You are oftentimes in great shape if you have three 5’s in a game of poker. However, three 5’s in the points and miles world could come in the form of 5% rotating category cards. And like having three of a kind, having a 5% card in your wallet can put you in great shape to earn rewards. The Chase Freedom Flex, Discover It, and US Bank Cash + cards are three popular cards with this special earning structure.
Both the Chase Freedom Flex and US Bank Cash + have traditional sign-up bonuses that are also easy to earn. You will earn $150 after spending just $500 in the first three months with the Cash +. But you will earn $200 after spending $500 in the first three months with the Freedom Flex.
While the US Bank Cash + earns straight cash back, the Chase Freedom Flex gives you the chance to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. But you need to have a premium Chase card (either Chase Sapphire Card or the Chase Ink Business Preferred). The Freedom’s sign up bonus is worth 20,000 UR points if you have either of these cards.
Conversely, the Discover It does not have a traditional sign-up bonus. Instead, Discover will double the amount of cash back earned after keeping the card for one year. Heavier spenders are better off with the Discover It than the US Bank Cash + for the first year. This is because the total sign-up bonus could be upwards of $500 if you maximize most of the 5% categories.
The Freedom Flex wins if you prefer straight cash back and a traditional bonus. And it still wins if you want to collect UR points for travel. Discover wins if you want cash back and you’re a heavier spender.
All three cards have the same earning structure at the surface. However, each card has its own twist on earning 5%.
The Chase Freedom Flex earns 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories without having a premium Chase card. Otherwise, it earns 5x UR points. Chase reveals its categories two weeks before the start of a new quarter. This can be difficult for those who want to plan for earning rewards.
Furthermore, the Freedom Flex earns 5% on Travel from the Chase Travel Portal. It also earns 3% on Dining and Pharmacy purchases and 1% on non-bonus expenses.
The Discover It is the most traditional of the three cards. It earns 5% cash back in predetermined categories. However, Discover releases its categories for all four quarters of the next calendar year every November 1. They also open applications for the next quarter’s categories two months before the quarter begins. This is more than ample time for most people to apply.
The US Bank Cash + is a little different from the other two cards. US Bank lets you choose two 5% categories each quarter from a list. The Cash + card also earns you an unlimited 2% cash back from your choice of gas stations, restaurants, or grocery stores.
All three cards have quarterly spending maximums for the rotating categories. It’s $1,500 for the Chase Freedom and Discover It. While the US Bank Cash + has a higher $2,000 limit. These limits also mean that you have a maximum possible earning potential for each card. Those potentials are $75 (or 7,500 UR points) for Chase, $75 for Discover, and $100 for US Bank.
The winner here depends on the rewards you want to earn, the cards you already have, and how useful the categories are to you. Obviously, the Freedom Flex wins if you want to earn UR points for travel and have some non-rotating categories too. The Discover It wins if you can use its categories. And the Cash + wins if you want the ability to choose your categories to fit in with your other cards.
The Discover It lets you redeem in a multitude of ways. You can redeem for a statement credit, deposit into any bank account, charitable donations, or discounted gift cards. My favorite redemption method for Discover is to deposit the cash into an investment account of your choice.
The US Bank Cash + lets you redeem for a statement credit, a US Bank Rewards gift card, or a deposit into a bank account with US Bank. This card is the least flexible for redemption options. However, the options given are simple and typical for a cash back card.
The Chase Freedom Flex is different from the others in terms of redemption options. You can redeem for gift cards or cash into your Chase bank account if you don’t have a premium Chase card. Otherwise, you can transfer your points to one of those accounts and then to any of Chase’s travel partners.
The Chase Freedom Flex wins for travelers while the Discover It wins for cash back lovers who want flexible options.
Credit Limit and Income
The Discover It wins these special categories as it’s the easiest of the bunch to get. Discover likes to help those with thin credit files build their credit. And they do so by approving those with lower credit scores and incomes. Discover also a student version of the It card, which has even lower underwriting standards for college students.
However, the Chase Freedom Flex and US Bank Cash + are great options for a second credit card. Once you have a solid credit history and a decent income, your chances for approval for either of these cards greatly improves. This is especially important for travelers who want to build a credit foundation and history before getting approved for bigger travel cards.
Points of Indifference: Perks and Annual Fees
None of these cards have special perks or annual fees because they’re Tier II cards. This category is a three-way tie. However, the Chase Freedom Flex could act as a secondary card if you have a premium Chase card. Any of those cards have better perks than the 5% cards.
The Chase Freedom Flex, Discover It, and US Bank Cash + are three excellent 5% rotating category cards. But they each have strengths and weaknesses.
The Chase Freedom Flex is the best card for travelers and those with at least one premium Chase card. This is because Ultimate Rewards points are more valuable than cash back for travel.
However, the decision get more complicated if you want to earn cash back. The Discover It is best if you can use its categories. But those who have more cards will be better off with the US Bank Cash +. That’s because you can select your categories based on your other cards.
Consider the rewards you want to earn, the cards you already have, and how useful each card’s categories are to you. Your mileage may vary.