We crunched the numbers for the Citi Double Cash card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited card to help you decide which one takes the prize for best cash back card.
In the showdown between the Citi® Double Cash Card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, how do you decide which card takes the prize for best cash back card?
When you compare the Citi Double Cash card’s flat rate of up to 2% cash back (1% when you buy, 1% as you pay off your purchases) to the Chase Freedom Unlimited’s 1.5% cash back rate on general purchases, the Citi Double Cash card appears to be the clear winner.
But wait: You also need to figure in the Chase Freedom Unlimited card’s ongoing bonus cash back categories, as well as its sign-up bonus (a feature completely missing from the Double Cash card).
Based on our estimates, the Double Cash and Freedom Unlimited cards are neck and neck in terms of ongoing value, but the best fit will ultimately depend on your spending habits and how you want to redeem your rewards. While the Double Cash is great for fans of no-hassle cash back, the Freedom Unlimited makes the most sense for foodies and frequent travelers, especially if you pair it with other Ultimate Rewards cards to maximize the value of your points.
Citi Double Cash vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited
|Rewards rate||Up to 2% cash back:|
|Sign-up bonus||$200 if you spend $500 in the first 3 months|
|Average earnings over three years ($15,900 spend. Includes sign-up bonus)||$318||$392|
|Who should get this card?|
Citi Double Cash overviewThe Citi Double Cash is the original 2% cash back card. You get 1% cash back when you make a purchase and another 1% back when you pay off your purchase. While a few similar cards have recently entered the market, none of them beat the simplicity and ease of use of the Citi Double Cash card.
The card doesn’t require you to have a bank account with Citi or to deposit your rewards into a Citi bank account – once you hit the $25 minimum redemption threshold, you can redeem your cash back as a statement credit, check, gift card or deposit into a checking or savings account.
Upsides: Simplicity and a 2% cash back rate that few cards can match, even cards with category bonuses. You earn the same rate on every purchase, so there’s no need to keep track of bonus categories or worry about enrolling in categories each quarter.
Downsides: You have to pay your bill on time to earn the full 2% rate (but is that really a downside? Or a good incentive to pay your bill?). You can’t redeem your cash back until you hit the $25 redemption threshold, though it’s a pretty reasonable threshold. There’s also no sign-up bonus, a common feature on the top rewards cards.
Chase Freedom Unlimited overview
Like the Citi Double Cash card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers a higher-than-average cash back rate on general purchases, though it’s slightly less impressive: 1.5%, to be exact. That said, unlike the Citi Double Cash card, the card also offers bonus rewards in a number of spending categories: You’ll earn 5% back on travel purchased through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal and 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases.
On top of that, the card comes includes an introductory offer of $200 cash back after you spend $500 in the first three months. This is a very generous bonus given the low spending requirement and lack of an annual fee.
Probably its best feature, the Freedom Unlimited card earns Ultimate Rewards points, which you can transfer to certain Chase cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card*, and redeem for travel rewards to get better point values.
Upsides: Cash back variety – you earn a solid cash back rate on general purchases as well as bonus cash back in popular categories. You can redeem any number of points at any time for a variety of options, including cash back, gift cards, travel and Amazon.com merchandise. The card’s bonus makes it very valuable in the first year. Also, the ability to transfer points to other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards means you can get more than 1 cent of value out of each point.
Downsides: The card’s bonus categories may not line up with your spending habits. If that’s the case, the 1.5% general cash back rate isn’t all that impressive.
Best for first-year cardholders: Chase Freedom Unlimited card
Thanks to its introductory offer, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is by far the best card for new cardholders.
As you can see from the chart below, if you meet the Freedom Unlimited card’s bonus spending requirement in the first three months and your spending in the card’s bonus categories matches that of the average consumer, the Chase Freedom Unlimited will offer around $526 in cash back in the first year. This easily beats what you’d earn with the Citi Double Cash card, despite the Double Cash card’s higher cash back rate on general purchases.
Average cash back in first year ($15,900 spend)
|Citi Double Cash||Chase Freedom Unlimited|
|2% x $15,900 = $318||$200 intro bonus + 2.05% x $15,900 = $526|
Best for cash back on general purchases: Citi Double Cash card
Based on the average person’s spending habits, the Freedom Unlimited carries an average rewards rate of around 2% back, matching the Double Cash card’s flat rate on all purchases. But if you don’t spend much on dining, drugstore purchases or travel (Ultimate Rewards bookings specifically), the Double Cash card will win out easily.
Indeed, if you spend less than $1,033 per year on travel, the Double Cash Card will be a more lucrative option. Given how little most people are traveling at the moment, you may be better off using the Double Cash card for general purchases and pairing it with another card that earns bonus rewards in a category that lines up with your spending habits.
For example, if you spend heavily on groceries, you can pair the Double Cash card with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express – a great grocery card that earns 6% cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases (on up to $6,000 in purchases annually, then 1%) and select U.S. streaming services and 3% on transit and U.S. gas station purchases.
If you use the Blue Cash Preferred card for your U.S. supermarket, streaming services, transit and gas station purchases and swap in the Citi Double Cash card to earn 2% on the rest of your purchases, you can seriously boost your cash back rate.
We estimate that the average cardholder can earn a rewards rate of 3.19% per year with the two cards combined, for an average of $412 cash back when you subtract the Blue Cash Preferred card’s $95 annual fee. That’s $94 more than you’d earn with the Freedom Unlimited after the first year or with the Citi Double Cash card on its own.
Scenario: Pair Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express with Citi Double Cash ($15,900 yearly spend)
|Average rewards rate||Cash back earned||Total minus annual fee|
Best for pairing with Chase cards: The Chase Freedom Unlimited card
That said, if you’re looking for the highest rewards value, your best option is to pair the Chase Freedom Unlimited card with other cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable and versatile rewards points. You can transfer them to certain Ultimate Rewards cards – such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards – where you have a plethora of options to redeem your points for travel rewards. You can redeem them for statement credits at a value of 1 cent per point, redeem them for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to earn a 25 to 50 points bonus, or transfer them to one of Chase’s many travel partners to get even higher point values.
Our table below shows the value of combining the Chase Freedom Unlimited card with the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Sapphire Reserve card. If you max out the Freedom Flex card’s rotating bonus categories and your spending matches that of the average consumer on other purchases, you can earn around 50,295 Ultimate Rewards points per year, worth anywhere from $500 to $800 or more, depending on how you redeem them.
Scenario: Combine 3 Ultimate Rewards cards
|Average rewards rate||Estimated points/year||Sample redemptions: estimated value|
As you can see, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the obvious choice for travelers who want to maximize their Ultimate Rewards earnings. But the Citi Double Cash card is also a great cash back option, both as a stand-alone card and for pairing with bonus category cards. That’s especially true if you don’t see much travel on the horizon.
*All information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.