How to Get the Most Out of the Discover it Cash Back Card

If you plan your spending accordingly, the card’s rotating 5% categories can put lucrative cash-back earning power in your wallet.
Funto Omojola
Virginia C. McGuire
By Virginia C. McGuire and  Funto Omojola 
How to Make the Most of the Discover it Card

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The Discover it® Cash Back card is a valuable option for those who don't want a set-it-and-forget-it cash-back card, but instead enjoy maximizing their rewards.

Discover it® Cash Back
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The $0-annual fee card earns 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories, on up to $1,500 in combined spending per quarter. All other spending, including purchases in the bonus categories above the quarterly cap, earns 1% back.

Making the most of the card’s elevated rewards means keeping track of and activating new bonus categories when they rotate. Here’s how to maximize your rewards with the card.

Take advantage of the potentially rich sign-up bonus

The card features a unique sign-up bonus for new cardholders, which Discover phrases this way: "INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match for all new cardmembers – 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."

This means that whatever cash back you earn will be automatically doubled at the end of your first 12 months of having the card.

Aim to align spending with bonus categories

For a few years, Discover was announcing an entire year's worth of 5% categories ahead of time, so you could strategically plan your spending. However, it has gone back to revealing the categories a quarter at a time. You can see Discover categories going all the way back to 2014 here, which can give you a sense of what's been available (although there's no guarantee that a category from the past will return). Bonus categories have historically included popular spending areas like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and more. The current categories:

Discover bonus rewards categories for 2024

Q1 (Jan. 1–March 31)

  • Restaurants.

  • Drugstores.

Q2 (April 1–June 30)

  • Gas stations/EV charging stations.

  • Home improvement stores.

  • Public transit.

Q3 (July 1–Sept. 30)

  • Grocery stores.

  • Walmart.

Q4 (Oct. 1–Dec. 31)

  • TBD (In 2023: Amazon, Target).

Categories are typically announced about a month before the quarter starts, which might give you a chance to put off some spending so that it nets you 5% rather than 1%.

Of course, some expenses can be delayed until the bonus category period while others cannot. For instance, you may be able to put off a non-pressing home improvement project for a month when you can earn elevated rewards for related spending. But you’ll still need to fill your gas tank regardless of whether that’s a current bonus category.

If you're nearing the end of the quarter and you haven't reached the $1,500 spending cap, you can also consider buying a gift certificate at an in-category store where you frequently shop, which can be useful even after the quarter has ended.

Activate bonus categories

You’ll only be able to earn the card’s elevated rewards once cash-back categories have been activated online. This means that while you can opt in any time before the quarter ends, you'll only get 5% back starting from the date you sign up.

If you're likely to forget, consider setting a reminder for the start of each new quarter — Jan. 1, April 1, July 1 and Oct. 1 — so that you can take advantage of bonus cash back for the entire quarter.

Don't overspend on bonus categories

Avoid breaking the budget just for a little extra cash back in your rewards account. Instead, consider maximizing your Discover it® Cash Back rewards on things you would've spent money on anyway.

Pair the Discover it® Cash Back with another card

Keeping track of this card’s rotating bonus categories requires some effort. But if you’re able to manage multiple cards at once, it can be valuable to pair the Discover it® Cash Back with another card. Here are a few options.

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

Wells Fargo Active Cash Card
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Consider coupling the Discover it® Cash Back with an easy-to-use flat-rate card that earns a fixed rewards rate regardless of what you purchase. This way, you’ll also be able to earn an elevated rewards rate on everyday purchases not included among Discover’s 5% bonus categories.

The $0-annual-fee Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, for instance, pays an unlimited 2% back on all purchases.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
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If you spend consistently in one area like travel, for instance, you might want to also carry a card that will reward you for travel-related spending year-round.

For example, in addition to bonus rewards for various other spending, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card pays 5 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points per $1 spent on all travel purchased through Chase and 2 points per $1 spent on travel not booked through Chase — available all year and with no cap. The card charges an annual fee of $95.

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom Flex
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If you’re a super rewards maximizer who has no trouble keeping track of numerous spending categories, carrying two rotating bonus category card’s might have its advantages. If you have both the Discover it® Cash Back and the Chase Freedom Flex℠, for instance, that increases the chances that there will be an active 5% rewards category in one of your largest budget areas at any given time.

The $0-annual-fee Chase Freedom Flex℠ also features 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories on up to $1,500 in combined quarterly spending (activation required). It also earns 5% on travel booked through Chase, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other non-bonus-category purchases.

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