Chase Freedom Unlimited Review: A Potential One-Card Solution

Start with a lucrative bonus that includes 5% cash back on groceries up to $12,000 in spending in the first year. Add 3% back on restaurants, 1.5% back outside of bonus categories and flexible redemption options, and you have a winner.

Claire Tsosie, Gregory KarpSeptember 18, 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.

Our Take

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: The card's rewards structure isn't the easiest to remember. But its useful bonus categories, flexible rewards and outstanding welcome offer make it a top contender among cash-back cards.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • High rewards rate and no minimum redemption

  • No annual fee

  • Intro APR period on Purchases

Cons

  • Has foreign transaction fee

  • Requires good/excellent credit

Alternate Pick: Bonus cash back

Discover it® Cash Back

5% cash back in rotating categories

This card gives you 5% cash back in categories that you activate every three months, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter, and 1% on everything else.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$95

Regular APR

14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR

Regular APR

13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR

Rates & Fees

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 15 months

Intro APR

0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 12 months

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

Get more smart money moves — straight to your inbox

Become a NerdWallet member, and we’ll send you tailored articles we think you’ll love.

Full Review

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a compelling combination of valuable rewards, flexible redemption options, a lengthy 0% introductory APR period and a sign-up bonus that’s worth far more than most cash-back cards offer — all for an annual fee of $0.

A highlight for new cardholders is the introductory rewards rate for groceries — a whopping 5% cash back for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending. Add to that 3% cash back on restaurants and drugstore purchases, 5% back on travel booked through Chase and 1.5% back on other purchases, and you have a card that can really pile up the cash back. And if you carry other credit cards that also earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, it packs even more value.

But all those different rewards rates make the card more complicated than competitors that offer a simpler 1.5% back on everything. One remedy: Make the Chase Freedom Unlimited® a top-of-wallet card for every purchase, and you’ll be sure to score those bonus rewards without having to think much about it.

It’s why this card makes a compelling case to be a one-card solution among cash-back credit cards.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Basics

Card type: Cash back.

Annual fee: $0.

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

Rewards:

For new cardholders only:

  • 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending.

For all cardholders:

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

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

  • 3% back on drugstore purchases.

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

  • 1.5% cash back on everything else.

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

Foreign transaction fee: 3%.

Chase ultimate rewards® points

Although the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is marketed as a cash-back card, your spending actually earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. Points are worth a penny apiece when redeemed for cash back, thus you get 1.5% cash back or more depending on the category of your purchase. Points may also be redeemed for:

  • Gift cards at 1 cent per point.

  • Travel booked through Chase at 1 cent per point.

  • Amazon purchases at 0.8 cent per point.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is an excellent card on its own, but it's even better as a companion to other cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. More on that below.

Chase Freedom Unlimited® vs. Chase Freedom Flex

If you're looking at the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, it's logical to wonder how it compares with the similarly named Chase Freedom Flex℠.

Both Freedom-branded cards have an annual fee of $0, and both offer lucrative ways to earn cash back.

The choice mostly comes down to rewards: 5% quarterly rotating categories on the Chase Freedom Flex℠ or the 1.5% “everything else” (instead of 1% everything else) of the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

A quick evaluation:

  • Chase Freedom Flex℠The 5% cash back is enticing but complicated. Bonus cash back is also capped at $1,500 per quarter in spending before reverting to 1% back. Category activation is required; all other purchases earn 1% cash back.

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited®The 1.5% back on everything else is less exciting but simpler and way more flexible.

Which is more valuable will depend on how well the rotating bonus categories of the Chase Freedom Flex℠ match your spending. It also depends on how much you spend overall. Big spenders might get more value from 1.5% on everything else because it’s unlimited.

Nerd tip: The Chase Freedom Unlimited® runs on the Visa payment network, while the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a Mastercard. In terms of acceptance, it doesn't matter much if you carry a Visa or a Mastercard. But Visa and Mastercard do offer some differing side perks.

The table in the dropdown menu below highlights the differences in rewards between the two cards and the older Chase Freedom®, which is no longer accepting applications and has been effectively replaced by the Chase Freedom Flex.

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

For more information on which of these Freedom credit cards is right for you, see our full comparison story.

Why you might want the Chase Freedom Unlimited®

As a cash-back card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® delivers a great treat for new cardholders followed by high ongoing value at a low cost. Its best features include:

Big Sign-up bonus

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

Not only is the cash bonus high for a card of this type and easy to earn, but the bonus becomes outstanding because of the 5% cash back at grocery stores for the first year on up to $12,000 in spending.

Fully using grocery rewards is worth $600. Like most credit cards that use groceries/supermarkets as a bonus category, groceries bought at Target and Walmart are excluded from earning the higher rewards (although grocery delivery services like Instacart, Shipt and Peapod qualify).

Useful bonus categories

The bonus rewards categories are useful and lucrative:

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

  • 3% back on drugstore purchases.

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

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

Restaurants and drugstores are especially useful rewards categories for many households. Spend $3,000 a year combined in those categories, and you’ll earn $90 annually.

And if you book travel through Chase, 5% can add up quickly on pricey travel itineraries. Vacation travel costing $6,000 gets you back $300, for example.

1.5% on 'everything else'

Cash-back credit cards with bonus categories, like 3% back on restaurants, typically offer 1% cash back on “everything else.” The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers 1.5% back on everything else.

While 0.5% more doesn’t seem like much, it adds up for big spenders because it has no limit. And many big-ticket expenses seldom fall neatly into typical bonus categories — think medical bills, car tires and furnace repair.

For those who spend a lot, say $5,000 per month on “everything else,” the extra 0.5% rate on the Chase Freedom Unlimited® means an extra $300 a year in cash back, compared with its typical competitors.

point transfers to maximize value

Because Chase allows you to transfer its points among cards that earn them, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® can be a cornerstone of a strategy to get maximum value out of every dollar you spend. If you have multiple Chase cards, you can:

Earn more points by splitting your spending between this card and the Chase Freedom Flex. By using the Chase Freedom Flex for purchases in the 5% bonus categories and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® on all other spending, you'd boost your overall rewards earnings significantly.

Get more value per point by transferring rewards to a card with elevated redemption values. Points earned with this card are usually worth a penny apiece. But several Chase cards give you more value per point when you use them to book travel through Chase's online portal, operated by Expedia:

These three cards also allow you to transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to about a dozen airline and hotel loyalty programs, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Marriott and Hyatt. Depending on how you use transferred points, you could reap even more value.

Drawbacks of the Chase Freedom Unlimited®

It’s complicated

The 1.5% flat rate is easy enough to understand, but the mix of reward rates in other spending categories is head-spinning — especially for cash-back lovers, who tend to value simplicity.

If you don’t want to carry around a rewards cheat sheet to optimally use a credit card and you’re just interested in cash-back rewards — not necessarily Chase Ultimate Rewards® — the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is one of the best flat-rate cards on the market. It offers 2% cash back — 1% back on every dollar spent, and 1% back on every dollar paid off — and not just for a limited time.

It’s the choice for satisficers: people who are happy to settle for a good-enough option without feeling regret.

Different bonus categories or better rates

Cards with rewards bonus categories are most valuable when you spend a significant amount in those categories.

Alternative options include:

  • The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express pays an industry-leading 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 a year in spending (then 1%), plus 6% on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% at U.S. gas stations, 3% on transit and 1% on all other spending. Terms apply. It comes at a cost, though: The annual fee is $95. Terms apply. This might be an ideal card to get after the first year for high grocery spenders.

  • The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card pays 3% in a category of your choice (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores or home improvement/furnishings) and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, on up to $2,500 in combined choice-category/grocery-store/wholesale-club spending per quarter. All other spending earns 1% cash back.

You can find out more about how this cash-back credit card compares versus the competition by visiting our list of best credit cards to apply for.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Is it worth getting?

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a great deal for consumers — especially for those who already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

It comes with a sky-high sign-up offer, useful bonus rewards categories and plenty of options for cashing in rewards. It’s not as simple as a flat-rate cash-back card, but its versatility and value make it a strong choice.

Information related to the Chase Freedom Flex 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.