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Chase offers two personal cash back credit cards, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Neither Chase cash back card charges an annual fee, but which is better for your wallet?
Because of Chase’s 5/24 rule, these aren’t the first Chase rewards credit cards you should consider if you’re just starting out in collecting travel rewards. However, they are a nice compliment if you hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card in your wallet.
How the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited Are Similar
Before we cover the differences, let’s first look at the similarities of both cards:
- No annual fee
- 3% foreign transaction fee
- Points can be redeemed for cash back, gift cards, or Amazon credit
- Rewards points can be redeemed for award travel with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Preferred card combo
You can also redeem your Ultimate Rewards points directly through the Chase travel portal for award travel, but they are only worth 1 cent each – the same value as cash rewards or gift cards.
But, there’s a way to make each Freedom or Freedom Unlimited point worth 1.25 or 1.5 cents each for award travel, or 1:1 point transfers, with the Chase Trifecta card combo that comes with the best Chase credit cards.
If you already own another Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, you should consider picking up either credit card to earn bonus points on base purchases. These points qualify for the travel redemption bonus or 1:1 point transfers if you prefer travel rewards to cash back rewards.
Chase Freedom Flex
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ earns up to 5% cash back on the first $1,500 in combined purchases in quarterly bonus categories that you activate. You must activate these categories to earn. There will also be new 5% categories each quarter. You’ll earn 1% on all bonus spending above $1,500.
If you max out the $1,500 quarterly bonus each quarter, that’s an extra $240 every year you earn compared to using a flat-rate rewards card that only earns 1% back on every dollar spent.
The 5% bonus categories aren’t announced until two weeks before the quarter begins. You must opt-in each quarter to begin receiving the 5% bonus. Set a phone calendar reminder each quarter to activate the bonus offer. The Chase website has different formats for downloading their calendar.
While there are some changes each year, the 5% reward calendar remains relatively static.
To maximize the Chase Trifecta, use your Chase Freedom Flex℠ for the first $1,500 of combined spending in the bonus categories. Do this even if you own the Sapphire Preferred that earns an unlimited 2 points per $1 on travel and dining or the Ink Preferred that earns 3 points per $1 on phone, internet, cable tv, and other business-type purchases.
The other Chase Freedom Flex℠ bonus categories include:
- 5% cashback on the first $1,500 on quarterly bonus categories you activate (then 1% back)
- 5% cashback on travel purchases in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
- 3% cashback on restaurants, including takeout and delivery services
- 3% cashback on drugstore purchases
Cardholders earn an unlimited 1% on all remaining purchases.
New Chase Freedom Flex℠ cardmembers have the opportunity to earn a $200 cash bonus after making $500 in purchases during the first 3 months of account opening.
- Points can be transferred to Ultimate Rewards partner with the Chase Sapphire or Ink Business Preferred
- Unlimited 1% rewards on all non-bonus spending
- No redemption minimum for cash back rewards
- You might not benefit from some bonus categories if you don’t usually make purchases from them
- Must opt-in to each quarterly bonus category
Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® comes with the ability to earn an unlimited 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, and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. There is no limit to how much cash back can be earned and no annual fee to worry about.
New cardholders can earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
You might prefer this card more if you crave simplicity or you don’t spend enough in the Chase Freedom’s 5% bonus categories to offset the 1% reward on non-bonus spending.
You will need to compare your regular monthly credit card statements to the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited purchase rewards to see which card is more beneficial.
The Freedom Unlimited is another contender for the Chase Trifecta.
- Points can eligible for travel redemption bonus and 1:1 point transfers with Sapphire or Ink Preferred
- Earn on every purchase – no opt-ins required
- A better option if you don’t maximize the Chase Freedom 5% award calendar
- No minimum redemption for cash rewards
When to Apply for the Chase Freedom
You should apply for the Chase Freedom Flex℠, one of the best cash back credit cards, instead of the Freedom Unlimited 1.5% back when:
- You will earn more in the rotating categories than in the Unlimited’s categories
- Double your Ink or Sapphire bonus categories in select bonus categories
When to Apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® can be the better option when:
- You forget to opt-in to the Chase Freedom quarterly bonus categories
- Earn more with 1.5% back instead of the tiered 5% and 1% Freedom Flex purchase rewards
- Want to earn more back; whether or not you own other Chase credit cards
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited
Both of these Chase cash back credit cards are a good compliment for your wallet to earn cash rewards or pool your Ultimate Rewards points for award travel. Because of the 3% foreign transaction fee, you’ll only want to use either card for U.S.-based purchases to still profit from the purchase rewards.
To choose the best credit card, you will need to look beyond how much money you spend each month. This is a fine strategy when you compare flat-rate rewards cards (like some of the best Capital One credit cards for travel). But, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison, despite the many similarities.
Look at how much money you spend in the various purchase categories to estimate your monthly and year-end rewards balance with either card. Then, choose the card with the highest potential payout.
Summary on Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited
Either the Chase Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited will pair well with your spending habits because they have higher purchase rewards than the average cash back credit card that earns 1% on average. I have the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and use it to maximize its 5% categories. Then I transfer my points to my Sapphire Preferred account, so I can then transfer my points to a Chase travel partner like United or Hyatt.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.