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.
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.
Both the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited offer hefty sign-up bonuses, along with cash back on everyday spending. The difference is their rewards structures: the Chase Freedom card offers 5 percent cash back on rotating quarterly categories, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a flat-rate 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 Unlimited
|Estimated yearly rewards value ($1,325 monthly spend, including sign-up bonus)||$304||$338|
|Who should get this card?|
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 fourth quarter of 2019 (on department store, PayPal and Chase Pay purchases), you must activate the category by Dec. 14, 2019.
Chase 5 percent cash back calendar 2019
|January – March||April – June||July – September||October – December|
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 APR of 16.49 to 25.24 percent). Also, the card is currently offering a $150 bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 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. 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 $239 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 rate||Estimated points/year||Cash back|
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 select U.S. 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 Express||Average rewards rate||Estimated points/year||Cash back|
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 $300 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 Preferred||Average rewards rate||Estimated points/year||Sample redemptions: estimated value|
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.