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.
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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 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.

How the cards compare
Citi Custom Cash® Card
Citi Custom Cash® Card
Apply now

on Citibank's application

Rates & Fees
Chase Freedom Flex
Chase Freedom Flex®
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee
$0
$0
Sign-up bonus

Earn $200 cash back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 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.

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.

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

  • 1% on all other purchases.

Intro APR offer

0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers and then the ongoing 19.24%-29.24% Variable APR.

0% intro APR on purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 20.49%-29.24%, Variable APR.

Still not sure?

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.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Until June 30, 2025, Citi Custom Cash® Card cardholders will earn an additional 4% cash back on hotels, car rentals and attractions booked through Citi. So if that's your top spending category, you'll earn a whopping 9% back. If not, you'll still earn 5% back on these purchases.

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 2024

Q1 (Jan. 1-March 31)

  • Grocery stores.

  • Fitness clubs and gym memberships.

  • Self-care and spa services.

Q2 (April 1-June 30)

  • Select hotel bookings.*

  • Restaurants.

  • Amazon.com.

Q3 (July 1-Sept. 30)

  • Gas stations and EV charging.

  • Select live entertainment.

  • Movie theaters.

Q4 (Oct. 1-Dec. 31)

  • TBD (In 2023: PayPal; wholesale clubs; select charities).

*Includes bookings made directly with the hotel and prepaid bookings through Chase's travel portal.

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 25% or 50% higher rate, respectively.

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 Strata 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.

The card’s competitor offers the following for new account openers: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 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.

Chase Cards from our Partners
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-5%

Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

Up to $300

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!

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Chase Freedom Flex

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Flex®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1%-5%

Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Earn 5% on Chase travel purchased through Chase Travel®, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

$200

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

See more Chase cards

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