Chase Freedom Review: Huge Bonus, Plus 5% Back in Rotating Categories

Its massive upfront incentive includes 5% back on groceries on up to $12,000 in spending in the first year. Beyond that, you'll earn 5% back in common categories that change each quarter, such as gas stations, Amazon and more.

Claire TsosieMarch 5, 2020

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

THIS PAGE MAY BE OUT OF DATE

This page includes information about one or more products not currently available on NerdWallet:

  • Chase Freedom®

  • Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

As a result, offers described on this page may be out of date. See our NerdWallet’s Best Credit Cards page for updated offers.

Our Take

3.9

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: With bonus categories that sync up with most people's regular spending, this card is a fine choice whether you're a hardcore optimizer or just a one-card sort of person.

Chase Freedom Credit Card

Chase Freedom®

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% intro on Purchases for 15 months

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • No annual fee

  • 5% rewards on rotating categories

  • Access to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards site to earn more cash back

Cons

  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better

  • A foreign transaction fee

Alternate Pick: Simple rewards

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

2% cash back, no categories to track

Some people carry a wallet full of credit cards and enjoy squeezing the maximum rewards out of every purchase. Others prefer to use a single card that pays a great rate on everything. This card gives you 2% back on everything — 1% when you make a purchase and 1% when you pay it off.

Read our review

Full Review

With an annual fee of $0 and generous cash-back rewards, the Chase Freedom® is a good fit for rewards rookies and cash-back connoisseurs alike.

The card offers 5% cash back in bonus categories that change every three months and 1% back on all other purchases. Plus, you start out with a sign-up bonus that’s far more lucrative than other cards in its class. The highlight of that bonus: a massive 5% back at grocery stores for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending.

Because you'll have to track bonus categories throughout the year and activate them, it's not an ideal pick for those who want simplicity from a rewards card. If that's you, consider a flat-rate cash-back card that earns a solid rate on everything you buy.

Chase Freedom®: Basics

Card type: Cash back.

Annual fee: $0.

Sign-up bonus: Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Rewards:

  • 5% cash back in quarterly bonus categories, on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending (you must opt in to the categories quarterly; 1% back on other spending).

  • For new cardholders only, 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending. (Target and Walmart don't qualify, but grocery delivery services like Instacart, Shipt and Peapod do).

  • For all cardholders, through March 31, 2022, 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app.

Chase Freedom® 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)

TBD (In 2019, department stores, PayPal and Chase Pay.).

Interest rate: 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases; after that, a variable APR applies.

Balance transfer fee: $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Foreign transaction fee: 3%.

Rewards redemption options

Rewards earned on this card come in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. Points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed as cash back. You can get that cash back in the form of a statement credit or a direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Points can also be redeemed for things like:

  • Gift cards (1 cent per point).

  • Travel booked through Chase (1 cent per point).

  • Amazon purchases (0.8 cents per point).

You can also transfer your points to other Chase cards that offer higher-value redemption options. More on that later.

Chase Freedom® vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited®

If you have an eye on the Chase Freedom®, you might also be considering its sibling card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Instead of 5% bonus categories, it earns a flat 1.5% back on all purchases. (An exception is for new cardholders, who can also earn 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending.)

Nerd tip: For all cardholders, through March 31, 2022, both cards will also earn 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app.

Which is the better choice? It depends. If your spending falls neatly into common household categories, such as gas and groceries, the Chase Freedom® is probably the more valuable card for you. But if your spending is all over the place, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® could be the stronger option. For a more thorough breakdown of the differences, read NerdWallet's comparison of the two.

Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Sign-up bonus: Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

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

Introductory APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases. After the intro period, a variable APR applies.

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

Annual fee: $0

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: 5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 in spending in the first calendar year for new cardholders; 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories that you activate (on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter); 1% back on everything else.

Rewards: 5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 in spending in the first calendar year for new cardholders; 1.5% cash back on every other purchase, including grocery store purchases after the spending limit or after the first year.

Are rewards transferrable? Yes — you can transfer rewards to any of your other Chase cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program

Are rewards transferrable? Yes — you can transfer rewards to any of your other Chase cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program

Additional perks: Through March 31, 2022, all cardholders can earn a total of 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app.

Cardholders also get three free months of access to DoorDash's subscription delivery service, DashPass. After the first three months, you'll be automatically enrolled at half off for the next nine months. (You must activate the offer by Dec. 31, 2021.)

Additional perks: Through March 31, 2022, all cardholders can earn a total of 5% back on qualifying Lyft services purchased through the Lyft app.

Cardholders also get three free months of access to DoorDash's subscription delivery service, DashPass. After the first three months, you'll be automatically enrolled at half off for the next nine months. (You must activate the offer by Dec. 31, 2021.)

One last point: There's nothing that says you can't carry both of these cards, using the Chase Freedom® in the bonus categories and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® everywhere else. That's more effort than some people want to put into their credit cards, but others get a thrill out of optimizing their rewards.

Why might want the Chase Freedom®

Super-lucrative Sign-up bonus

The current bonus: Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That's already very generous for this kind of card, not mention easy to snag. But on top of that, you'll earn 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending. All told, that's a potential bonus of $800 just from a sign-up incentive.

BONUS CATEGORIES INCLUDE COMMON EXPENSES

The 5% bonus cash back is available on broad categories that a lot of people spend a lot of money on. Categories in the past have included gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, drugstores, department stores and wholesale clubs. (See categories from the past several years here.) Many cardholders will be able to rack up big rewards without changing their spending habits at all.

One caveat: You must opt in to the bonus category each quarter by "activating" it online. Forget to do so, and you'll be stuck with 1% rewards even in the bonus category. Generally, though, you'll have until the 14th day of the third month in the quarter to sign up and earn retroactive rewards for that quarter, which is plenty of time for most people.

TRANSFERRING POINTS AMPS UP YOUR VALUE

Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are typically worth 1 cent apiece, but several Chase cards give you a way to redeem them for 25% to 50% more value. By transferring your points from the Chase Freedom® to one of these other cards, you can supercharge your rewards:

  • With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, each point is worth 1.25 cents when redeemed for travel booked through Chase's online portal, operated by Expedia. That makes your effective rewards rate 6.25% in the bonus categories and 1.25% everywhere else.

  • With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, each point is worth 1.5 cents apiece when redeemed for travel booked through Chase. That makes your effective rewards rate 7.5% in the bonus categories and 1.5% everywhere else.

Points on these cards can also be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to about a dozen hotel and airline loyalty programs, including United, Southwest, JetBlue, British Airways, Marriott and Hyatt. Depending on how you use transferred points, that could get you even higher value.

Keep in mind that these three cards have an annual fee, so the extra value at redemption comes with its own costs. But if you're already carrying one of them, the Chase Freedom® just becomes that much more attractive.

Chase Freedom®: Drawbacks and alternatives

ROTATING CATEGORIES CAN BE A HASSLE

The Chase Freedom® bonus categories change every three months, and tracking and activating them can be tedious — especially if your spending habits don't always align with the new categories. For minimal effort, consider a card that offers the same rewards rate on all purchases. For example:

  • The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer offers an excellent ewards rate for a $0-annual-fee card. You earn 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% when you buy something, plus 1% when you pay it off. There's no sign-up bonus, though.

  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited®, mentioned above, pays an ongoing rate of 1.5% on all purchases. It also comes with a cash bonus: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening..

IT'S NOT GOOD FOR TRAVELING ABROAD

If you're traveling internationally, the 3% foreign transaction fees on the Chase Freedom® might be a deal-breaker for you. The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is one of the few cash-back cards that don't charge these fees. It earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases Its annual fee is also $0.

BONUS CATEGORIES MAY NOT MATCH YOUR SPENDING

The Chase Freedom®'s bonus categories will be right for many people, but not for all.

If you're looking for more customizable rewards, try the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card. It offers 5% cash back on two bonus categories you choose from a list that changes quarterly, on up to $2,000 combined spending each quarter; an unlimited 2% on an everyday category you choose (such as gas or groceries); and 1% elsewhere. The higher spending cap might also get you more rewards, if you spend a lot in those categories. It also comes with a $150 bonus after spending $500 in eligible net purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

The Discover it® Cash Back offers a similar rewards program to the Chase Freedom®, but with different categories. You earn 5% cash back in quarterly categories, on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending. (You must activate the categories.) All other spending earns 1% cash back. Bonus categories in the past have included things like restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and more. There's a unique bonus for newcomers: INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

For more information on choosing a cash-back credit card, browse our list of the best credit card deals.

Should I get the Chase Freedom®?

If you're looking for a no-fuss, flat-rate cash-back card, you might be better off with another offer. But if you spend in line with the Chase Freedom®’s 5% bonus categories, this card could net you an extra $300 a year, assuming you max out your categories every quarter. And that doesn't even take into account the generous sign-up bonus in the first year.

If that sounds like a good deal to you, consider applying.

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

Comments

NerdWallet reviews are the result of independent research by our editorial team while cardholder reviews are contributions from independent users not affiliated with NerdWallet. Banks, issuers and credit card companies are not responsible for any content posted on the NerdWallet site, nor do they endorse or guarantee any posted comments or reviews.

Write a review

Read Our Posting Guidelines
user avatar
Overall Rating:
Select your rating
undefined reviews

Some of the reviews on the NerdWallet site were purchased through a third party provider. Users who post a review directly on the NerdWallet site will not be compensated in any way. Please see our Terms of Use and Posting Guidelines for more information.