It’s here: Discover’s 2021 cash-back calendar for rotating categories

Nov 1, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. This page includes information about Discover cards that is not currently available on The Points Guy and may be out of date.

There is a lot to love about rotating category credit cards. When you maximize the categories offered each quarter, you can rake in an impressive amount of cash back each year — and oftentimes, the categories offered aren’t common across other top credit cards.

Discover just released its 2021 cash back calendar for its Discover it Cash Back cards to help new and prospective cardholders plan ahead for the new year. Overall, the categories follow a similar pattern to previous years, but with a new addition to the lineup.

Here’s a quick look at the 2021 Discover cash back calendar:

  • Q1 January–March: grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS
  • Q2 April–June: Gas stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services
  • Q3 July–September: Restaurants and PayPal
  • Q4 October–December: Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com

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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.

New streaming services category

Streaming services is a new bonus category that many Discover it Cash Back cardholders will likely be able to utilize. The eligible list of services is impressive, and more comprehensive than a lot of credit card issuers offer across streaming services categories:

  • Apple Music
  • Apple TV+
  • AT&T TV Now
  • BET+
  • CBS All Access
  • DAZN
  • Disney +
  • ESPN+
  • Fubo TV
  • Google Play Movies & TV
  • HBO Max
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • Pandora
  • Philo
  • Peacock TV
  • Showtime
  • Sirius XM
  • Starz
  • Sling
  • Spotify
  • Vudu
  • YouTube TV.

“Our focus is on the cardmember and the 5% Cashback Bonus program provides great value to cardmembers for everyday spending, across categories, throughout the year,” said Meera Sridharan, VP of rewards and product strategy at Discover. “The pandemic is changing consumer spending habits, and more people are spending time at home, which is why we’ve added more than 20 TV and music streaming services to the Second Quarter.”

Related: Best cards for streaming services 

Earning potential on the Discover it Cash Back

If you max out the bonus category each quarter, you could be taking home an additional $75 per quarter and $300 a year — not too shabby. Even better, if you don’t currently have a Discover it Cash Back and sign up for one now, Discover will match all the cash back you earn in a 12-month period at the end of your first year of having the card.

That ultimately adds up to a potential of 10% back on the bonus categories, meaning up to $600 in cash back. That’s pretty great for a no-annual-fee cash-back credit card, and Discover also makes it pretty easy to redeem your cash-back.

However, note that you must enroll each quarter and can only earn 5% in each quarter up to $1,500 in purchases. After that, you’ll earn 1% back on all purchases. Also, you must enroll each quarter before making any transactions — unlike the Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants) and new Chase Freedom Flex, you can’t do it retroactively after you’ve made the purchase and still have it earn 5% (up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter).

The information for the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Flex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Previous Discover it cash-back categories

For reference, here are the previous Discover it Cash Back quarterly categories, going back to 2017:

Year/Quarter Bonus Categories
2020 – Q1 Grocery stores, Walgreens and CVS
2020 – Q2 Gas stations, Uber, Lyft and wholesale clubs. The Home Depot (June only)
2020 – Q3 Restaurants and PayPal
2020 – Q4 Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com
2019 – Q1 Grocery stores
2019 – Q2 Gas stations, Uber and Lyft
2019 – Q3 Restaurants
2019 – Q4 Amazon.com
2018 – Q1 Gas stations and wholesale clubs
2018 – Q2 Grocery stores
2018 – Q3 Restaurants
2018 – Q4 Amazon.com and wholesale clubs
2017 – Q1 Gas stations, ground transportation, wholesale clubs
2017 – Q2 Home improvement stores, wholesale clubs
2017 – Q3 Restaurants
2017 – Q4 Amazon.com, Target

Other card options

If you’re interested in other cards with rotating bonus categories, the Chase Freedom Flex mentioned above offers 5% back (up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter you activate) in a similar fashion to the Discover it Cash Back, in addition to other bonus categories including 5% on eligible travel booked through Chase and 3% on dining and drugstores. Additionally, if you have an Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can convert cash back earned with the Freedom card into Ultimate Rewards points, making the Chase Freedom Flex a powerful companion card.

Related: Best cash back credit cards 

Bottom line

If you have the Discover it Cash Back card, make sure you mark down these dates so you can remember to activate your cash back categories each quarter. You don’t want to accidentally miss out on rewards. Of course, you can also subscribe to the TPG newsletter, where we send out a reminder to activate your rotating bonus categories each quarter.

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson and Chris Dong. 

Featured photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing/Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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