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Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: This One’s Probably a Better Choice

10 min read
Susan Shain By Susan Shain Aug 31, 2018 | Updated Jul 02, 2020

While the Chase Freedom® (Review)  and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® (Review) are similar credit cards with (confusingly) similar names, they do have one big difference: the way they earn rewards.

And you’ll need to understand that fully before deciding which card to get.

Keep reading for a breakdown of the Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited. You’ll learn which is the better fit for you — and why you might not even have to pick between them!

Card Annual Fee Rewards
Chase Freedom® (Review) $0
  • 5% cash back on Lyft rides
  • 5% cash back on rotating categories, up to $1,500 in spending each quarter, then 1%
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
Chase Freedom Unlimited® (Review) $0
  • 5% cash back on Lyft rides
  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases

A Quick Glance at the Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited

These cards have a lot in common, including:

  • Signup bonus: Earn a $150 bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months.
  • Online shopping portal: When you “Shop through Chase,” you could earn extra cash back at select retailers.
  • Annual fee: $0 (woohoo!)
  • Intro APR: 0% on purchases for the first 15 months. Afterwards, it’ll jump to a 14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR.
  • Free credit score: Chase will provide you with an updated credit score each week through its program Credit Journey (enrollment required).
  • Foreign transaction fees: Both cards have a foreign transaction fee of 3%, which means we don’t recommend them for use abroad. (If you like to travel outside the country, here are some cards without foreign transaction fees.)

Do those APRs look high to you? Due to their perks, most cash back cards have higher APRs than basic cards. But here’s the thing: You don’t need to worry about APRs if you pay off your credit card bill each month. When you pay your statement balance in full every month, you don’t pay any interest on your purchases.

How Rewards Work With the Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited

Although both cards earn cash back (in the form of Ultimate Rewards points), the big difference lies in how much you earn with each purchase. The Freedom Unlimited is super straightforward, while the Freedom is less so.

  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 5% cash back on Lyft rides and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases, all year round.
  • The Chase Freedom has “bonus categories” that rotate every quarter. If you spend money in that quarter’s bonus categories, you’ll earn 5% cash back on your first $1,500 of purchases. You’ll also get the same 5% back on Lyft. For everything else, you’ll earn 1%.

You’ll need to activate these categories each quarter before you’ll earn cash back at the 5% rate.

Here are the quarterly bonus categories from 2019, plus the categories we know for 2020:

Quarter 2019 Categories 2020 Categories
January – March
  • Gas Stations
  • Tolls
  • Drugstores
  • Gas Stations
  • Streaming Services
  • Internet, Cable, Phone Services
April – June
  • Grocery Stores
  • Home Improvement Stores
  • Grocery Stores
  • Streaming Services
  • Fitness Club & Gym Memberships
July – September
  • Gas Stations
  • Streaming Services
  • Amazon
  • Whole Foods Market
October – December
  • Department Stores
  • PayPal
  • Chase Pay

Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited: Which Earns More Rewards?

While at first glance 5% sounds unbeatable, the Freedom’s value depends on your spending habits — and it’s worth doing the calculations to see if it’d be a winner for you.

Let’s take me, for example. My boyfriend and I try to put as many expenditures as possible on our credit cards, for a total of about $2,000 per month, or $24,000 per year. So, given our spending habits, would we earn more with the Freedom or the Freedom Unlimited?

Situation 1: Realistic Spending

Here, I estimated what I would’ve earned using the 2018 bonus categories. Note that these are not current categories, though you may very well see some of them again.

Category What I’d spend in that quarter
Gas stations $150
Internet, cable, and phone services $150
Chase Pay, Android Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay $0
Q1 total bonus spend $300
Grocery stores $1,500
PayPal $0
Chase Pay $0
Q2 total bonus spend $1,500
Gas stations $150
Lyft $50
Walgreens $0
Q3 total bonus spend $200
Walmart $600
Department stores $200
Q4 total bonus spend $800

That’s a total of $3,000 in the bonus categories. So, with the Chase Freedom, here’s what we would’ve earned:

Annual spend Annual cash back
Bonus category (5% cash back) $3,000 $150
Everything else (1% cash back) $21,000 $210
Total $360

Compare that to what we would’ve earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited:

Annual spend Annual cash back

All purchases

(1.5% cash back)

$24,000 $360
Total $360

As you can see, we would’ve earned the same amount with the Freedom Unlimited, despite the Freedom’s alluring 5% bonus categories.

Situation 2: Maxing Out the Freedom’s Bonus Categories

Your situation could be different. If you spend a lot of money in one of the categories — gas stations, for example — then the Freedom might be a better fit for you. But, naturally, that won’t happen with everyone.

Let’s say you spent as much as I did, but maxed out each of the quarterly categories, for a total of $6,000 per year.

The Chase Freedom could earn you:

Annual spend Annual cash back
Bonus category (5% cash back) $6,000 $300
Everything else (1% cash back) $18,000 $180
Total $480

And the Chase Freedom Unlimited would still earn you $360.

In that situation, the Chase Freedom would come out on top — but that’s only if you maxed out the bonus categories each and every quarter.

Here’s a handy strategy to help you maximize rewards. Say the end of the quarter is coming up, and you’ve only spent $500 of the possible $1,500 that’s eligible for 5% back. You could spend the rest on store gift cards that you can use whenever you want. If gas station purchases earn 5%, buy a bunch of gas gift cards, and then use them all year long. But only buy gift cards if you plan to use them (and pay your statement balance in full) — not just to hit the spending limit.

Insider tip

When we refer to “spending $24,000 per year” on a credit card, we’re not talking about carrying a balance. We’re talking about charging purchases to your credit card, and then paying the bill in full each month. Carrying a balance — and paying interest — on your card will reduce the net value of any rewards you earn.

How Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited Earn Ultimate Rewards Points

Instead of earning straight cash back, like many other credit cards, the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited earn points.

Every $1 of “cash back” equals 100 points with Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program.

The easiest way to redeem these points is to use them as statement credits. You’ll essentially turn the points back into cash, getting $0.01 for every point you redeem. So Chase would provide $1 in cash back in the form of 100 Ultimate Rewards points, and then you’d redeem those 100 points for $1 off your statement. You could also convert your points into gift cards or Amazon credit at the same rate.

Transferring Your Points to a Premium Chase Travel Card

You’ll find more value if you transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to one of Chase’s premium travel cards: the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review), Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review), or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (Review). After transferring your points to one of those cards you’ll have access to better redemption options.

Remember that $360 of cash back we discussed earlier? That amounts to 36,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Add in the $150 (15,000-point) signup bonus, and you’d now have 51,000 points.

With the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Plus, those points would be worth 1.25 cents when booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Or, with the Sapphire Reserve, you’d be getting 1.5 cents per point.

That means 51,000 points could get you between $637 and $765 worth of travel. While this approach requires more effort, it also yields more value than statement credits.

Lastly, if you have one of these premium cards you can also transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to any of Chase’s 12 airline and hotel partners. They include brands like Southwest, United, Marriott, and Hyatt, among others.

If you’re willing to put in the work and you have one of the premium cards, this is one of the most powerful redemption strategies. Take the 51,000 points mentioned above: You could transfer them to United Airlines and redeem them for a round-trip international flight!

Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited: Which to Choose

So now you’re convinced the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited are rewarding cash back cards…but you still don’t know which one to get.

Why Choose the Chase Freedom

  • You’ll get 5% cash back in select categories: If you can max out its bonus categories, the Freedom is a smart choice. (Just remember you’ll have to sign up for each bonus category ahead of time.)
  • It’s exciting: If you get a thrill from earning points, the Freedom’s rotating categories can be kind of fun.

Chase Freedom®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • $150 cash bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – it’s automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99% - 23.74% Variable
  • No annual fee
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠

Why Choose the Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • You won’t have to keep track of bonus categories: You already have lots of stuff to worry about, and might not want to add one more thing to your plate.
  • You won’t be tempted to spend more: You’re only human. If you get the Chase Freedom, you could risk spending extra money to maximize your 5% bonus each quarter, which totally defeats the point.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.99 - 23.74% Variable

Looking for a bottom line?

Unless you’re going to be diligent about maxing out bonus categories — without spending extra money — we think the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a better fit.

You won’t need to worry about categories, and will easily earn a flat 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (aside from the 5% back you’ll get on Lyft rides).

But, You Don’t Have to Choose Just One

That said, you could get both cards.

You could use the Freedom for purchases in applicable bonus categories, and the Freedom Unlimited everywhere else. And, if you have one of the premium Chase cards we mentioned above, you could use that for the categories in which it earns the most (travel and dining for both the Preferred and Reserve, for example).

And, no matter which card you use to earn Ultimate Rewards points, you’ll get the most value by redeeming them with one of Chase’s premium cards.

With this three-card strategy, you’ll earn between 1.5 and 5 Ultimate Rewards points for every dollar you spend. Depending on how you redeem them, that’s quite a bit more than the 1.5% and 5% cash back you’d normally earn.

While that sounds amazing, it’s vital to remember no rewards are worth going into debt over. Although playing the credit card game can be fun, you should only participate if you can pay off your bills in full each month. If you don’t trust yourself to be responsible, that’s fine! Just stick to debit cards instead.

Insider tip

Talk to any credit card insider, and they’ll probably gripe about Chase’s “5/24 rule.” Though not officially listed anywhere, it’s widely known that Chase will usually deny your application if you’ve opened more than five credit card accounts in the past 24 months. To see where you stand, check your credit reports.

Other Rewards Cards to Consider

Don’t feel like either of the Freedom cards is right for you?

Here are a few similar cards to consider:

For rotating bonus categories with 5% cash back

Discover it® Cash Back

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0
Regular APRSee Terms

The information related to Discover it® Cash Back has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Like the Freedom, the Discover it card has rotating bonus categories in which you can earn 5% cash back (on up to $1,500 in spending each quarter, with activation required). Discover will double your cash back earned in the first year, so you’ll earn a minimum of 2% cash back on all purchases, or 10% cash back in rewards categories during that time. But, while it touts its lack of foreign transaction fees, Discover isn’t widely accepted abroad.

For a straightforward 2% cash back card

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Our rating
Min. credit levelExcellent
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi’s discretion.

Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

The Citi Double Cash offers 2% cash back on everything (1% back on purchases, and 1% back on payments). If you’re not interested in redeeming your cash back for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, this card will give you a high percentage of cash back (without the need to fuss over categories).

For a big signup bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$95
Regular APR15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • 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 travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.

As we’ve mentioned before, one of the best all-around cards is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Its signup bonus offers 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. You’ll earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on Lyft rides, 2X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1X point per dollar on everything else.

Still want more? Here’s our breakdown of the best credit cards on the market.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better, the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited?

Neither card is necessarily better than the other; they share many similar features and are both great credit cards.

The main difference is that the Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent quarterly in rotating categories, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a flat 1.5% cash back rate on most purchases (learn more about how cash back works).

Otherwise, the cards are nearly identical. Both are good for individual use, though you could also have both cards at the same time, using the Freedom for purchases that qualify for 5% back, and the Freedom Unlimited for everything else.

Chase allows you to transfer points between these cards, as well as other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, allowing you to stretch the value of your rewards even further.

Can you have the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited at the same time?

Yes. The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited are two separate cash back credit cards with distinct reward structures.

What rewards do the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited offer?

The Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card offers 5% back on Lyft purchases and 1.5% back on all other purchases with no spending limit.

The Chase Freedom Card offers 5% back on Lyft purchases, plus 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent per quarter (then 1%) in categories that rotate throughout the year.

The Freedom’s quarterly 5% categories aren’t typically announced until a few weeks before the quarter begins, but you can often expect to see popular options like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and streaming services.

What benefits do the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited offer?

The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited come with a variety of benefits.

Chase Offers and Shop through Chase offer lots of potential value. Chase Offers provides statement credits for shopping with certain retailers, while Shop through Chase works differently, granting enhanced rewards for shopping with select merchants.

Both cards also provide a free DoorDash DashPass subscription for three months, followed by a 50% membership discount for the next nine months.

Furthermore, the cards are issued at either the basic Visa Platinum tier (if you’re approved with a credit limit under $5,000) or the Visa Signature tier (if you’re approved with a limit of at least $5,000). Visa benefits may include purchase protection, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, an auto rental collision damage waiver, concierge service, and more, depending on the tier.

What are the annual fees of the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited?

Neither the Chase Freedom nor the Chase Freedom Unlimited has an annual fee (as is the case with many of our favorite rewards cards).

What credit scores do you need to get the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited?

Both Freedom cards are designed for applicants with good credit (more about credit score ranges here), which encompasses FICO scores of at least 670 and VantageScore credit scores of at least 700.

However, there’s no guarantee you’ll be approved even if you meet the issuer’s credit score threshold, and you may still be approved even if you don’t meet that threshold. Approval is typically dependent on a variety of factors beyond just credit scores, such as your income.

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At a glance

The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 5% cash back on Lyft rides and 1.5% back on every other purchase. The Chase Freedom earns 5% back on rotating categories, up to $1,500 in spending quarterly. Both cards have their advantages, and while you might get more value from one or the other, they can also be used together.

Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.

The information related to Discover it® Cash Back has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

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