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Chase Freedom vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited

Which card is best for you?

Summary

The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards share similar names, so you may wonder if their rewards structures are the same, too. In short: No.

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The Chase Freedom or the Chase Freedom Unlimited? The card names sound the same, so the rewards must be pretty much the same, too, right? The short answer is: No.

While both cards offer hefty sign-up bonuses, along with cash back on everyday spending, their rewards structures differ. The Chase Freedom card offers 5 percent cash back on rotating quarterly categories and 1 percent back on the rest of your purchases, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a flat-rate card that offers 1.5 percent cash back on everything.

Read on to get a rundown on the pros and cons of each card, as well as which card is best suited for you, based on your spending habits.

Chase Freedom versus Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom
Chase Freedom
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Rewards rate
  • 5% rotating quarterly categories (up to $1,500 per quarter)
  • 1% other purchases
  • 1.5% cash back on every purchase
Sign-up bonus
  • $150 if you spend $500 in first 3 months
  • 3% cash back on your first $20,000 in purchases in your first year
Annual fee$0$0
Estimated yearly rewards value ($1,325 monthly spend, including sign-up bonus)$304$338
Pros
  • No annual fee
  • High rewards rate on rotating categories
  • Large sign-up bonus
  • Can transfer rewards to other Chase cards
  • No annual fee
  • Simple to manage
  • High general rewards rate
  • Large sign-up bonus
  • Can transfer rewards to other Chase cards
Cons
  • Requires some maintenance
  • Low overall rewards rate when not paired with other cards
  • No bonus categories to help you maximize rewards
Who should get this card?
  • Rewards maximizers
  • People who want to collect Ultimate Rewards points
  • People who want to keep it simple
  • People who use one card for everything
  • People who want to pair a flat-rate card with a bonus category card
  • People who want to collect Ultimate Rewards points

Chase Freedom overview

The Chase Freedom card offers 5 percent cash back in categories that rotate quarterly – up to $1,500 – and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Upsides: The opportunity to earn cash back on all purchases and 5 percent cash back in certain categories.

Downsides: The complex rewards program. To get the most out of the card, cardholders must track their spending, since the 5 percent rate only applies to certain categories that rotate frequently and is limited to $1,500 per quarter.

Furthermore, cardholders must log in to their Chase account and activate their rewards category by the deadline each quarter to earn the 5 percent rate. For example, to earn 5 percent cash back during the second quarter of 2019 (at grocery stores and home improvement stores), you must activate the category by June 14, 2019.

Chase 5 percent cash back calendar 2019

WinterSpringSummerHoliday
January – MarchApril – JuneJuly – SeptemberOctober – December
  • Gas stations
  • Drugstores
  • Tolls
  • Grocery stores
  • Home improvement stores
Coming soon
Coming soon

Chase Freedom Unlimited overview

The Freedom Unlimited card offers a flat rate of 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases. There’s no annual fee, and no interest on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (then a variable rate of 17.24 to 25.99 percent). Also – greatly to the card’s advantage – the card is currently offering 3 percent back in the first year in the first year of card membership for the first $20,000 in purchases. For new cardholders who max out the sign-up offer, this amounts to an additional $300 in cash back – far outmatching the Chase Freedom card’s $150 sign-up bonus.

Upsides: The Freedom Unlimited card offers a straight-forward rewards program that allows cardholders to earn 1.5 percent on every purchase they make – with no earning caps or rotating categories. It also comes with a stellar sign-up offer.

Downsides: Although 1.5 percent cash back is a substantial amount to earn on purchases, the Freedom Unlimited does not allow cardholders to earn more for specific purchases.

Best for someone who wants a simple cash back card: Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers a generous cash back rate on all purchases. Cardholders automatically receive 1.5 percent cash back with no rotating categories and no cap on the amount of rewards they can earn. For those don’t want to have to deal with activating rewards categories each quarter or only charging purchases that fall within a specific category, this card is ideal.

As you can see from the table below, you can earn a fair amount of cash back each year by using the Chase Freedom Unlimited card for every purchase. We estimate that the average cardholder who spends around $1,325 on the card per month can earn around $296 in cash back per year.

However, if your goal is to earn the most rewards possible from your everyday spending, you have better options. Read on to see how you can maximize your rewards.

Scenario 1: Use Chase Freedom Unlimited for every purchase ($1,325 monthly spend)

Average rewards rateEstimated points/yearCash back
1.5%23,850$239

Best for someone who wants to maximize rewards: Chase Freedom

For those who have the time and know-how to manage rewards categories, the Chase Freedom card offers the opportunity to earn a higher rewards rate on their spending. Cardholders receive 5 percent cash back on lucrative categories, such as grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and wholesale clubs.

The real sweet spot with the Chase Freedom card comes from pairing it with other cards. For a cardholder who spends an average amount in the Freedom card’s categories, we estimate that it offers a 1.6 percent average earning rate – better than the Freedom Unlimited card’s 1.5 percent cash back, but not the best rate you can find. However, if you combine the Chase Freedom card with other cards that offer bonuses on additional spending categories and use the Chase Freedom card exclusively for purchases that earn 5 percent cash back, you can far exceed the 1.5 percent rate on the Chase Freedom Unlimited card.

For example, in the table below we show the estimated earnings from pairing the Chase Freedom card with the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, for an average cardholder who charges around $1,325 per month. When our model cardholder combines the 5 percent rotating categories from the Chase Freedom card with 3 percent on U.S. supermarket purchases and 2 percent on U.S. gas station and department store purchases, the rewards rate rises to 1.83 percent.

Scenario 2: Pair Chase Freedom with American Express Blue Cash Everyday ($1,325 monthly spend)

Chase Freedom + Blue Cash Everyday from American ExpressAverage rewards rateEstimated points/yearCash back
  • 5% rotating everyday spend categories
  • 3% U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)
  • 2% gas stations & department stores
  • 1% other purchases
1.83%29,097$291

Best value in the first year: Chase Freedom Unlimited

When it comes to value in the first year, no cash back card compares to the Chase Freedom Unlimited card’s current introductory offer. Even for a cardholder who doesn’t max out the $20,000 cap on the 3 percent cash back, the Chase Freedom Unlimited generally holds more value. For a cardholder with a $15,900 budget who spends an average amount in the Freedom card’s 5 percent bonus categories, we figure that the Chase Freedom Unlimited card provides $73 more value in the first year:

Estimated cash back earned on $15,900 spend in the first year

Chase FreedomChase Freedom Unlimited
$15,900 x 1.6% average cash back + $150 bonus = $404$15,900 x 3% cash back = $477

 

Best for someone who wants to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points: Both

When it comes to the Chase Freedom cards, it doesn’t have to be “either/or.” The ideal answer to “which of these cards should I get” can be: both. You can use the Chase Freedom card to make purchases in the 5 percent cash back category, and the Freedom Unlimited card to earn 1.5 percent back on all other purchases. You can also earn up to $450 in sign-up bonuses within the first year by signing up for both cards.

Even better, you can pair the Chase Freedom cards with other Chase cards. The secret sauce in this scenario is a Chase Sapphire card (either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve card), which allows point transfers from other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, including the Chase Freedom cards. By juggling the Chase Freedom cards with a Chase Sapphire card, you can earn the highest rate on Ultimate Rewards points – 2 to 3 percent on travel and dining, 5 percent on rotating quarterly categories and 1.5 percent on all other spending. Then, you can pool all your points onto your Chase Sapphire card to redeem for airfare.

When it comes to travel rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are extremely valuable because of the large array of redemption options: You can redeem points for statement credits for travel purchased from outside sources, you can redeem points for a 25 to 50 percent bonus on travel through the Chase Ultimate rewards portal and you can transfer points at a 1:1 rate to many of Chase’s travel partners.

The table below shows the value of combining the Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards. By leveraging the bonus categories on each card, the average cardholder who spends $1,325 per month can earn around 29,000 Ultimate Rewards points per year. While this amounts to only $293 in cash back, if you transfer the points to Chase’s travel partners, you can get from 50 to 100 percent more value on your points. Due to the high value of points on partners such as United and Southwest, those same Ultimate Rewards points can get you from $300 to $500 worth of airfare, or even more if you know the ins and outs of airline loyalty programs.

Scenario 3: Combine 3 Ultimate Rewards cards ($1,325 monthly spend)

Chase Freedom + Chase Freedom Unlimited + Chase Sapphire PreferredAverage rewards rateEstimated points/yearSample redemptions: estimated value
  • 5% rotating categories
  • 2% travel & dining
  • 1.5% other purchases
1.84%29,256
  • Statement credit: $293
  • Ultimate Rewards travel: $366
  • Southwest Airlines transfer: $469
  • United Airlines transfer: $445

Bottom line

The Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards are both great cash back cards that appeal to different audiences. The Freedom card is a great option for cardholders who want to maximize their rewards and the Freedom Unlimited card is a great way to go if you want to keep things simple. However, if like travel rewards and you want to get the most bang for your buck, you should really consider applying for a trio of Ultimate Rewards cards.

See related: Chase launches its Q4 bonus category for 2019, Earn a $150 bonus with Chase Freedom cardsChase Ultimate Rewards guide: The best ways to earn and use Ultimate Rewards points

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we do receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy

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Published: April 4, 2019

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: July 17th, 2019
Business
15.61%
Airline
17.59%
Cash Back
17.68%
Reward
17.58%
Student
17.79%

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