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There are plenty of cash-back credit cards on the market, with some earning a flat rewards rate on all purchases and others that offer a bonus in popular categories. A handful of cards, including the Discover it® Cash Back and Chase Freedom Flex℠, take a slightly different approach, with rotating bonus categories that change every three months.
The Discover it® Cash Back earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined spending each quarter in rotating categories once you activate (from April to June 30, 2021, you can earn 5% cash back at gas stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services on up to $1,500 in purchases after enrollment, then 1%). Similarly, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ also earns 5% back (5x Ultimate Rewards points) in quarterly rotating categories, on up to $1,500 in spending after activation (then 1x).
At first glance, these cards might seem almost identical, but there are significant differences that could be a big factor in deciding which is best for you. Of course, there’s no reason why you can’t have both, and doing so is actually a good strategy for maximizing rewards on a wider range of everyday expenses (although very occasionally, the cards’ quarterly bonus categories overlap). Plus, neither card charges an annual fee, so yearly cost isn’t an issue.
Here’s what to know to help decide whether the Discover it® Cash Back or Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a better fit for your wallet.
11.99% – 22.99% Variable
0% intro APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers
Comparison: Discover it Cash Back vs Chase Freedom Flex
If you’re looking to earn an immediate return without meeting a huge minimum spending requirement, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a better choice, with a welcome offer of $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Though it’s marketed as a cash-back card, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ actually earns rewards in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, so $200 cash back is actually 20,000 points (more on that in a bit).
Read more: Chase Freedom Flex card review
The Discover it® Cash Back doesn’t come with a standard welcome bonus. Instead, through its Cashback Match program, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of the first year. While you’ll forego an upfront bonus, the Cashback Match program could actually be a lot more lucrative depending on how much use the card.
For example, if, in the first year, you earned $500 in cash back from your regular spending on the Discover it® Cash Back, Discover would match that amount for a total of $1,000 in cash back the first year.
Read more: Discover it Cash Back card review
On the surface, both cards appear similar. The Discover it® Cash Back offers 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined rotating quarterly category spending (then 1% back) after you activate the bonus (from April to June 30, 2021, you can earn 5% cash back at gas stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services on up to $1,500 in purchases after enrollment, then 1%). All other purchases earn a straight 1% cash back.
Discover makes it easy to plan a credit card rewards strategy because, late each year, it reveals its cash back categories for the entire following year.
Read more: Discover cash back calendar 2021: Earn cash back in rotating bonus categories like dining, gas, and Amazon
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ (and legacy Chase Freedom®
, which isn’t available to new applicants anymore) 5x calendar is a little trickier to predict, because Chase only releases new bonus categories a couple of weeks before the start of a new quarter. For example, for Q3 2021 (July through September), the Chase Freedom Flex℠ bonus categories are grocery stores and select streaming services, but we don’t yet know what’s in store for Q4.
Read more: The Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom 5% bonus categories for Q3 2021 are grocery stores and select streaming services
After activating the bonus, Chase Freedom Flex℠ cardholders can earn 5% back (5x points) on up to $1,500 in combined spending each quarter (then 1x). However, there are other earning categories offered by the Chase Freedom Flex℠ that stay the same throughout the year — and none of these are capped:
- 5x points (5% cash back) on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal
- 5x points (5% cash back) on Lyft purchases through March 2022
- 3x points (3% cash back) on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services)
- 3x points (3% cash back) at drugstores
You’ll earn 1% cash back (1x points) on everything else.
If you spend a lot at restaurants and drugstores, earning 3x points on those purchases with the Chase Freedom Flex℠ can add up very quickly — and you’ll do even better if you book your flights, hotels, and rental cars through the Chase portal to earn 5x points. For this reason, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ has an advantage over the Discover it® Cash Back, which only earns 1% on everything (outside of its quarterly categories, up to limits).
14.99% – 23.74%
Good to Excellent
$200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
0% for the first 15 billing cycles
The Discover it® Cash Back is purely a cash-back card, and your redemption options are straightforward. Cardholders can redeem rewards, in most cases for any amount, toward:
- An account statement credit (to lower your balance)
- Direct deposit to your bank account
- Check out at Amazon or PayPal
- Donations to select charities
- Gift cards or eCertificates from partner retailers (starting at $5)
Things aren’t as simple with the Chase Freedom Flex℠, but that’s a good thing if you want more ways to use points. As mentioned, the card earns rewards in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can redeem for cash back at a rate of 1 cent apiece. But you’ve also got these redemption options:
- Gift cards (1 cent per point)
- Airfare, hotels, car rentals, and more through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal (1 cent per point)
- Apple purchases (1 cent per point)
- Pay Yourself Back (more than 1 cent per point, categories and value vary)
- Amazon purchases (0.8 cents per point)
Read more: How to earn, redeem, and maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards points
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ becomes even more valuable if you have certain other Chase cards in your arsenal, because you can combine points between your accounts. For example, if you have the the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, you’ll get the ability to transfer points to Chase’s airline and hotel partners. You’ll also have more ways to redeem points through Chase’s Pay Yourself Back program, and when you book travel through the Chase Travel Portal, your points have a higher value.
In fact, pairing a Freedom card with one of the Chase travel cards mentioned above is one of the best ways to increase the value of your Ultimate Rewards points and maximize your rewards.
Benefits and features
Between the Discover it® Cash Back and Chase Freedom Flex℠, one card is a clear winner when it comes to extra perks.
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ comes with a broad range of travel and shopping protections — including select World Elite Mastercard benefits — that you don’t often see on a no-annual-fee card.
In comparison, the Discover it® Cash Back doesn’t come with any flashy benefits. Cardholders receive a few perks that come standard with many cards, including access to a free FICO score and the ability to freeze their account in the event they misplace their card or suspect fraudulent use.
One advantage the Discover it® Cash Back has over the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is fees. If you travel abroad, the Discover it® Cash Back is a better choice, because it doesn’t add foreign transaction fees (the Chase Freedom Flex℠ adds a 3% fee to international purchases). The Discover it® Cash Back also waives the late payment fee for your first late payment (but afterward charges up to $40).
Read more: The best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Both cards come with an introductory 0% APR offer, but the Discover it® Cash Back is a little more generous in its scope. New Discover it® Cash Back cardholders receive a 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months, followed by a 11.99% – 22.99% Variable APR.
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ 0% APR offer is slightly longer — 15 months — but it only applies to purchases, not balance transfers. After 15 months, a 14.99% – 23.74% variable APR applies.
If you have to choose just one card, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a better pick for most people. It’s got a solid welcome offer and more bonus categories and opportunities to redeem rewards — plus the option to combine points with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards. And it offers excellent benefits for a no-annual-fee card which can save you a lot of money.
Read more: Almost anyone can benefit from the Chase Freedom Flex card, but it’s an especially good option if you want to maximize rewards with no annual fee
However, if you’ll spend a lot on your card, the Cashback Match offered by the Discover it® Cash Back has the potential to generate more rewards in the first year. The card is also a better fit if you’ll travel internationally because it doesn’t add foreign transaction fees — and if you’re looking for a 0% intro APR on balance transfers (not just purchases), the Discover it® Cash Back has an edge.
Jasmin Baron is an associate editor at Personal Finance Insider, where she helps readers maximize rewards and find the best credit cards to fit their lifestyles. She has covered credit cards, points and miles, and loyalty programs for over seven years, and she’s a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF).
Good to Excellent
3 Free Nights (valued up to 50,000 points each) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus 10x total points per $1 spent on up to $2,500 in combined purchases in select categories within your first 6 months
Good to Excellent
$200 after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening
Good to Excellent