How to activate your Q1 bonus category & earn 5% cash back

By Kevin Cash

The beginning of January means the beginning of the first quarter of 2017. If you have a credit card with a rotating 5% bonus, the first quarter also means a new set of bonus categories. To earn points on those categories, you’ll need to opt in.

For the unacquainted, 5% bonus cards offer 5% cashback on a handful of categories that change each quarter. (Most technically offer 1% on all purchases with a 4% bonus on the designated categories.) To actually earn a bonus on these categories, though, the cardholder must go to their issuer’s website and opt in, usually by clicking a button that says “activate” or something similar. If you don’t, you’ll earn 1% cashback where you could be earning 5%.

Here’s what some of the most popular bonus cards have in store for the first quarter.

Discover It: Gas stations, wholesale clubs and ground transportation

This quarter the Discover It will be offering 5% cashback at gas stations and wholesale clubs, as well as on ground transportation (up to $1,500 in purchases). Here’s a breakdown of each category.

Gas stations: Gas stations in this context refers to stand-alone gas stations. Gas stations affiliated with supermarkets or wholesale clubs may be excluded. So, if you want to be safe, make sure the gas station you swipe at isn’t tied to another business.

Ground transportation: Discover’s definition of ground transportation here includes local and suburban commuter transportation such as: ferries, passenger railways, taxis, limousines, rental cars and charter/ tour bus lines. The issuer specifies that ground transportation booked through travel agencies or travel aggregator sites are not be eligible for the bonus.

Wholesale clubs: There aren’t any stipulations on this category, though Discover recommends checking with your wholesale club first to make sure their cards are accepted. (Costco, for example, only takes Visa.)

Cardholders will earn the 5% bonus on up to $1,500 in spending each quarter, with 1% cashback thereafter. Discover also — oddly — notes that “purchases made using tap-and-pay, mobile or wireless card readers, virtual wallets or similar technology may not be eligible” for any bonus. So earning the bonus may require an old-fashioned swipe or dip of the card.

Find out more about the Discover It here.

Chase Freedom: Gas stations and local commuter transportation

The Chase Freedom comes with a bonus offering similar to the Discover It’s this quarter: 5% cashback at gas stations and on local commuter transportation.

Gas stations: The Chase Freedom’s bonus excludes spending at “merchants that do not specialize in selling automotive gasoline.” More specifically, the bonus does not include truck stops, boat marinas, oil and propane distributors and home heating companies.

Local commuter transportation: This category includes taxis, subways, local commuter buses and trains. Cardholders will not earn a bonus on parking, tolls and Amtrak purchases.

The Chase Freedom will continue to earn the 5% bonus on combined purchases up to $1,500 each quarter. Beyond that, your card will earn 1%. For a better understanding on which specific retailers earn a bonus, check out Chase’s list of example qualifying retailers.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card: Large mix of categories

The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card is distinct from the cards above in that it allows cardholders to choose two 5% categories and one 2% category each quarter. The category options are fixed throughout the year, but every quarter cardholders must log into their card accounts and choose which categories they would like to earn the bonuses on. Otherwise, the card defaults to 1% cashback on all purchases.

2% categories: pick one of these

  • Gas stations

  • Restaurants

  • Grocery stores

5% categories: pick two of these

  • Select clothing stores

  • Cell phones

  • Electronics stores

  • Car rentals

  • Gyms/ fitness centers

  • Bookstores

  • Fast food

  • Charity

  • Sporting goods stores

  • Department stores

  • Furniture stores

  • Movie theaters

While the 2% bonus is unlimited, 5% bonus spending is capped at $2,000 in spending each quarter. All other purchases earn a flat 1% cashback. Find out more from U.S. Bank.

Kevin Cash is a freelance writer for Self Lender and former staff writer for NerdWallet, where he covered topics revolving around credit and credit cards.

Written on January 10, 2017

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