Chase Freedom 5x Categories for 2013
How quickly a year goes by! Chase has just announced the 2013 bonus categories for their no-fee Freedom card. Each quarter, the Freedom gets 5% cash-back/5x Ultimate Rewards points at different categories, up to $1500 per quarter. That means that with $6,000 of precise spending, one can accumulate 30K Ultimate Rewards points.
The Freedom is a card that is a mainstay in my wallet, since it has no annual fee. I also got it long before the beginning of this month, when Chase stopped offering their “Exclusives” program, where Chase Checking holders get an extra 10% on base points and 10 points per transaction.
You can activate 5x on the bonus categories starting the 15th of the month before each quarter (so, December 15th, March 15th, June 15th, and September 15th) up until the next quarter’s activation start date. It’s best to activate 5x as soon as possible, though they are retroactive. Interestingly, I was part of a targeted group this year who got to activate 5x for the entire year all at once, though it doesn’t seem like I’ll get to do that next year.
I keep saying “5x Ultimate Rewards points,” which is a bit of a misnomer. The card is marketed as a cash-back card. Each point is worth a penny. However, if you or your spouse/domestic partner has a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, or Chase Ink Plus, you can transfer your Freedom UR points into those accounts to turn them into Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to United, British Airways, Hyatt, etc.
Here are the bonus categories for 2013:
January 1 – March 31: (activate December 15th – March 14th)
Starbucks (including Starbucks.com and mobile phone reloads)
The easiest way to maximize this quarter is to buy $1500 of Vanilla reloads at CVS or Walgreens, though I already have my Amex HHonors with 6x and my Chase Ink where I can buy gift cards at 5x to buy reloads. I go to Starbucks a decent amount and get 5x on my Citi Forward. For me, the best incremental category bonus here is gas stations, since the best I get is 2x on my Ink Bold. I’ll use it for gas, then top it off with drugstore purchases in March. (For Californians, Starbucks is an interesting proposition).
April 1 – June 30: (activate March 15th – June 14th)
I don’t spend a lot of time at movie theaters, so I guess restaurants are the way to go. I highly value Ultimate Rewards points, mostly for their partnership with United. My Citi Forward gets 5x Thank You Points at dining, which is worth 5 to 6.65 cents back per dollar, but that will be drawered when Freedom has 5x at restaurants, since Ultimate Rewards points are more flexible. In addition, some restaurants sell gift cards to their own places, including some of my local small-business restaurants.
July 1 – September 30: (activate June 15th – September 14th)
Gas stations return for the summer months, and while it might be hard to hit $1500 worth of gas, some places sell gift cards, allowing you to get 5x at other merchants. If you plan a trip to Kohl’s or to a theme park, the Freedom would be a great card to have, since not many cards offer more than 1x.
October 1 – December 31: (activate September 15th – December 31st)
Select department stores (yet to be announced)
Once they announce which department stores it’ll include, it’ll be easier to figure out how to maximize the 5x for this quarter. Again, my Citi Forward already gets 5x ThankYou Points for Amazon, so I might use my Freedom if I’m not going to spend a lot at the department stores listed. Though it is the holiday season, so department stores will be a heavy category for some.
Even if you do not spend a lot at those particular categories, you can always get gift cards for other places. You can get gift cards at gas stations in Q1/Q3, drugstores in Q1, and certain restaurants for their own cards in Q2. One disappointment is that there are no supermarket quarters at all — earlier this year, I was able to easily max out that quarter with gift card purchases.
Lastly, an interesting side-note — I pinged @ChaseSupport on Twitter from my personal account earlier this week to ask about next year’s Freedom 5x categories, and was told to wait a few more days. This morning, I had a DM with a personal message responding to my question a few days prior with the link to the categories. Now that’s how you do social media!