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Chase offers two personal cash back credit cards, the Chase Freedom® and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Neither Chase cash back card charges an annual fee, but which is better for your wallet?

Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits or Amex Platinum benefits
Is the Chase Freedom or Freedom Unlimited right for you?

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 Sapphire Preferred, Reserve, or Ink Preferred 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 store credit
  • Rewards points can be redeemed for award travel with the Sapphire Preferred 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.

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

The Chase Freedom® 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 non-bonus categories and 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.

For example, for the first quarter of 2018, cardholders could earn 5% back on the following purchase types:

  • Gas stations
  • Internet, Cable, and Phone services
  • Digital Wallets (Chase Pay, Android Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay)

While there are some changes each year, the 5% reward calendar remains relatively static.

If you want to pool your Ultimate Rewards points to redeem for travel rewards, the Chase Freedom® is a better option than the Chase Freedom Unlimited® because you can earn up to 5% in bonus categories compared to 3% on every purchase. That means 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar for the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Preferred bonus categories.

To maximize the Chase Trifecta, use your Chase Freedom® 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.

Highlights

  • 5% rewards for the most common purchase categories that are activated
  • 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
  • 5% is limited to first $1,500 each quarter
  • You might not benefit from some bonus categories
  • Must opt-in to each quarterly bonus category

Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® comes with the ability to earn 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year of account opening, up to $20,000 spent. After that, you will earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. 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 because you earn an half-point more once you hit the $20,000 threshold. These additional points will still prove a tidy sum compared to earning only 1 point.

Highlights

  • Points can eligible for travel redemption bonus and 1:1 point transfers with Sapphire or Ink Preferred
  • Earn the same rate on every purchase (until you spend $20,000) – no guesswork or opt-ins required
  • A better option if you don’t maximize the Chase Freedom 5% award calendar
  • No minimum redemption for cash rewards
  • Earns 3% cash back on each purchase in the first year (until you spend $20,000)

When to Apply for the Chase Freedom

You should apply for the Chase Freedom® instead of the Freedom Unlimited 3% back when:

  • Earn up to 5% cash back
  • Double your Ink or Sapphire bonus categories in select categories
  • Spend enough in the bonus categories to outearn the 3% Freedom Unlimited reward

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 3% back instead of the tiered 5% and 1% Freedom purchase rewards
  • Want to earn more back on non-bonus purchases; 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 with 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, 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.

For many, the Chase Freedom® might be your best option because of the 5% bonus that’s higher than the other Chase rewards cards for everyday purchases.

Summary on Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited

Either the Chase Freedom 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 and use it to maximize its 5% categories and 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.

Learn more: Chase Freedom®

Learn more: Chase Freedom Unlimited®

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Comparing the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited Credit Cards
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