Chase Freedom Flex vs. Discover it: Flex Outmuscles With More Bonus Rewards

Both are quality cards that feature rotating rewards categories that change every quarter — but the Flex packs more value.

Gregory KarpOctober 2, 2020
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On a similar note...
Chase Freedom Flex vs. Discover it: Flex Outmuscles With More Bonus Rewards

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If you love rewards credit cards but don't get excited by 1% to 2% rewards rates, you might find your shortlist is a showdown between two of the best 5% rewards cards in the industry — the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Discover it® Cash Back.

Discover it® Cash Back
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Chase Freedom Flex
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These cash-back credit cards are not simple to optimize because you have to stay current with which categories of spending earn the whopping 5% cash back each quarter on spending up to $1,500 — and you have to remember to activate those categories every three months to be eligible. But if you’re willing to play the game, the cash-back rates are stunning.

We love the unusual first-year bonus of the Discover it® Cash Back, especially for big spenders. But in the end, we think the Chase Freedom Flex℠ packs more value. It offers a better sign-up bonus and more reward and redemption options.

Here's how to decide which is right for you.

How they compare at a glance

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Discover it® Cash Back

Annual fee

$0

$0

Sign-up bonus

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, for new cardholders only, earn 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending.

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. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

Rewards

  • 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories up to $1,500 in spending.

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

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

  • 3% back on drugstore purchases.

  • 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app for all cardholders through March 31, 2022.

  • 1% on all other purchases.

  • 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories up to $1,500 in spending.

  • 1% on all other purchases.

APR

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

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

Foreign transaction fee

3%

None.

Why Chase Freedom Flex℠ wins

Rewards

Both cards offer 5% cash back in categories that change every three months and that you don’t control (they're determined by Chase and Discover). You must activate the categories, and spending is capped at $1,500 per quarter for earning the bonus cash. So it’s hard to say which card’s categories will fit your spending better.

But rewards on the Chase Freedom Flex℠ go beyond rotating categories. It has bonus categories you can count on year in and year out. You’ll also earn:

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

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

  • 3% back on drugstore purchases.

  • For all cardholders, through March 31, 2022, 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app.

  • 1% on all other purchases.

That gives you plenty of opportunities to earn cash back beyond the usual 1%.

Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Flex℠* bonus rewards categories for 2020

Q1 (Jan. 1 - March 31)

• Gas stations. • Select streaming services. • Internet, cable and phone services.

Q2 (April 1 - June 30)

• Grocery stores. • Gym memberships and fitness clubs. • Select streaming services.

Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)

• Amazon.com. • Whole Foods Market.

Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)

• Walmart. • PayPal.

*The Chase Freedom Flex℠ was introduced in mid-September 2020, so the first bonus categories that apply to the card for a full quarter are those for Q4.

Discover bonus rewards categories for 2020

Q1 (Jan. 1 – March 31)

• Grocery stores. • CVS. • Walgreens.

Q2 (April 1 – June 30)

• Gas stations. • Uber and Lyft. • Wholesale clubs. • June only: Home Depot.

Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)

• Restaurants. • PayPal.

Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)

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

Nerd tip: If you get one of these cards, bookmark our page so you know the bonus categories for your card. We update the page as soon as categories are announced.

Sign-up bonus

The new-cardholder bonus on the Discover it® Cash Back is a sweet deal, especially for big spenders who can be patient for a year before collecting it:

  • 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. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

But for most people, the total value — and immediacy — of the sign-up bonus is even better on the Chase Freedom Flex℠:

  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, for new cardholders only, earn 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending. (Target and Walmart don't qualify, but grocery delivery services like Instacart, Shipt and Peapod do.)

All told, that's a potential bonus of $800 just from a sign-up incentive. That’s extremely high for a cash-back credit card.

Redemption options

Cash back is the best option for redeeming rewards with the Discover it® Cash Back.

But the Chase Freedom Flex℠ gives you room to get creative.

Its Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are worth 1 cent apiece as cash back, but several Chase cards give you a way to redeem them for 25% to 50% more. By transferring points from the Chase Freedom Flex℠ to one of these other cards, you can supercharge your rewards:

Points on these cards can also be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to about a dozen hotel and airline loyalty programs, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, British Airways, Marriott and Hyatt. Depending on how you use transferred points, that could get you even higher value.

Check out NerdWallet's tool to pre-qualify for Chase credit cards.


Why you might want the Discover it® Cash Back

Less complexity

The Discover it® Cash Back is not a simple card. But it is compared to the Chase Freedom Flex℠, which has rotating, temporary and permanent spending categories. It takes even more effort to optimize spending on that card.

Better rate for non-bonus spending in year No. 1

For spending that falls outside of bonus categories, you’ll earn a meager 1% with each card. But because of the first-year bonus on the Discover it® Cash Back, that’s effectively doubled.

That means you earn a total of 2% back on spending outside the typical bonus categories — think medical bills, lawn service or furnace repair. That’s an excellent rate for the “everything else” category of spending during the first year.

Potential tie-breakers

If these cards are still running neck-and-neck in your mind, here are a few minor points of distinction.

Favors the Chase Freedom Flex℠:

Flexible activation. With the Chase Freedom Flex℠, you can earn rewards retroactively if you activate the categories by the 14th of the third month of the quarter. The Discover it® Cash Back requires you to activate your higher rewards before you start earning them. "Activate" means using the app or website to click a button.

Acceptance abroad. As a Mastercard, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ will be accepted at more places outside the U.S. than the Discover it® Cash Back, which runs on the Discover payment network. And since it's a Mastercard World Elite product, you'll also get side perks like cell phone insurance and special deals through Fandango, Boxed and more.

Favors the Discover it® Cash Back:

Bonus category announcements. As of this writing, Discover announces all its bonus categories for the year at once, potentially allowing you to be more strategic in planning your spending to capture the 5% cash back. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ announces categories a couple of weeks before the quarter begins.

0% APR period. Introductory APR periods can change. Here are the current ones:

  • Chase Freedom Flex℠: 0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR.

  • Discover it® Cash Back: 0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR. (Note: Includes a 0% APR period on purchases and balance transfers.)

Foreign exchange fees. None on the Discover it® Cash Back. It’s 3% on the Chase Freedom Flex℠. (But, again, international acceptance may be an issue with Discover.)

If you want to add more cash-back cards to your research, see NerdWallet’s picks for the best cash-back credit cards.

Which card should you get?

The Discover it® Cash Back has long been a favorite among cash-back cards for its potential to earn 5% back in rotating spending categories. And it boasts a potentially lucrative offer for new cardholders to double their rewards.

But we think the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is better for most people looking at these types of cards because of its array of bonus categories, huge sign-up bonus and flexibility for redeeming rewards.

If you don’t mind juggling rewards cards, it’s not crazy to get both cards. After all, they both have an annual fee of $0. You might find their 5% rotating categories complementary. And for the first year, you can use both cards for their bonus categories and the Discover it® Cash Back as the “everything else” card as you take advantage of its unique sign-up bonus.

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