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Flat-rate cash back credit cards probably aren’t the most exciting card you can own. However, they can play pivotal in earning the most credit card points possible. This Chase Freedom Unlimited® review will show you how you can earn 50% more points and all the ways you can redeem your points for the most value.

Learn more: Cash Back Credit Cards

Chase Freedom Unlimited Review
In this Chase Freedom Unlimited review, you can learn how to use your cash back for travel rewards. Credit: Pexels

When it comes to cash rewards, cards that earn up to 5% back, like the Chase Freedom, attract more buzz. But if your spending habits don’t match the bonus tiers, a “Steady Eddie” like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® can be better.

Having no annual fee (it’s one of the best travel credit cards with no annual fees) or minimum redemption amount is another large advantage of having the Freedom Unlimited. If you like what you’re hearing so far, see if this card is right for you.

In-Depth Chase Freedom Unlimited Review

The Chase Freedom Unlimited makes it easy to earn and redeem rewards points. Because it doesn’t have an annual fee, it can easily be the card you use for daily spending. Or, you might only use it when your favorite credit card earns less than 1.5 points per dollar on the same purchase.

While there is no annual fee, note that you will pay a 3% foreign transaction fee on non-U.S. purchases. But also note that this card is also a Visa credit card, which has a near-universal acceptance rate.

Learn more: Cash Back Credit Cards

Earn Unlimited 1.5% Back

Every purchase earns 1.5% back (1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent). This rate is competitive with most flat-rate cash back credit cards including the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card. Only a select few credit cards earn 2% back.

For any rewards credit card you have, the lowest rewards rate should be 1% (or 1 point per $1) back. If your current credit card earns an unlimited 1% back on each purchase, the Freedom Unlimited earns 50% more. For every $1,000 you spend, that’s an extra $5 reward.

The Freedom Unlimited has a 3% foreign transaction fee. You won’t want to use this card when traveling abroad as you will “lose rewards.”

Signup Bonus

The current signup bonus is the ability to earn $150 after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Note that you earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

The Freedom Unlimited promotions do change. Depending on the promotion, you might earn 3% on the first $20,000 spent in the first 12 months instead of the usual 1.5% back. The extra 1.5% back is the standard signup bonus. Plus, you can get a $300 bonus cash (awarded as 3,000 Ultimate Rewards points) if you spend the full $20,000.

Chase periodically offers a lump-sum $200 cash bonus by spending $500 in the first 3 months. Timing your application for this bonus is usually the better option because you only need to spend $500 to get $200 bonus cash instead of spending $13,350 within 12 months for the same $200 bonus cash.

0% Intro APR

Purchases and balance transfers get a 0% intro APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. The balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred ($5 minimum).

This is one of the better promotional offers if you need it because the introductory period is longer than the standard 12-month term.

Tiered Rewards vs Flat Rewards

The best cash back credit cards either earn the same amount back on every purchase or earn bonus points on select categories. Because tiered rewards cards like the Chase Freedom earn up to 5% back on select purchases and 1% on non-bonus spending, these cards usually generate more buzz. After all, would you rather get 5% or 1.5% back?

Although the Freedom Unlimited doesn’t offer bonus points, you don’t have to time your purchases or guess what the quarterly bonus categories will be. If you want simplicity, stick with a flat-rate rewards card.

Shop through Chase

One exception to Freedom Unlimited flat-rate rewards is the Shop through Chase online shopping mall. Instead of going directly to your favorite online store, log into your Chase credit account first. Opening a special shopping session lets you earn bonus points. For example, you might be able to get 3% extra cashback at Nike or 2% extra at Apple.

Learn more: Cash Back Credit Cards

Redeem Points for Cash, Travel, or Gift Cards

In addition to earning 1.5% back on every purchase, your points are worth 1 cent each when you redeem for cash, award travel, or gift cards. You can also transfer your points to your Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred account to get more than 1 cent of value per point when booking award travel.

The multiple non-cash redemption options help make the Freedom Unlimited more flexible than other cashback credit cards.

You can also redeem your points for Amazon.com or Apple shopping credits but your points are only worth 0.8 cents each. Chase sometimes runs a redemption promotion that makes your points worth 1 cent each. If you can’t wait for this promotion, you are better off charging the purchase to your Freedom Unlimited, earn 1.5x points, and redeem your points as a cash reward.

Cash Rewards

Chase markets the Freedom Unlimited as a cash rewards card. In most cases, cash rewards are your most valuable point redemption option. The one exception is if you have one of the Chase Sapphire cards or Ink Business Preferred which you can use to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for travel.

You can redeem your rewards balance for in any amount for a cash statement credit or bank account deposit. Each point is worth one penny for either option.

Travel Rewards

Your points are also worth 1 cent each when booking future travel on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. This portal is powered by Expedia and you can book flights, hotels, cruises, rental cars, tours, and vacation packages on this portal.

Neither the Freedom Unlimited or Freedom Card has a travel redemption bonus or 1:1 point transfers. Yes, the Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be worth more than 1 cent each for travel. But you must first transfer them to a card with an annual fee.

If you can’t pool your Ultimate Rewards points, you may be better off paying cash for your travel. This ensures you earn 1.5 points on the travel purchase and any travel loyalty program points. Although it’s an extra step to redeem your points as a cash reward, you can net more points for your effort.

Gift Cards

Gift cards from over 195 different brands are available as well. Again, each point is worth 1 cent each. Some cards go on sale during the year. One example is 10% off the Happy Dining gift cards so you can get a $20 card balance for 1,800 points instead of the usual 2,000 points.

This isn’t a bad redemption option, especially if you can purchase at a discount. The more desirable gift cards may require a larger points balance.

Some brands like Starbucks or Albertson’s begin offering cards with a minimum $5 balance. Some of the more expensive gift cards include Amazon ($15), Airbnb ($25), Cracker Barrel ($25), and Carnival Cruises ($100).

Pooling Chase Points

If travel rewards are your preferred point redemption option, investing in a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred is a wise choice (all part of the best Chase credit cards group).

With the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Preferred, points are worth 1.25 cents each when booking award travel on Chase. Each point is worth 1.5 cents each with the Sapphire Reserve.

These three cards also let you transfer your points to these 13 1:1 travel transfer partners:

  • Aer Lingus
  • British Airways
  • Emirates
  • Air France
  • Iberia
  • JetBlue
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • IHG
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • World of Hyatt

Most of these Ultimate Rewards transfer partners make it easy to get at least 1.25 cents of value from each point. For example, you can transfer your points to British Airways and book short-haul flights in Europe for 4,500 Avios. Or you can book a one-way flight for 12,500 Avios on Alaska Airlines from California to Hawaii by first transferring to your British Airways Executive account.

If you plan on pooling your points, make sure you get your Chase Sapphire or Ink Business Preferred Card first. Then use the Freedom Unlimited to earn 1.5 points per $1 when your other Chase card only earns the standard 1 point per $1.

Learn more: Cash Back Credit Cards

Additional Benefits

In general, cash back credit cards with no annual fee don’t offer many fringe benefits. The main reason to get the Freedom Unlimited is to earn 1.5% on every purchase.  This card can save you money in other ways.

  • Purchase protection up to $500 per claim
  • Extended warranty protection of up to 1 additional year
  • Contactless payments
  • Secondary auto rental collision damage waiver protection

Learn more: Cash Back Credit Cards

Credit Score Needed for Chase Freedom Unlimited

You will have the best approval odds with a 670 credit score or higher. Having a 740 credit score or above can help you qualify for a higher credit limit. Though, Chase also takes your annual salary and current credit card limits to determine this magic number.

It’s possible to get approved with a lower score. For example, it’s possible to be approved with a 620 credit score according to data points from current cardholders.

Chase 5/24 Rule

Before you apply for the Freedom Unlimited, make sure you have not added 5 credit cards to your wallet in the last 24 months. Count any card you are a primary or authorized user on. Although you won’t find the “5/24 Rule” anywhere in writing on the Chase website (anymore), this anti-churning policy is still in effect.

Chase will decline your application if you have more than 5 new credit cards that have been reported to your credit report in the last 24 months. Certain business credit cards and charge cards like the American Express Platinum Card may not trigger the 5/24 rule. But if you’re unsure, wait until you have 4 or fewer cards that have been open less than 24 months before you apply.

This policy applies to all Chase credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, including the Ink business family, some of the best Chase business credit cards. Most of the co-brand airline and hotel cards fall under this rule as well.

Pros

  • Earn unlimited 1.5% back on purchases
  • No annual fee
  • Points redeemable for cash, travel, or gift cards
  • Can pool Ultimate Rewards points with your other Chase accounts

Cons

  • No travel redemption bonus or 1:1 transfer partners
  • Subject to Chase 5/24 rule

Chase Freedom Unlimited Alternatives

If you do not have a high conviction for getting the Chase Freedom Unlimited, these other best credit cards for travel rewards options may be a better fit for your spending habits.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can be a potent credit card combination. But if you’re near the 5/24 limit or can spend $4,000 in the next three months to qualify for the bonus worth $750 in award travel, apply for the Sapphire Preferred first.

Here are the best reasons why:

  • Earn 2x points on travel and dining (1x point for everything else)
  • Redeem points for 1.25 cents each for award travel
  • Transfer points to 1:1 transfer partners
  • 60,000 bonus points signup bonus ( worth $750 in award travel)
  • Primary rental car collision damage waiver insurance

The annual fee is $95 and there is no foreign transaction fee.

Bonus reading: Our Chase Freedom Unlimited vs Chase Sapphire Preferred comparison helps you decide which card to apply for first.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Frequent flyers will benefit more from the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. You get a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit.

Travel and dining purchases earn 3x points and non-bonus purchases earn 1x points. And your points are worth 1.5 cents each for award travel if you don’t transfer them to the 1:1 Chase transfer partners.

The signup bonus is 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points by spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. This bonus is worth $750 in award travel. The annual fee is $450 which is easily worth it if you use the card’s travel benefits.

Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom® is the tiered rewards alternative to the Chase Freedom Unlimited. You don’t pay an annual fee but there is still the 3% foreign transaction fee.

Its signup bonus is also easier to earn. The standard cash bonus is $150 by spending $500 in the first 3 months.

Instead of earning 1.5% back on each purchase, you either earn 5% or 1% back. The Freedom has rotating quarterly bonus categories where you earn 5% back on the first $1,500 in combined quarterly spending. All spending above $1,500 and all non-bonus purchases earn an unlimited 1% back.

The bonus categories vary a little bit from year to year, but they remain mostly the same. Below of the bonus categories for 2019.

  • 1st quarter: Gas stations, tolls, and drugstores
  • 2nd quarter: Grocery stores and home improvement stores
  • 3rd quarter: Gas stations and select streaming services
  • 4th quarter: Department stores, PayPal and Chase Pay

If you can earn more points from the 5% bonus categories instead of the flat 1.5% back, go with the Chase Freedom. Learn more: Cash Back Credit Cards

Summary of Chase Freedom Unlimited Review

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a solid contender for being the best cashback credit card if you are okay earning 1.5% back on every purchase. If travel rewards are your favorite credit card reward, consider getting a Chase Sapphire and using the Freedom Unlimited to earn 50% more points on the non-travel and dining purchases.

Learn more: Cash Back Credit Cards

Josh Patoka

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