Citi Custom Cash vs. Chase Freedom Flex: For 5% Cash Back, Simplicity Wins for Most

Both cards feature 5% bonus categories and rewards for everyday spending, but it depends on how much work you want to put into earning those rewards.
Funto OmojolaAug 13, 2021

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If you’re in the market for a 5% cash back card, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card are two top-tier options.

Both $0-annual-fee cards feature a lucrative 5% cash back option in bonus categories and equal spending caps. However, the decision about which card has the edge largely comes down to your spending habits and how much effort you’re willing to put in.

In addition to 5% back in rotating bonus categories, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ also features ongoing bonus rewards on certain everyday spending like dining and drugstores — which is hard to beat, but will require some work to to keep track of quarterly and ongoing categories.

On the other hand, while the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is lacking in additional ongoing rewards, it wins out in terms of everyday simplicity, with 5% cash back that is automatically adjusted based on your spending in the card’s eligible bonus categories.

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

At a glance

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Complete card details and application link:

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
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Complete card details and application link:

Chase Freedom Flex
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More

Annual fee

$0.

$0.

Sign-up bonus

Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

Rewards

  • 5% cash back on up to $500 spent in your highest spend category per billing cycle (from a list of eligible options), then 1% thereafter.

  • 1% back on all other purchases.

  • 5% cash back in quarterly bonus categories on up to $1,500 in combined spending each quarter. Activation of bonus categories is required.

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

  • 3% back on dining, including takeout and delivery services, and on drugstore purchases.

  • 1% on all other purchases.

Intro APR offer

0% intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR.

0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR.

Why the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is the better option for most

Simplicity

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card won’t require you to opt into quarterly bonus categories like the Chase Freedom Flex℠ does. Rather, your rewards are automatically adjusted each month based on your spending in the card’s eligible bonus categories.

This means that if your spending leans more heavily toward restaurants (or one of the other nine categories detailed below) one month than it did the previous billing cycle, your bonus category will adjust automatically and you’ll earn 5% cash back for all your restaurant spending, on up to $500 (1% back after that).

This also means that you don't have to remember to activate your rewards every three months or keep track of your spending patterns in relation to bonus categories like you would with the Chase Freedom Flex℠.

Popular spending categories

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card features the following 10 fixed bonus categories:

  • Grocery stores.

  • Restaurants.

  • Gas stations.

  • Streaming services.

  • Drugstores.

  • Home improvement stores.

  • Fitness clubs.

  • Select travel.

  • Select transit.

  • Live entertainment.

Such general and inclusive categories make the card valuable when it comes to everyday spending.

On the other hand, bonus categories for the Chase Freedom Flex℠ are chosen by the issuer each quarter. That means that if your spending doesn't match up with what’s being offered that quarter, it will be hard to rack up those 5% cash back purchases.

And while Chase’s 5% bonus options have historically included common expense categories like restaurants, gas and wholesale clubs, cardholders won’t know what these categories are until they are announced, which can make it tough to plan your spending.

0% intro APR

Holders of the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card are eligible for the following lengthy interest-free introductory period: 0% intro APR on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. This can help you pay down debt without incurring any interest.

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ only offers a 0% APR window for purchases: 0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR.

Why the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is better for optimizers

Multiple and ongoing bonus categories

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ earns 5% cash back in multiple categories per quarter, on up to $1,500 in combined spending — which is especially valuable if your spending tends to vary within a quarterly period. (Cardholders must activate bonus categories online.)

Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Flex℠ bonus rewards categories for 2021

Q1 (Jan. 1 - March 31)

• Wholesale clubs. • Select streaming services. • Internet, cable and phone services.

Q2 (April 1 - June 30)

• Gas stations. • Home improvement stores.

Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)

• Grocery stores. • Select streaming services.

Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)

• Walmart. • PayPal.

Additionally, beyond its 5% back earnings, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers fixed, ongoing bonus rewards in popular spending categories:

  • 5% back on travel booked via Chase.

  • 3% back on dining.

  • 3% back on drugstores.

By comparison, holders of the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card are limited to earning 5% back in just one bonus category per billing cycle. And outside of that category, all other spending will only earn you 1% back.

Note, though, that keeping track of your quarterly and ongoing spending categories with the Chase Freedom Flex℠ will require some effort on your part.

Nerdy tip: The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a World Elite Mastercard, meaning you'll get perks like cell phone insurance, discounts and incentives via services like Lyft, Fandango, Shoprunner and Boxed and hotel perks via the Mastercard Luxury Hotel and Resorts program

More transfer partners

If you opt for the Chase Freedom Flex℠, you can redeem your rewards for cash back, gift cards and travel booked through Chase (at the rate of a penny per point). You can also redeem points for Amazon purchases, at the rate of 0.8 cent per point.

However, to get the most bang for your buck, you can also choose to transfer your points to another Chase card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® — like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® — and redeem those rewards for travel booked through Chase at a rate 25% higher.

Plus, both aforementioned cards offer a number of travel partners from major airlines and hotel chains, including United, Southwest, Hyatt and Marriott, to which you can transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio.

Points can also be transferred this way with the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card: Cardholders can combine and transfer points to a card that earns Citi ThankYou points, such as the Citi Premier® Card or the Citi Prestige® Card, and redeem rewards with with Citi's travel transfer partners.

However, these transfer partners are typically more niche and might appeal less to the broader masses than those offered through Chase.

Nerdy tip: Citi's premium credit card, the Citi Prestige® Card, closed to new applicants in 2021, though existing cardholders can still enjoy the card's benefits.

Grocery bonus

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card have comparable sign-up bonuses.

However, the former also comes with an additional grocery incentive for new cardholders: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

The card’s competitor offers the following for new account openers: Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $750 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.

That’s a significant difference in terms of the value each card can offer in the first year, especially if you’re a big grocery spender.

Which card should you get?

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is as low maintenance as it gets for a 5% rotating bonus category card. Holders won’t have to worry about opting in every quarter since their rewards are automatically adjusted based on their spending in popular categories.

However, rewards maximizers will find the Chase Freedom Flex℠ to be the more valuable option. Those who are up for putting in some work can earn 5% in multiple bonus categories, as well as lucrative ongoing rewards for certain everyday spending.

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