Chase Freedom’s 5% Activation Is Retroactive; Discover’s Is Not

Chase's cards pay bonus rewards on purchases for the full quarter as long as you activate by the 14th day of the last month. Discover pays bonus rewards only on purchases made after activation.

Erin El IssaMay 27, 2021
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The Chase Freedom® and its successor card, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ offer 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories each quarter. But to get that great rewards rate, you have to opt in or "activate" the bonus category each quarter.

Chase Freedom Flex
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The good news is that you have plenty of time to opt in. As long as you activate by the 14th day of the third month of the quarter, you'll receive bonus rewards even on category purchases made before you activated. So these are the opt-in deadlines:

  • Q1 (January - March): March 14.

  • Q2 (April - June): June 14.

  • Q3 (July - September): Sept. 14.

  • Q4 (October - December): Dec. 14.

If you fail to activate by the due date for a quarter, you won't receive 5% rewards for purchases in the category for that three-month period. You'll just get 1% cash back for those purchases.

The Chase Freedom®, which is no longer, accepting applications, and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ earn 5% cash back up to $1,500 per quarter in spending in the bonus categories.

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.)

Discover 5% activation is not retroactive

Several cards offered by Discover have a cash back rewards structure similar to that on the Freedom-branded cards discussed above, but activation for those cards is not retroactive. You earn bonus rewards only on purchases made after you opt into the categories.

Discover it® Cash Back
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These Discover cards earn 5% cash back in categories you activate, on up to $1,500 per quarter in category spending, and 1% on other purchases:

Terms of the 5% cash back program are spelled out on Discover's website. The fine print of the 5% program page says that the bonus rewards are available on purchases made starting from the first day of the quarter "or the date on which you activate 5%, whichever is later." Bonus category purchases made before activation earn only 1% cash back.

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.

Which card is better for you?

Choosing between the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and one of Discover's cards boils down to the bonus categories — which card will offer higher rewards more often in the places where you spend more money? Our Freedom vs. Discover comparison article can get you started. Also take a look at the past and present bonus categories on these cards to see which one more closely aligns with your spending.

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