The Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards share similar names, so you may wonder if their rewards structures are the same, too. While there’s plenty of overlap, each card has unique advantages.
Not so fast: Though the cards have a lot in common, there are a few key differences to keep in mind when deciding which is the best fit for you.
Both the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited offer hefty sign-up bonuses, along with bonus cash back on dining and drugstore purchases, as well as travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. The difference is their rewards structures: The Freedom Flex card offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a flat-rate 1.5% 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 Flex versus Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
|Sign-up bonus||$200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months|
|Estimated yearly rewards value ($1,325 monthly spend, including sign-up bonus)||$532||$405|
|Who should get this card?|
Chase Freedom Flex overview
The Chase Freedom Flex card offers a combination of year-round and quarterly-rotating bonus cash back categories. Each quarter, you can enroll in a new bonus category from the Chase cash back calendar and earn 5% back on the first $1,500 you spend in that category (then 1% back after you reach the $1,500 threshold). Throughout the year, you’ll also get 5% back on all travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases and 1% back on all other purchases.
Upsides: The opportunity to earn bonus cash back in select categories year-round and in a variety of categories each quarter.
Downsides: The complex rewards program. To get the most out of the card, cardholders must track their spending, since the 5% 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% rate. For example, to earn 5% cash back during the fourth quarter of 2020 (on PayPal and Walmart purchases), you must activate the category by Dec. 14, 2020.
Chase 5% cash back calendar 2020
|January – March||April – June||July – September||October – December|
Chase Freedom Unlimited overview
Like the Freedom Flex, the Freedom Unlimited earns bonus cash back on Ultimate Rewards travel (5% back) and dining and drugstore purchases (3% back). However, instead of rotating cash back categories, the Freedom Unlimited offers 1.5% cash back on general purchases. There’s also no annual fee, and no interest on purchases for 15 months from account opening (after which a variable APR of 14.99% to 23.74% applies). The card is currently offering a $200 bonus for spending $500 in the first three months.
Upsides: The Freedom Unlimited card offers a straightforward rewards program that allows cardholders to earn at least 1.5% on every purchase they make – with no earning caps or rotating categories.
Downsides: Although 1.5% cash back is a substantial amount to earn on general purchases, it’s not the highest rate out there.
Best for someone who wants a simple cash back card: Chase Freedom Unlimited
Since the Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers a generous cash back rate on general purchases, it makes for a great all-purpose cash back card. Cardholders automatically receive 1.5% cash back on general purchases, with no rotating categories and no cap on the amount of rewards they can earn. For those who don’t want to have to deal with activating rewards categories each quarter, this card is ideal.
Taking into account the card’s new bonus categories of Ultimate Rewards travel, dining and drugstore purchases, we estimate that the card carries an average rewards rate of just over 2% back based on typical consumer spending. As you can see from the table below, you stand to 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 $326 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 average monthly spend)
|Average rewards rate||Estimated points/year||Cash back|
Best for someone who wants to maximize rewards: Chase Freedom Flex
For those who have the time and know-how to manage rewards categories, the Chase Freedom Flex card offers the opportunity to earn a higher rewards rate on their spending. In addition to bonus cash back in the year-round categories of Ultimate Rewards travel, dining and drugstore purchases, cardholders receive 5% cash back in lucrative rotating categories, such as grocery stores, gas stations, online shopping and wholesale clubs.
For a cardholder who spends an average amount in the Freedom Flex’s year-round categories, we estimate that it offers a 1.68% average earning rate. This is less than the Freedom Unlimited’s 2.05% average cash back rate, but there are also the card’s rotating cash back categories to consider.
If you max out these categories each quarter, you’ll earn at least $300 in cash back per year. Combined with the card’s year-round bonus categories, that gives you an average annual total of around $466, far exceeding the amount the average user would earn with the Chase Freedom Unlimited card.
Keep in mind, however, that it may be difficult to max out every quarterly bonus category. It all comes down to how well a given category lines up with your spending and how much effort you’re willing to put into planning your purchases to maximize each category.
Scenario 2: Maximize Freedom Flex bonus categories ($1,500 quarterly spend) and spend an average amount in year-round bonus categories
|Quarterly bonus cash back category earnings||Average rewards rate in year-round bonus categories||Estimated points/year||Cash back|
|5% back on your first $1,500 in spending = $75 per quarter ($300 per year)||1.68%||46,632||$466|
Best for someone who wants to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points: Both
Since the Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited carry the same rewards rate on Ultimate Rewards travel, dining and drugstore purchases, you may feel like you need to choose just one of the cards. But 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 either card to cover Ultimate Rewards travel, dining and drugstore purchases, but to maximize your rewards earnings, use the Freedom Flex card to make purchases in the 5% cash back category and the Freedom Unlimited card to earn 1.5% back on general purchases. You can also earn $400 in sign-up bonuses within the first year by signing up for both cards and spending $500 on each within the first three months.
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:
- 5% on Ultimate Rewards travel with either Freedom card.
- 5% on rotating quarterly categories with the Freedom Flex.
- 3% on dining and drugstore purchases with either Freedom card.
- 2% or 3% respectively on general travel with the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards.
- 1.5% on all other spending.
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, for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal (for a 25% to 50% increase in point value) or 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 Flex, Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards. By leveraging the bonus categories on each card, a cardholder who manages to max out the 5% quarterly bonus categories and spends an average amount in other categories can earn around 50,295 Ultimate Rewards points per year.
This comes to an impressive $503 in cash back. But if you transfer the points to Chase’s travel partners, you make out even better. Due to the high value of points on partners such as United and Southwest, those same Ultimate Rewards points can get you $750 to $800 more worth of airfare, or even more if you know the ins and outs of airline loyalty programs.
Scenario 3: Combine 3 Ultimate Rewards cards
|Chase Freedom Flex + Chase Freedom Unlimited + Chase Sapphire Reserve||Average rewards rate||Estimated points/year||Sample redemptions: estimated value|
The Chase Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited cards are both great cash back cards that appeal to different audiences. The Freedom Flex 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.