Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited: Pick Your Style

They have similar names and some identical features. But the difference in ongoing rewards requires looking inward.

Sara Rathner, Claire TsosieSeptember 16, 2020
Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited: Pick Your Style

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The Chase Freedom Flex℠, launched in September 2020, and the older Chase Freedom Unlimited® have certain things in common. Both are cash-back credit cards with super-generous bonuses, long 0% APR periods, no annual fees and names plucked from motivational posters.

Their ongoing rewards structures share some similarities, too, but that's also where there's the most daylight between them.

Here's how to choose which one is right for you.

How do the cards' features compare?

For either product, as a new cardholder you'll be eligible for the same super-rich sign-up incentive: Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That's on top of earning 5% back on grocery store purchases for one calendar year, on up to $12,000 in purchases for the year. (This includes grocery delivery services like Instacart and Shipt, but does not include Target and Walmart).

Plus, for new and existing cardholders through March 31, 2022, both cards will also earn 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app.

Both cards also offer:

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

  • 3% cash back at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats.

  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases.

  • Three months of DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service that offers unlimited $0 delivery fees and reduced service fees on orders of $12 or more.

From there, though, the cards go their separate ways.

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers rotating 5% bonus categories

Chase Freedom Flex
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Aside from the ways to earn extra cash back listed above, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ also earns 5% back in bonus categories that change each quarter, on up to $1,500 in combined quarterly purchases (category activation is required every three months). All other non-bonus-category purchases earn 1% back.

In this way, the card works much like the original, decommissioned Chase Freedom®.

Nerd tip: The Chase Freedom® still exists but is closed to new applicants. It can be product-changed to a Chase Freedom Flex℠ if you call Chase and make the request.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a solid flat rate on 'everything else'

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card
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The Chase Freedom Unlimited® does not feature 5% rotating bonus categories.

Instead, any purchases you make outside of the card's fixed, ongoing bonus categories listed above will earn a flat 1.5% cash back.

Here's a quick glance at how the cards stack up with each other (and with the discontinued Chase Freedom®):

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom®

Offer for new cardholders:

• $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

• 5% cash back at grocery stores (not including Target or Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

None — card is no longer accepting applications

Rotating bonus categories:

None.

• 5% back on quarterly bonus categories that you activate, on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending.

Ongoing bonus categories:

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

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

• 3% cash back on drugstore purchases.

None.

Rewards on other purchases:

1.5% cash back

1% cash back

1% cash back

Nerd tip: The Freedom cards earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points (1 point is worth 1 cent when redeemed for cash back.) But if you also have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can transfer the points you earn from your Freedom product to one of those Sapphire products. This lets you squeeze 25% or 50% more value out of them (depending on which Sapphire card you have) when you redeem for travel through Chase.

How do you pick between the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®?

The choice between these cards comes down to how you spend money and how much appetite you have for managing your rewards:

Spending habits: Do you spend enough in the Chase Freedom Flex℠ bonus categories to make the card worth the effort? Take a look at current and past categories here. If these kinds of categories represent a significant chunk of your budget, then the 5% card is a good fit. If your spending is all over the place, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® might be the better option long term.

Complexity: Beyond its fixed bonus tiers and its extra grocery rewards in the first year, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® doesn't require as much tracking, and you won't have to opt in to any bonus categories. But the Chase Freedom Flex℠ requires you to activate (and keep track of) quarterly categories, and it knocks down your rewards rate to 1% back once you hit the $1,500 quarterly limit.

Looking for value with less fuss? Go with the Chase Freedom Unlimited®

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is the better choice if you want a card with simpler terms.

It's better for the budgeter. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is more predictable. You don't need to tailor your spending to rotating bonus categories to get a good rewards rate. That makes it easier to avoid overspending.

Say the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is paying 5% back on purchases at Amazon.com. If you don't normally shop there, you might feel compelled to change your habits — and potentially spend more — to get the extra rewards.

It’s lower-maintenance. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® doesn't require you to activate categories every quarter. Basically, this card helps you earn robust rewards with less effort. It won't leave you Googling spending categories in the checkout lane.

It pairs well with other cards. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a great companion to the other reward cards in your wallet, such as co-branded airline cards and gas cards. Depending on the quarter, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ bonus categories might clash with the kind of spending that those other cards in your wallet reward most.

Willing to spend time to maximize rewards? Go with the Chase Freedom Flex℠

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is your card if you like to squeeze the most value from every purchase.

It offers useful 5% categories. Let's start with its 5% bonus categories, noted here:

Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Flex℠* bonus rewards categories for 2020

Q1 (Jan. 1 - March 31)

• Gas stations. • Select streaming services. • Internet, cable and phone services.

Q2 (April 1 - June 30)

• Grocery stores. • Gym memberships and fitness clubs. • Select streaming services.

Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)

• Amazon.com. • Whole Foods Market.

Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)

• Walmart. • PayPal.

*The Chase Freedom Flex℠ was introduced in mid-September 2020, so the first bonus categories that apply to the card for a full quarter are those for Q4.

These broad categories make it easier to reach your quarterly maximum. For example, if the current 5% category is gas stations, you can use your card to buy a gift card for a restaurant you frequent from the gas station’s store. In effect, you're earning 5% back on restaurants, too.

You get fixed, tiered rewards on top of all that. In addition to the card’s rotating 5% categories, it rewards spending at restaurants and drugstores year-round and earns a high cash-back rate at grocery stores in the first year. That's a hard combination to find.

All told, if you can reach the quarterly spending caps on the Chase Freedom Flex℠ without spending more than you normally would, it becomes much more valuable over time than the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

Why not both?

If you're having trouble choosing between the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, here's a simple solution: Get both.

These cards are often treated like rivals, but they work really well together. Use the Chase Freedom Flex℠ for its 5% categories and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® to earn more than 1% back on everything else. You can even transfer your rewards between accounts and redeem them all in one go. If you do decide to get both, space out your applications by at least a few months to minimize the impact to your credit score.

Both cards offer excellent value on their own. But together, they become even more valuable.

Information related to the Chase Freedom® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been provided or reviewed by the issuer of this card.

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