Chase Freedom versus Chase Freedom Unlimited

Which card is best for you?

Chase Freedom Unlimited versus Chase Freedom

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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
  • $25 if you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months
  • $150 if you spend $500 in first 3 months
  • $25 if you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months
Annual fee
$0 $0
Estimated yearly rewards value ($1,325 monthly spend, including sign-up bonus) $238 $296
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. Additionally, cardholders enjoy a 0 percent introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months, no annual fee, a $150 sign-up bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months and a $25 bonus after adding your first authorized user and making a purchase in 3 months.

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 third quarter category (restaurants and movie theaters), you must activate the category by Sept. 14, 2017.

CHASE 5 PERCENT CASH BACK CALENDAR 2017
January - March
Gas stations and local commuter transportation (not including parking, tolls and Amtrak purchases)
April - June
Grocery stores and drug stores (not including Walmart and Target purchases)
July - September
Restaurants and movie theaters
October - December
Walmart and department stores (activate starting Sept. 15, 2017)

Chase Freedom Unlimited overview

Like the Chase Freedom card, the Freedom Unlimited card offers cash back on all purchases, and a sign-up bonus of $150 after spending $500 in the first 3 months, as well as $25 after adding a user and making a purchase within the first 3 months. There’s no annual fee, and no interest on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months.

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.

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 $238 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: USING THE CHASE FREEDOM UNLIMITED CARD FOR EVERY PURCHASE ($1,325 monthly spend)
Average rewards rate Estimated points/year Cash back
1.5% every purchase 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. On its own, the 1 percent rate that the Chase Freedom card offers on the majority of purchases amounts to a pretty tepid rewards rate – for the average spender, its potential earnings don’t match the earning power of the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. 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 American Express Blue Cash Everyday card, 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 soars to 1.9 percent.

SCENARIO 2: PAIRING THE CHASE FREEDOM CARD WITH THE AMERICAN EXPRESS BLUE CASH EVERYDAY CARD ($1,325 MONTHLY SPEND)
Average rewards rate Estimated points/year Cash back
  • 5% rotating categories: gas stations, transportation, restaurants, wholesale clubs, departments stores, drug stores
  • 3% U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases)
  • 2% gas stations & department stores
  • 1% other purchases
1.9% 30,210 $302

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 $350 in sign-up bonuses within the first three months 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 bonuses on each card, the average cardholder who spends $1,325 per month can earn around 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points per year. While this amounts to only $250 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 British Airways, 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: COMBINING 3 ULTIMATE REWARDS CARDS ($1,325 MONTHLY SPEND)
Average rewards rate Estimated points/year Sample redemptions: estimated value
  • 5% rotating categories: gas stations, transportation, restaurants, wholesale clubs, department stores, drug stores
  • 2% travel & dining
  • 1.5% other purchases
1.6% 25,440
  • Statement credit: $254
  • Ultimate Rewards travel: $318
  • British Airways transfer: $585
  • Southwest Airlines transfer: $399
  • United Airlines transfer: $387

How do other cash back cards compare?

While the Chase Freedom cards are very valuable when paired, if you are looking for a great stand-alone cash back card, there are better values. The Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards do offer one of the highest sign-up bonuses currently available. However, the average annual values of these cards are among the lowest, at $238 and $296, respectively. See how the Freedom cards stack up against similar cash back rewards cards:

COMPARING CASH BACK CARDS
  Credit card Bonus value Average rewards rate Average annual value
Chase Freedom $175 1.13% $238
Chase Freedom Unlimited $175 1.5% $238
Citi Double Cash N/A 2% $318
Blue Cash Everyday $100 1.64% $294
Blue Cash Preferred $150 2.51% $354

See related: Chase Freedom credit card review, Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card review

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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Updated: 11-17-2017