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Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: It’s a Tie

Jan. 23, 2017
Cash Back Credit Cards, Credit Cards
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: It's a Tie
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.
The Chase Freedom® and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® have plenty in common. Both are cash-back credit cards with long 0% APR periods, solid sign-up bonuses and names plucked from motivational posters.

Their rewards structures make them different:

  • The Chase Freedom® is a well-established card that offers 5% back in rotating spending categories on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. It offers 1% back on everything else.
  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited®, introduced in 2016 and often overshadowed by its older sibling, offers an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all spending.

The cards offer almost identical value to the average consumer, so there’s no clear winner. But depending on your spending habits, you might get more out of one than the other.

Different cards, similar value

Here’s how the Freedom cards stack up on basic features. Except for the rewards structures, there’s not a hair’s worth of difference:

 Chase Freedom®Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Sign-up bonusEarn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
Introductory APR0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 16.74% - 25.49% Variable APR0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 16.74% - 25.49% Variable APR
Annual fee$0 $0
Rewards5% cash back on rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in spending per quarter) each quarter you activate

1% back on everything else
1.5% cash back on every purchase
Are rewards transferrable?Yes — you can transfer rewards to any of your other Chase cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® programYes — you can transfer rewards to any of your other Chase cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program

To compare the possible rewards earnings on the two cards, we used:

  • Average household spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2015.
  • The rewards rates for the Chase Freedom® using its primary bonus categories over the past five years. We didn’t calculate the rewards for secondary categories, such as spending at Starbucks or Kohl’s.
  • The flat rewards rate for the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

Based on our estimates, both cards offer roughly the same value. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns about $9 more in a year than the average for the Chase Freedom®. That’s not enough for a decisive lead, considering that individual consumers’ spending patterns almost always differ from the national average — sometimes significantly.

Both Freedom cards are also backed by Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. That means that if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can convert your cash-back rewards to points and squeeze 25% or 50% more value out of them when redeeming for travel through Chase.

Because the Freedom cards offer such similar value, the best one for you is really a matter of your personal spending preferences.

Looking for no-fuss value? Go with Chase Freedom Unlimited®

The no-nonsense Chase Freedom Unlimited® is the better choice if you want a card with simple terms.

It’s better for the budgeter. Flat-rate cards such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited® are delightfully predictable. You don’t need to tailor your spending to bonus categories to get a good rewards rate. That makes it easier to avoid overspending.

Say the Chase Freedom® 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 low maintenance. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® keeps it simple: You earn an unlimited 1.5% back on all purchases. It doesn’t have spending caps or 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 go-along-get-along type of card. It’s a great companion to the tiered reward cards in your wallet, such as co-branded airline cards, grocery cards and gas cards. You can take advantage of your tiered card’s bonus categories and use the Chase Freedom Unlimited® to buy everything else. The Chase Freedom® is less versatile. And depending on the quarter, its bonus categories might clash with the spending your co-branded cards reward most.

Willing to spend time to maximize rewards? Go with Chase Freedom®

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

It offers useful 5% categories. A tiered card is only as good as its bonus categories. And in that regard, the Chase Freedom® excels. It has regularly rewarded spending at such merchants as restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations, all of which are major spending categories for the average household, as seen in the BLS data. Here are this year’s categories:

Chase Freedom® bonus rewards categories for 2018
Q1 2018 (Jan. 1 - March 31)• Gas stations
• Internet, cable and phone service
• Purchases via Chase Pay, Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay
Q2 2018 (April 1 - June 30)• Grocery stores
• PayPal, for online, mobile or in-app purchases
• Chase Pay, for online, mobile or in-app purchases
Q3 2018 (July 1 – Sept. 30)• Gas stations
• Lyft
• Walgreens
Q4 2018 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)• Chase Pay
• Wholesale clubs
• Department stores

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

If you can reach the quarterly caps on the Chase Freedom® without spending more than you normally would, it becomes much more valuable than the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

Its limited-time offers stand out. The Chase Freedom®’s rewards structure seems as though it was devised by a team of psychologists to boost cardholder joy. It offers the same basic value as the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, but it delivers the perks in a more exciting way:

  1. It doesn’t announce its 5% rotating categories in full until shortly before you can activate them.
  2. It regularly offers additional promotions on top of those 5% bonuses.

For the average household, these seasonal surprises don’t substantially increase the value of the card. But depending on your shopping habits, they can make you feel like you just won the lottery. In 2015, for example, the Chase Freedom® offered 10% back on all Amazon.com purchases from late November to the end of the year. And right after Costco began accepting Visa credit cards, it offered 5% back on wholesale clubs for the latter half of 2016. So far, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® hasn’t offered promotions like these.

Why not both?

If you’re having trouble choosing between the Chase Freedom® 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® 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.