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One of the best ways out there to rack up bonus points on specific spending categories is with the Chase Freedom Visa and Freedom Mastercard’s quarterly rotating categories of merchants and retailers where cardholders earn 5 points per $1 up to a $1,500 quarterly cap. If you maximize the $6,000 in yearly spend, you are looking at 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which may not seem like a ton, but it’s pretty awesome for a card that has no annual fee. Normally 30,000 Freedom Ultimate Rewards points equal $300 in cash-back, but I value them at about $600, since I can transfer them to my Sapphire Preferred and Ink Ultimate Rewards accounts and then transfer on to partners like United, Southwest and Hyatt.
The current categories for Quarter 4 of 2012 are airline tickets, hotels, Best Buy and Kohl’s. If you haven’t activated your card for the bonuses yet, you have until December 14, 2012 to do so. Per the FAQ, Chase will retroactively credit you with the bonus points on your Q4 category spending so far and you still have two weeks to max it out while getting ahead on your holiday travel plans or gift shopping.
Plus, the 2013 bonus spending categories for all four quarters have been announced and are:
Quarter 1: January – March
Activate starting December 15, 2012
Quarter 2: April – June
Activate starting March 15, 2013
Quarter 3: July-September
Activate starting June 15, 2013
Quarter 4: October – December
Select Department Stores
Activate starting September 15, 2013
Remember to activate your card for the 2013 Q1 bonuses starting December 15 – if you don’t want to forget, you can have Chase send you a reminder by email or text.
Which Card to Use?
I always recommend planning your spend ahead of time to spend where you aren’t already getting bonus points so in Q1, I already get 2.14 points per dollar at Starbucks using my Sapphire Preferred (or for purchases under $10 I use my Freedom with Exclusives and get a 10 point per transaction bonus and 10% bonus on points). I also already get 2x points on gas by using either my Ink Bold / Plus or Amex Premier Rewards Gold cards so I’ll probably aim to spend mostly at drug stores and either get reimbursed through my Flexible Savings Account or try to purchase Vanilla Reloads to load into my Bluebird account.
If you don’t have a Bluebird card, or can’t use your Freedom to purchase them, you can use it to buy other gift or prepaid/reloadable cards at drugstores as well, then use those cards to make your everyday purchases since it’s better to earn 5x points on the gift card purchase than just the 1 point per $1 you’d earn by just using your Freedom card at non-bonus merchants.
Freedom, Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold/Plus Combo
If you just have the Freedom card, those points are just good toward cash back, but remember, if you also have a Sapphire Preferred or either the Ink Bold with Ultimate Reward or Ink Plus cards, the Ultimate Reward points you earn with your Freedom card can be transferred to United, British Airways, Southwest, Korean, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club and Amtrak. I personally find United miles to be the most valuable transfer partner since their award thresholds are pretty low, they have generous routing rules and fees are dirt cheap. Earning 5 United miles for every dollar spent is a pretty amazing deal for a card that has no annual fee.