Chase Freedom Unlimited vs. Citi Double Cash: Bonus Categories Give Freedom the Edge

Both cards offer good flat cash-back rates, but bonus categories, especially restaurants, favor the Freedom Unlimited.
May 12, 2022

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In the increasingly crowded market of cash-back credit cards, two popular cards stand out from the pack. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer both offer solid cash-back earnings, and neither card charges an annual fee.

If you rarely eat at restaurants and are hunting simplicity, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer may be the better choice.

But if you’re a big spender on restaurants and can take advantage of the Chase card’s other bonus-reward categories, like drugstores and Chase travel, it will be the better pick — especially in the first year. In the end, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers more chances for outsize rewards in categories that fit the lifestyles of many people.

Here's how to decide which is right for you.

At a glance

Why the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is better for optimizers

Sign-up bonus

In the near term, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® pulls ahead by offering a generous sign-up bonus for new cardholders. Its offer:

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back! (NOTE: This offer is available when you apply through NerdWallet. If you apply directly with Chase or through a different website, you may not be eligible for this offer.)

By comparison, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer offers no sign-up bonus.

That makes the Chase Freedom Unlimited® a more valuable card in the first year of card ownership for just about everyone.

Bonus categories ...

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers several bonus categories:

  • 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • 3% back at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services.

  • 3% back on drugstore purchases.

  • Through March 31, 2025, 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app.

Bonus categories are tricky. They’re very valuable if you spend a lot of money at those places, but worthless if you don’t. The restaurants category is a highly useful one for most people and really boosts the card’s overall value.

... Plus a solid fixed rate for 'everything else'

A lot of spending doesn’t fit neatly into bonus-rewards categories, like restaurants or drugstores. On other cards that feature bonus categories, that “everything else” spending typically earns 1% back.

But the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is unusually good because it offers 1.5% back on everything else.

So that means you’re earning 50% more than usual while spending at such places as doctor offices, fitness clubs and routine monthly bills that accept credit cards.

When it comes to rewards, it boils down to whether the 3% and 5% bonus categories on the Chase Freedom Unlimited® will make up for the difference between that card's 1.5% base earnings rate and the 2% base earnings rate on the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer. Use our calculator to estimate your rewards in a typical year.

A 0% intro APR on purchases

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a no-interest promotion for new cardholders: 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 15.74%-24.49% Variable APR.

On the other hand, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer doesn't offer a 0% APR on new purchases. If you're looking to make a large purchase and want some breathing room to pay it off over time, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is the card you want.

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer does have a special intro offer for balance transfers: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.49%-25.49% Variable APR. But the Chase Freedom Unlimited® does, too.

Nerdy tip: If you’ll use the APR balance-transfer offer, having an offer on purchases too is important because of one factor: grace period. After you transfer a balance to the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, purchases you charge to the card will begin accruing interest immediately. You won’t have a credit card grace period, even if you pay off your new purchases in full. You only get the grace period back if you also completely pay off the balance-transfer amount. That’s why many other cards, including the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, feature an intro APR offer, often for the same number of months, for both balance transfers and purchases.

Flexibility of rewards

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is considered a cash-back card, but technically it earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. That’s significant if you want to use a strategy to earn those points and transfer them to another Chase credit card that can give you bigger value.

When paired with a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, points can be redeemed for 1.25 cents each towards travel, compared with 1 cent apiece for a cash redemption. A card-pairing strategy like this, referred to as the "Chase trifecta," also unlocks the ability to transfer Ultimate Rewards® to travel partners like United, Southwest, Marriott, Hyatt, IHG and JetBlue.

To be fair, Citi has its own version of the strategy, the "Citi trifecta." Pairing the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer with a premium card like the Citi Premier® Card also gives the ability to transfer to travel partners, but Citi partners with fewer hotel groups (Choice and Wyndham) and only one domestic airline (JetBlue).

Nerdy tip: Technically, rewards earned on the Citi® Double Cash Card appear in a cardholder's account as Citi ThankYou points, but that will not affect your ability to earn or redeem cash back. You'll earn 1 point per $1 spent and 1 point per $1 paid off. Points are worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed for cash back, meaning you'll still get 2% cash back on purchases. See here for more information.

Who might prefer the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

People who want low maintenance

If you prefer credit cards that are just easy, then the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is probably the better fit.

It offers a cumulative 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you make the purchase and 1% when you pay it off). That's high for a flat-rate card, and it means you don’t have to worry about where you’re making purchases. You earn the same rewards no matter what you’re buying.

By contrast, the “everything else” category on the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is 1.5%. (But you have to also consider its sign-up bonus and bonus-rewards categories.)

Those looking for a long intro balance-transfer period

The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer could be a slightly better tool for helping to delay payments on existing debt.

Again, it offers a 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.49%-25.49% Variable APR. That's among the lengthiest balance-transfer offers on the market.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a shorter 0% promotional APR window on balance transfers (although it has the advantage of the promotional APR on new purchases mentioned previously).

Which card should you get?

For simple cash back, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is among the best cards to consider.

But you could probably wring more cash-back dollars from the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, especially if you dine out a lot and can use its other bonus categories. When you add in the new cardholder bonus, it's a clear choice for most cardholders.

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