October may seem early to start thinking about the holiday season, but many experts say now is the time to start shopping if you want to save.
In fact, roughly 22% of Americans plan to shop earlier this year, according to recent data by Shopkick, a shopping rewards app. And having the right credit card in your wallet can be key to even more savings this season.
A bit of strategizing before you start checking items off your list can help keep the toll of holiday shopping on your bank account down. One of the best ways to shop smarter during the holidays is by leveraging a credit card welcome bonus on a card that can add value to your everyday spending year-round.
“The holiday season is coming up so fast — and because credit card issuers compete with each other for customers — it’s a really good time to start comparing cards because you might see a great welcome bonus from one card and then there might be a better one from another,” says Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert and consumer finance analyst for U.S. News & World Report.
To be clear, you shouldn’t get a credit card for the sole purpose of earning a welcome bonus. But if you’re already in the market for a new cash back credit card and the minimum spending requirement is within your budget, there’s a good case for getting one before the holiday season is in full swing.
Credit card issuers have spent the past several months revamping which rewards and benefits they offer cardholders, so now’s a great time to reevaluate the credit cards you have and how you’re spending.
There’s one cash back card in particular that we think stands out from the rest right now when it comes to opportunities to save throughout the holidays and earn a great welcome bonus: the no annual fee Chase Freedom Flex℠.
Here’s why the Freedom Flex is our top cash back welcome bonus pick this year, and how you can choose the right card — and welcome bonus — for your spending.
Why the Chase Freedom Flex Stands Out
When you spend at least $500 within three months of account opening, you’ll earn a $200 welcome bonus with the Freedom Flex. Welcome bonuses on cash back cards can vary greatly, but this is among the highest cash offers with the lowest minimum spending requirements available right now. If you’re looking for a welcome bonus to help you save on holiday spending, this one is not only a great deal, but more easily obtainable than some others.
What’s more, we like the Freedom Flex for its rotating bonus rewards structure — meaning you get cash back in categories that change each quarter, like groceries or gas. While this type of cash back card can take a little more effort to maximize than those with standard categories, it also earns a higher 5% rate on bonus spending.
The Freedom Flex’s current bonus categories can easily help you save on holiday spending, whether you’re shopping in-store or online. You’ll get 5% on up to $1,500 in combined purchases (1% thereafter), as long as you activate each quarter.
If you reach the $1,500 threshold, you can earn $75 in quarterly cash back in this category alone. But there’s even more potential to earn cash back before the end of the year with this card. In addition to 5% cash back on rotating categories, the Freedom Flex also offers more bonus rewards in categories that don’t change. These include:
- 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 5% cash back on qualifying Lyft rides (through March 2025)
- 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services
- 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
The Freedom Flex also comes with no annual fee and a 0% APR introductory period on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months from account opening (15.24% – 23.99% variable APR after that), which gives you a nice window to pay off a larger purchase with no interest. There is an intro balance transfer fee of $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater in the first 60 days.
All of these opportunities to earn cash back make the Freedom Flex not just a great choice for its solid welcome bonus and rotating categories, but for all of your everyday spending year-round. You’ll need to keep track of both rotating rewards and the tiered bonus categories to maximize each purchase, but a bit of planning can help you earn hundreds of dollars in cash back each year.
“You do have to strategize and do sort of a cost benefit analysis,” says Harzog. “You want to be sure that this is a card you’re going to profit from long term and get the kind of rewards that you need to help you save money — not just get that sign-up bonus.”
How a Welcome Bonus Can Help You Save During the Holidays
A welcome bonus on a new credit card can help pad your budget as you go about checking off your holiday shopping list. And if you choose a card with bonus categories that align with where you spend anyway, you can earn additional cash back as you work toward the bonus, too.
Take the Freedom Flex, for example. If you spent $500 this quarter at Walmart or online shopping with retailers that offer PayPal at checkout, then you’ll earn an additional 5%, or $25, cash back by the time you’re eligible for the card’s $200 welcome bonus.
But, as with any credit card, you should only charge what you know you can afford to pay off.
“If you’re not going to end up in a worse position because of it, then go ahead and do it,” says Larry Sprung, certified financial planner and founder of Mitlin Financial. “But if you end up charging $5,000 and then you can’t pay it off and now you’re paying 15% interest, there goes the welcome bonus.”
Make a plan ahead of time for how you’ll pay your balances down when your statement is due. It can be very tempting to overspend during the holidays — especially with retailers and credit card issuers alike working to entice customers with lucrative deals. But you can earn a welcome bonus without overspending by charging only what you’ve already planned in your budget, and always making your credit card payments on time. Otherwise, accruing interest at any credit card’s ultra-high APR can lead to a cycle of expensive credit card debt, and even drag your credit score down.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
- Intro offer:$200
- Annual fee:$0
- Regular APR:15.24% – 23.99% Variable
- Recommended credit:670-850 (Good to Excellent)
- Apply Now At Chase’s secure site
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Other Cash Back Cards With Great Welcome Bonuses
The Chase Freedom Flex is our favorite card right now with an attractive welcome bonus that can also help maximize savings through the holidays. But it isn’t the only card on the market with a great bonus, and you may find another cash back card option that fits better with your spending habits. Here are a few more we like:
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Similar to the Freedom Flex, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers impressive rewards and flexibility for everyday spenders — You’ll get an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). That’s 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 4.5% on dining and drugstores, and 3% on all other purchases.
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
The Wells Fargo Active Cash Card offers one of the best welcome bonuses among flat cash back cards. Not only can you earn 2% cash rewards on purchases, but you’ll also get a $200 cash rewards bonus when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening, all for no annual fee. Flat cash back cards are another solid option for both holiday and everyday shopping, since you don’t have to worry about maximizing certain categories — simply swipe your card at any store or use it to pay online and you’ll reap the rewards.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is one of the only cash back cards we think is worth a $95 annual fee, especially for families. This card offers a $300 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 within six months of account opening — which is a steep minimum, but longer time to qualify than many other cards. After that, you’ll get excellent rewards on common everyday spending categories, including 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, and 1% cash back on everything else.
It’s always a good idea to look for ways to get more value on your purchases, and a welcome bonus is one of many tools you can leverage to do that. Just make sure you choose a card with rewards that you can benefit from year-round, and most importantly, don’t spend more than you can afford to earn a welcome bonus. Having a plan in place before you apply will allow you to maximize the benefits of a new card without risking debt.
If you’re not ready to add a new credit card to your wallet, consider looking at the cards already in your wallet. You may already have access to bonus rewards that can help fund this year’s holiday shopping, or a stash of points or cash back you haven’t yet cashed in.
You can also save on purchases outside of credit cards, too. For example, cash back portals like Rakuten and RetailMeNot offer opportunities to earn 1% to 5% cash back when you click through their sites to shop online. It also pays to research price fluctuations and comparison shop online.
“I don’t want anybody to feel pressure to earn a sign-up bonus before the holidays,” Harzog says. “If you’re putting your holiday purchases on credit cards to get the rewards, as a lot of people do, I think that’s fine as long as you have the intention of paying back the balance in full by the next due date.