • Internet, cable and phone services.

Q2 (April 1 - June 30)

• Gas stations. • Home improvement stores.

Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)

• Grocery stores. • Select streaming services.

Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)

TBD (In 2020: Walmart; PayPal.)

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
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The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card works differently than many in its category. It earns 5% back in one eligible spend category, on up to $500 each billing cycle, and an unlimited 1% back on all other purchases. Unlike other cards that feature set rotating categories each quarter and require activation, rewards from the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card are automated and adjusted based on your spending habits each billing cycle. Plus, the list of categories is robust, and features popular line items like grocery stores, restaurants, select travel and home improvement stores, among others.

The ability to earn lucrative ongoing rewards in broad and useful everyday spending categories makes the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card especially valuable, especially considering its $0 annual fee.

Rewards are earned in the form of Citi ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for cash back as a direct deposit, check or statement credit at a value of 1 cent per point.

Pros

  • Earn 5% rewards in categories that automatically adjust each billing cycle based on your spending habits.

  • There's no need to remember to activate current bonus categories.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Cons

  • Low spending cap: you'll earn 5% on one bonus category each billing cycle, up to $500, but anything else you spend on the card will earn just 1%.

  • While the card offers 10 bonus categories, you're limited to earning 5% in just one bonus category each billing cycle.

  • Rewards structure could be pleasantly low-maintenance for some, but high-maintenance for others who want to maximize every purchase.

Discover it® Cash Back

Discover it® Cash Back
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The Discover it® Cash Back also earns 5% back on up to $1,500 in spending on rotating quarterly categories (activation required; 1% back on all other purchases). Bonus categories historically have included things like restaurants, grocery stores, home improvement stores, and Amazon.com. But this card has a distinctive sign-up offer not found on similar products. The issuer describes it this way: "INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. You could turn $150 cash back into $300."

Pros

  • Unique and potentially lucrative sign-up bonus.

  • Bonus categories for each quarter are announced at the beginning of the year, so planning is easier.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Cons

  • You won't get the sign-up bonus until the end of your first year.

  • Discover cards are not as widely accepted outside of the U.S. as are Visa and Mastercard.

  • Bonus rewards are not retroactive upon activation.

Nerdy tip: The Discover it® Cash Back isn't the only Discover card with this rewards structure. Other 5% rotating bonus category cards from the issuer include the Discover it® Student Cash Back and the NHL® Discover it®.

Discover bonus rewards categories for 2021

Q1 (Jan. 1 – March 31)

• Grocery stores*. • CVS. • Walgreens.

*The grocery stores category includes Walmart Grocery Pickup & Delivery, but not grocery purchases inside Walmart or at other superstores such as Target or wholesale clubs.

Q2 (April 1 – June 30)

• Gas stations. • Wholesale clubs. • Select streaming services.

Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)

• Restaurants. • PayPal.

Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)

• Amazon.com. • Target.com. • Walmart.com.

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card is the most flexible rotating bonus category card of them all — but it's also perhaps the most complicated. You can choose two 5% categories per quarter from a list of 12, with a combined quarterly spending cap of $2,000. Plus, you get to pick one 2% cash-back category from a list of three "everyday" choices (like gas stations or grocery stores) without a spending cap. All other spending earns an unlimited 1% cash back. That's impressive, if also work-intensive.

Pros

  • 5%-back categories are customizable, and you get two of them each quarter up to the combined $2,000 cap.

  • That quarterly spending cap is higher than those on similar rotating category cards.

  • Unlike other similar cards, you also get an unlimited 2% back in one everyday category.

Cons

  • The rewards structure is complex and requires careful review each quarter. (For example, "fast food" is a 5% category, while "restaurants" is a 2% category.)

  • You won't start earning bonus rewards until three business days after you activate them, and they're not retroactive.

  • It's got a foreign transaction fee: 2% of each foreign purchase transaction in U.S. dollars; 3% in a foreign currency.

  • You can redeem for literal cash only if you bank with U.S. Bank. Otherwise, you'll have to take your earnings as a statement credit or reward card.

ABOC Platinum Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card

The ABOC Platinum Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card earns 5 points per $1 on up to $1,500 in combined spending on categories that change each quarter (1X back after that). But unlike with its competitors, you don't need to activate the categories each quarter; a one-time registration at ABOCRewards.com will automatically enroll you each quarter.

Pros

  • Quarterly activation isn't required. After a one-time registration, you're all set.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Cons

  • While you can redeem points for travel, gift cards, merchandise or statement credit, literal cash back is not an option.

  • Redemption values are poor for anything other than travel. You'll get only 0.75 cent per point for statement credit, for example.

  • This card used to be available to applicants with average credit or better; now it requires excellent credit.

ABOC bonus rewards categories for 2021

Q1 (Jan. 1 – March 31)

• Groceries. • Drugstores. • Health and wellness: fitness clubs, beauty and health spas, and hospitals and medical providers. • Veterinary services.

Q2 (April 1 – June 30)

• Home improvement (including gardening stores and home furnishings). • Warehouse clubs. • Costco.com. • Walmart.com. • Target.com.

Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)

• Dining (including restaurants and fast food). • Travel: airlines, rental cars, hotels, timeshares, cruises and travel agencies. • Transportation: gas, tolls, mass transit, taxis and ridesharing services. • Entertainment (including movie theaters, tourist attractions and theme parks).

Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)

• Dining (including restaurants and fast food). • Food delivery services (including DoorDash and Grubhub). • Groceries. • Liquor stores. • Amazon.com.

Alternatives to rotating bonus category cards

American Express Blue Cash Preferred Credit Card
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Tracking categories? Activating them each quarter? Minding your spending caps? Does all of this sound like too much work for 5% back? If so, you have other options for earning high rewards rates, depending on how much maintenance you're willing to do.

PayPal Cashback Mastercard
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If you want bonus categories that don't move around on you, consider a card with a tiered (but consistent) rewards system that earns its highest rates in areas where you spend the most, all year round. If, for example, groceries are your biggest household expense, you might benefit from the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Unlike these other cards, there's an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $95. But in exchange, you'll rack up rich rewards across a wide range of bonus categories: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%); 6% back on select U.S. streaming services; 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on eligible transit; and 1% back on other purchases. Terms apply (see rates and fees).

And if even that sounds like too much category tracking? You can opt for a rewards card that earns one high flat rate back on everything you buy — no need to remember any bonus categories. The PayPal Cashback Mastercard® fits that bill, offering 2% cash back on every purchase, for an annual fee of $0.


To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, see this page..

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