Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: Which One Is Better For You?

Man paying with credit card
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Two of the most popular credit cards on the market are the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited. Both cards are popular picks for all types of credit card users, and each has its own set of benefits and advantages. Choosing between the two comes down to your individual spending habits and goals.

If you’re on the fence between the Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited, here’s what you need to know.

Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom 101

The Chase Freedom card is one of my favorite cards to carry. It was actually the first credit card I applied for. Years later, I still have it because there’s a lot to like about it.

Let’s look at how the cash back features work with this card.

You’ll earn 5% cash back in a set of bonus categories that changes every three months. During the first quarter of 2019, for instance, the bonus categories are gas stations, tolls, and purchases made at drugstores.

Those purchases will all return 5% on up to $1,500 in combined spending.

The one stipulation is that each quarter, you have to activate the 5% feature by clicking a button. Fortunately, doing so is quick and easy, and Chase even sends you a reminder email. But you do have to remember to do it, or you won’t earn that 5% cash back on your purchases.

After you’ve capped out your 5% by spending more than $1,500 in those categories for the quarter, you’ll earn 1% cash back on all additional purchases.

What happens if you shop outside of the bonus categories?

You’ll get 1% cash back for every dollar you spend – and you don’t have to activate that. It’s automatic.

Unlike the 5% earned in rotating categories, that 1% reward is unlimited.

Unlike some credit cards, Chase Freedom allows you to cash out your rewards at any time. You don’t need to reach a minimum threshold.

Chase Freedom Unlimited 101

Chase Freedom Unlimited Card Art 4:5

The biggest difference between these cards is how much cash back they offer. The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases. As of September 15, 2020, you also get 3% on drug store and dining purchases, as well as 5% on travel purchaed through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

You don’t have to activate your savings every quarter, like you do with Chase Freedom’s 5% cash back feature. And just like with the Freedom, your rewards never expire and you can cash them out whenever you want.

Annual Fees

Free is usually best if you’re practicing the concept of frugal living. But sometimes, even if you have to pay an annual fee – as you do with the Chase Sapphire Reserve – it can be worth it.

The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited are no-brainers though, when it comes to whether you should add them to your wallet based on annual fees.

  • Chase Freedom: No annual fee.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited: No annual fee.


APR is an important factor to consider when choosing a new credit card. You want your APR to be as low as possible, because a lower APR means you’ll save interest if you carry a revolving balance.

To get the best APR you can, you should ensure that your credit score is as high as possible. You can do that by paying your bills on time and cutting down on your debt load.

When you look at the Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited, both cards offer a competitive variable interest rate. Currently, the APR on both the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited is exactly the same.

Chase also gives you access to Credit Journey, a helpful credit-tracking tool that provides free credit score updates and insights to help you improve your score.

Sign-Up Bonus

Sign-up bonuses are a powerful motivator when it comes to choosing a credit card. You can gain hundreds of dollars from one good sign-up bonus – they are a creative way to make money

There are too many great cards out there that offer compelling sign-up bonuses to choose one that doesn’t.

You’ll be leaving free money on the table if you skip the sign-up bonus.

  • Chase Freedom: $150 if you charge $500 in purchases in the first three months after opening the account.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited: $200 if you charge $500 in purchases in the first three months after opening the account.

Chase Ultimate Rewards 101

Do you like getting free money? That’s basically what Chase Ultimate Rewards (CUR) will give you.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is the portal set up by Chase, the credit card issuer, to view and redeem your points.

With CUR, you can redeem your points for statement credits, transfer cash to your bank account, get free gift cards, book travel and more.

The one thing that neither the Chase Freedom nor Chase Freedom Unlimited allow you to do is transfer to travel partners for miles or points. Chase requires that you hold one of its premium cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, in order to do so.

Travel is the way to get the highest value from Chase Ultimate Rewards points. So if you’re a big traveler, you should consider getting a premium card.

Which Card Is Right For You?

There are no clear-cut winners when it comes to Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited. They are both great rewards card – especially since they don’t charge an annual fee.

But if I had to select one of these cash-back credit cards, I would choose the Chase Freedom.

That’s mainly because there are other cash back cards, like the Citi Double Cash Back cards, that offer a flat 2% cash back. (Keep in mind, there’s no sign-up bonus for this card and half the cash back comes after you pay your balance).

By optimizing quarterly categories, you can earn up to 5% back with the Chase Freedom card, which is one of the highest reward rates available.

What’s also nice is that the rotating bonus categories are usually for everyday purchases, like drug stores, Lyft rides, grocery stores, department stores, and gas stations.

When I prefer the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is when someone is trying to accumulate Chase Ultimate Rewards points. In that case, it might be worth having both cards.

There’s also a strategy in the travel hacking world known as the Chase Trifecta. When I’m not earning a bonus on a card, this is actually the strategy I use to maximize my cash back rewards…

The Chase Trifecta

In the travel community, the strategy used to maximize your points power is known as the Chase Trifecta.

When you use this strategy, you can get a minimum value of 2.25 points for each dollar you spend.

This strategy requires owning three Chase cards:

The idea is to take advantage of the bonus categories offered by both the Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3% cash back on travel and dining. The Chase Freedom card has rotating bonus categories, which change quarterly. Finally, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers 1.5% back on everything, as well as 3% back on dining and drugstores.

If you’re buying something outside of the bonus categories, you would use your Chase Freedom Unlimited card, earning 1.5%.

Chase then allows you to combine the points you earn from separate cards into one Chase Ultimate Rewards account.

To maximize the value of your rewards, you’d want to transfer all your points to your Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you get 50% greater value if you redeem your points for travel. 

Spend in a 5% bonus category with the Chase Freedom card, and then transfer those points to your Chase Sapphire Reserve account, and it’s like earning 7.5% cash back.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card does have a hefty annual fee of $550, so if you opt for that card make sure you’re transferring your points and maximizing your rewards.

R.J. Weiss
R.J. Weiss is the founder and editor of The Ways To Wealth, a Certified Financial Planner™, husband and father of three. He's spent the last 10+ years writing about personal finance and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MSN Money, and other publications.

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