Credit card showdown: Chase Freedom Flex vs. Discover it Cash Back
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It’s easy to focus on premium travel rewards credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card® from American Express , thanks to outsized benefits including annual travel statement credits and worldwide airport lounge access. But don’t forget about solid rewards cards with more modest perks and no annual fees, including the Chase Freedom Flex and Discover it® Cash Back.
The information for the Discover it Cash Back has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Not only are they usually better choices for people just starting to build their credit, but these popular cash-back cards also offer some great earning opportunities, a solid rate of return on everyday spending and 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for folks who need a little flexibility.
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These two cards, in particular, are worth comparing thanks to their (very) similar earning structures and other perks. Here’s a snapshot of how the two stack up.
|Chase Freedom Flex||Discover it® Cash Back|
|Sign-up bonus||$200 cash back after $500 in three months from account opening
0% intro APR on purchases & balance transfers for 15 months
|Double cash back on all purchases during the first year
0% intro APR on purchases & balance transfers for 14 months
|Earning||5x on up to $1,500 quarterly rotating categories
5x on Lyft (until March 2022)
1x on everything else
|5% on up to $1,500 quarterly rotating categories
1x on everything else
|Redeeming||Cash back or combine with other Ultimate Rewards accounts for transfers||Cash back only, 1 cent per point|
|Other benefits||Trip interruption/cancellation & delay coverage
Car rental insurance
Three months of DoorDash DashPass (activate by Dec. 31, 2021)
|No foreign transaction fees|
Now let’s get into the details and discuss whom each card might be best for.
There’s not much to talk about here – these are two of the most popular credit cards available with no annual fee. That makes opening an account and hanging onto your card year after year inexpensive and easy, which in turn can help you build your credit history and boost your credit score over time.
The two cards start to differ when it comes to the sign-up bonus.
The Chase Freedom Flex’s bonus is more traditional. You’ll earn $200 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. But the thing is, the $200 cash back comes in the form of 20,000 Chase points. If you only have the Freedom Flex, they are only redeemable in various cash-back forms.
The Freedom Flex is a better choice if you’re looking for a starter card and plan on getting bigger and better travel rewards cards down the line. For example, if you have a Chase card that earns transferable points (such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Ink Business Preferred), you can combine the points earned with the Freedom Flex with points from those other accounts. You’ll then unlock Chase’s 10 airline and three hotel transfer programs such as United, Southwest, Hyatt and Marriott. That brings the value of this sign-up bonus closer to $400 by TPG’s most recent estimates thanks to the added flexibility.
It’s also worth considering that the card also offers 0% APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then 14.99% – 23.74%.
On the contrary, the Discover it Cash Back has an interesting sign-up offer that can pay off in spades with a little strategy. For the first year your account is open, Discover will double all of the cash back you earn. We’ll discuss the rewards rates in the next section, but this essentially means you’ll earn 2% back on most purchases and a whopping 10% back on its quarterly bonus categories during the first year of card membership.
The Discover it® Cash Back card currently offers 0% APR for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers.
Winner: Chase Freedom Flex. Its simple-to-earn sign-up bonus, 5% on groceries for the first year and slightly longer 0% APR period might make it a little easier to maximize for most cardholders. There’s room to grow with this starter card with the potential to transfer over your points to other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards. Plus, you’ll get the sign-up bonus as soon as you meet the spending threshold, while you’ll have to wait until the end of the year to get your Discover it Cash Back’s bonus.
The two cards are extremely similar in terms of their earning rates — the Freedom Flex and the Discover it Cash Back are both “rotating bonus category cards.”
The Chase Freedom Flex earns 1% back (or 1 Ultimate Rewards point per dollar) on most purchases. Until March 2022, you’ll earn 5% back on Lyft rides — a useful perk if you use the rideshare service often.
However, each quarter, it offers 5% (or 5 points per dollar) back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases at rotating categories of merchants. You must activate each quarter in order to receive the 5% cash back. Let’s take a look at 2021’s calendar:
- January – March: Wholesale clubs, internet, cable and phone services and select streaming services
- April – June: Gas stations and home improvement stores
- July – September: Grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target) and select streaming services
- October – December: TBD
Chase releases the rotating categories quarter-by-quarter. But based on past years, you might also expect to see things like department stores, Amazon and purchases made through PayPal and Chase Pay. Just remember, you have to activate your card each quarter to earn the bonuses.
The Discover it Cash Back earns 1% cash back on most purchases but 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter at rotating merchant categories. Unlike Chase, Discover releases its categories at the beginning of each calendar year, allowing consumers to better predict their bonus points opportunities. Here are the 2021 categories:
- January – March: Grocery stores, Walgreens, CVS
- April – June: Gas stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services
- July – September: Restaurants and PayPal
- October – December: Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Target.com
Apart from registering and abiding by the quarterly restrictions, it’s easy to take advantage of either card’s bonus categories.
Winner: Discover it Cash Back. The card’s merchants are a bit broader than 2021, especially in the last quarter, with the online merchants that sell pretty much everything. Plus, Discover releases its calendar for the entire year at once, while you have to wait for Chase to release its categories each quarter. Overall, Discover makes it easier for you to strategize your cash-back earning potential.
Here’s where the two cards potentially diverge dramatically. The Discover it Cash Back card is a cash-back credit card, plain and simple. Each point you earn is worth 1 cent apiece toward statement credits on purchases, gift cards, charitable donations and deposits into a linked bank account.
Theoretically, the points you earn with the Chase Freedom Flex are also worth 1 cent apiece toward statement credits, travel booked through Chase, gift cards and direct deposits into linked U.S. bank accounts though slightly less for Amazon.com purchases and Chase Pay redemptions.
However, as mentioned earlier, if you have another card that earns transferable Ultimate Rewards points, you can combine the ones you earn with your Freedom Flex card with your other accounts that make them transferable to the Ultimate Rewards program’s airline and hotel transfer partners. It also means you are raising the value of your points on direct travel redemptions through the Chase portal. Instead of 1 cent per point, you can unlock 1.25-1.5 cents per point (depending on the other card you carry). That means you are potentially upping your rate of return by 25 to 50%.
Winner: Chase Freedom Flex. Although the Discover it Cash Back card has a solid and easily calculated rate of return, being able to get 25-50% more value from your points on travel redemptions or transfer to a number of different airline and hotel partners when carrying a higher-end Chase card means that cardholders with the Freedom Flex can open up a lot more opportunities for using their points.
Since it ended many of its travel and purchase protections in 2018, the Discover it Cash Back card falls short in this category compared to the Chase Freedom Flex.
There are two major advantages that the Discover it Cash Back has. This card has no foreign transaction fees, meaning you can take this card with you along your international travels without incurring pesky fees. However, it’s worth considering that many consumers have reported that Discover cards have a lower acceptance rate abroad than cards like Visa or Mastercard. Additionally, Discover it cardholders won’t pay a late fee on your first late payment if you can’t pay down your full balance in time.
By contrast, the Freedom Flex offers various value-added travel benefits that leave the Discover card in the dust. Its trip cancellation and interruption coverage is up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip. It also offers collision damage insurance on car rentals that is secondary in the U.S. (so you might have to invoke your personal insurance) but primary outside the country.
Finally, thanks to Chase’s new partnership with DoorDash, Freedom Flex cardholders are eligible for up to three months of free DashPass membership, which normally costs $9.99 per month and includes perks like waived delivery fees on orders of $12 or more.
Winner: Chase Freedom Flex, for its far broader list of perks. However, the downside is that this isn’t the best card for international travel as you’ll incur a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Given its easy-to-understand sign-up bonus, the added flexibility of point redemptions if you have another Chase Ultimate Rewards card and its decent purchase protections, the Chase Freedom Flex is a better choice for frequent travelers looking to boost their points balance.
However, if you’re just getting started with credit and looking for a no-frills, no-fee card with a great rate of return that won’t penalize you for a late payment while you’re getting started, the Discover it® Cash Back is also an excellent choice.
Application link: Chase Freedom Flex with $200 cash-back after spending $500 in three months from account opening.
Additional reporting by Eric Rosen.
Featured photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy.
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