Note: Some of the offers mentioned below may have changed or are no longer be available. You can view current offers here.

Today is the first day to register your Chase Freedom to earn 5x Ultimate Rewards at restaurants and wholesale clubs this summer that you can transfer (circuitously) to United, Korean, British Airways, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Flying Blue, and Singapore miles.

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The Chase Freedom is different than the new Chase Freedom Unlimited card, which I reviewed here.

If you register by September 14, 2016, your Freedom purchases will earn 5x on the first $1,500 spent at restaurants and wholesale clubs from July 1 to September 30, 2016.

Wholesale clubs will be a 5x category the rest of the year to take advantage of the fact that Costco will accept only Visas from June 24, and Freedom is a Visa. Here are the other bonus categories for all of 2016:

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Although the chart says 5%, you actually earn 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar that can be redeemed for cash back at a rate of 1 cent each– that’s why all the marketing of the card features cash back language. BUT if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus card, there is a second way of redeeming the Ultimate Rewards: transfer them to your Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus account and from there to airline miles or hotel points. I call this the Freedom Two Step.
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Where You Can Earn 5x Ultimate Rewards From April Through June

You can find a list of example merchants that qualify/don’t qualify as a restaurant or wholesale club here.

All restaurants and bars should count.

Wholesale clubs are stores like Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club. Buying gas at any of these wholesale clubs that also have affiliated gas stations does not count.

Using Gift Cards to Maximize the Freedom’s Category Bonuses

To maximize the quarterly bonuses, you’ll need to spend $1,500 within each three month period. That would get you a total of 30,000 Ultimate Rewards over the course of a year:

($1,500 in purchases x 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar) x 4 quarters in a year = 30,000 Ultimate Rewards

If you’re only shopping for one it could be difficult to spend that much in restaurants and wholesale clubs within three months. But there is a work around that enables you to spread out that $1,500 of restaurant/wholesale club spending over the course of a more reasonable amount of time– gift cards.

Most restaurants and wholesale clubs chains offer gift cards that either don’t expire or have much longer periods of expiration than three months (the length of time this category bonus lasts).

For example, Costco Cash cards do not expire

Consider that you can also purchase gift cards from BJ’s, Sam’s Club or Costco to use at other vendors that don’t fit the category bonus definition. You could even purchase discounted gift cards, like these from BJ’s,  to stack the value of your savings at the same time!

The same practice of widening the time window you have to maximize category bonuses via gift cards could be applied to upcoming category bonuses as well. Amazon.com will likely be one of the merchants in the holiday shopping category as it was last year, and their gift cards do not expire. You could also distribute spending outside the holiday shopping category by buying gift cards for other businesses aside from Amazon, and stack savings by purchasing discounted gift cards.

How to Activate the Category Bonuses

Your Freedom card will not automatically start earning 5x Ultimate Rewards each time the quarter changes. You have to you register your card at chase.com to activate the category bonuses.

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The deadline to activate the 3rd Quarter Bonus is September 14, 2016. In case you forget to activate until later in the quarter, Chase will retroactively credit you the 5x Ultimate Rewards for every dollar spent since the first day of the quarter as long as it’s before the activation deadline.

Other Reasons to get the Chase Freedom

  • You’ll get $150 cash back or 15,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $500 in the first three months of opening the card
  • You’ll get $25 cash back or 2,500 Ultimate Rewards when you add an authorized user and make your first purchase within the first three months of opening the card
  • 1% Cash back or 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other spending with no limit
  • No Annual Fee

With no annual fee, It’s easy to see why this card is worth signing up for and keeping, to use whenever you’re not meeting minimum spending requirements for new cards. Everyday 1x spending aside, you can earn 47,500 Ultimate rewards just from the sign-up bonus, adding an authorized user, and maximizing the category bonuses each quarter for a year:

15,000 + 2,500 + 30,000 = 47,500

That’s either $475 cash back, or 47,500 Ultimate Rewards transferrable to seven types of airline miles or four different kinds hotel points if you also have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus you can complete the Freedom Two Step with.

What You Can Do with Your Ultimate Rewards if You Also have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus

As you can see, transfers offer the opportunity to do way better than 1 cent per Ultimate Reward.

If you are planning on opening the Chase Freedom card and don’t already have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus card, you should consider opening one or the other to expand your Ultimate Rewards redemption possibilities. Not to mention the current sign-up bonus offers of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards for the Sapphire Preferred and 60,000 Ultimate Rewards for the Ink Plus — talk about expanding redemption possibilities!

Bottom Line

For purchases on the Chase Freedom card in restaurants or wholesale clubs July 1 through September 30, you will earn 5% cash back. Through maximizing the category bonuses for a year coupled with the sign-up and added authorized user bonuses, you can get $475 cash back. If you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus card, you can get 47,500 airline miles instead of the $475 cash back.

Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 80,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months and 2x points earned on dining and travel spend, this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!


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