We’re quickly approaching the end of the third quarter (Q3) of the year. For people who have rotating rewards credit cards (we’re talking about Discover it®, Chase Freedom® and Citi Dividend), it’s time to squeeze in those last few purchases before the 5% cash back categories change soon. Luckily for you, we’ll show you to maximize that cash back before the quarter ends.

rotating rewards credit card image

First, lets review the 5% cash back categories that are available until Sept. 30, 2014, and their respective limits:

CardDiscover it®®Chase Freedom®Citi Dividend
5% cash back categoriesGas stationsGas stations and Kohl'sHilton hotels, car rental agencies, movies and theme parks
Quarterly limit$1,500 in spending in the above category$1,500 in spending in the above categoriesNone. ($300 cash back annual limit)
Enrollment deadlineSept. 30, 2014Sept. 14, 2014Sept. 30, 2014

With Discover it® and Chase Freedom®, the limits are $1,500 in spending in those categories when you sign up. That’s a maximum of $75 in bonus cash back earned on the special categories. For both cards, any spending in excess of that amount will earn the base 1% cash back.

Maximize your 5% cash back

If you haven’t reached your 5% cash back limits yet, there’s one way to squeeze out more cash back before the end of the quarter: gift cards.

Discover it® and Chase Freedom® cardholders can go to their local gas stations to buy gas gift cards for future use. Additionally, many convenience stores operated by gas companies are also vendors of retailer-branded gift cards (e.g., Amazon, Best Buy, etc.). These stores are often labeled as gas stations too.

Not sure if that convenience store is considered a gas station? Make a small purchase (like a candy bar) and then go online to check your recent transaction history. There will be a merchant category for each purchase. After verifying that the store is a “gas station,” pick up those gift cards for 5% cash back.

As long the purchases are made at a “gas station,” you’ll earn 5% cash back — it doesn’t matter what you bought.

Note: Many merchants are catching on to consumers who use gift cards to boost their rewards. Therefore, many stores may have adopted policies that minimize or prevent such behavior. You may encounter stores that limit the amount of gift card purchases with credit cards or forbid the purchase of gift cards entirely when using a credit card. The policies can vary from store to store, so you’ll have to look around.

For Citi Dividend cardholders, the the 5% cash back categories are less lucrative. If you happen to have planned a trip that requires a hotel stay and/or car rental, you can take advantage of the bonus cash back if you pay for those accommodations right now. For theme parks, you can purchase tickets now for later use (please double-check the valid dates!) or you can purchase season passes for 2015. And for movie theaters, you can pick up some gift cards and use them later.

The unique aspect of Citi Dividend is that your cash back limit is on an annual basis, instead of a quarterly basis. Therefore, you can absolutely pass on Q3’s 5% cash back categories and wait for better categories with which to hit your $300 annual cash back cap.

Remember to enroll

Do not use any of these cards to make a purchase under a 5% cash back category until you have enrolled! Each card requires you to sign up to earn that 5% cash back. Otherwise, those purchases only get 1% cash back.

Discover it®: You have until Sept. 30, 2014 to sign up for Q3 categories. You’ll see a prompt to enroll after you log into your online account.

Chase Freedom®: Unfortunately, the Chase Freedom®’s activation period ended Sept. 14. You can no longer enroll. If you’re already enrolled, you will continue to earn 5% cash back until the end of the quarter.

Interesting Chase Freedom® tidbit: Even if you enrolled at the end of the quarter, you’ll receive the 5% cash back for qualifying purchases made during that entire quarter.

Citi Dividend: You have until Sept. 30, 2014 to sign up for Q3 categories. Log into your online account to enroll (see the “Card Benefits” tab in online banking).

As a general rule of thumb, it is always best to enroll at the beginning of the quarter if you don’t expect to shop under the 5% cash back categories. I agree that it is rather a tedious task that should be automated. Why do you even need to sign up?

This is Chase’s reasoning for that (it’s probably the same for the two other cards): “We ask you to activate because we want to make sure you’re aware when categories changes and when you can earn 5% cash back.”

Once you’ve milked every cent of bonus cash back from this quarter, get ready for the fourth quarter, which happens to be the holiday season. And aptly so, all three cards will have 5% cash back categories that are focused on shopping.

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