Chase Freedom vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited: Which is best for you?

For many cardholders, being rewarded in dollars instead of miles or points is best because there’s more certainty involved. After all, a dollar is a dollar — it won’t be worth any more or less. And many credit card issuers structure their cash back offerings around this idea of simplicity and certainty so that it’s easy to work out how much rewards you can earn, what they’re worth and how they can be redeemed.

Chase Freedom Unlimited follows this straightforward model, and consequently, is a fantastic product for beginners who want decent rewards without any hassle.

But not everybody is looking for the simple. This is particularly the case if you’re experienced with credit card reward programs and don’t mind a bit of forward planning with your spending. And that’s where Chase Freedom comes in — to cater to the highly savvy who prioritize maximizing their cash back rewards above all else.

At a glance comparison

When you compare the basics as we have done below, it’s clear that Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited are almost identical in many aspects. The only real difference between the two – and it’s an important difference — is that the Chase Freedom offers bonus rewards categories.

Chase FreedomChase Freedom Unlimited
Annual Fee$0$0
Rewards Rates5% cash back on first $1,500 purchases in quarterly bonus category; 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases.Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
Sign Up Bonus$200 cash back if you spend $500 within the first three months; 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.$200 cash back if you spend $500 within the first three months; 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.
CreditsNoneNone
Lounge AccessNoneNone
Authorized User FeeNoneNone

Standout features

Chase Freedom

  • Flexible redemption: No expiration on cash back rewards for the life of the account. No minimum redemption requirements. Choose from statement credit or direct deposit into bank account. Can use points to shop on Amazon, redeem as gift cards for shopping, dining or entertainment or transfer as Chase Ultimate Rewards points to use for travel.
  • Bonus categories: Rotated each quarter, includes gas and groceries.
  • Fraud and purchase protection: Zero liability on unauthorized purchases as well as protection on new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim.
  • Extended warranty: You’ll get an additional 12 months on eligible warranties of three years or less.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • Flexible redemption: Cash back never expires, and there are no minimum redemption requirements. Choose from statement credit or direct deposit into bank account. Use points to shop on Amazon, redeem as gift cards for shopping, dining or entertainment or transfer as Chase Ultimate Rewards points to use for travel.
  • Fraud protection: Zero liability on unauthorized purchases.
  • Purchase protection: On new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $500 per claim.
  • Extended warranty: You’ll get an additional 12 months on eligible warranties of three years or less.

The case for the Chase Freedom

The most attractive feature of the Chase Freedom is the 5% cash back on bonus categories, up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter. You get unlimited 1% cash back on all other spending.

What you’ve got to watch out for with Chase Freedom is that its bonus categories change quarterly. For example, while gas, tolls and drugstore purchases may earn you 5% rewards this quarter, they might only return 1% next quarter. You’ll also need to activate bonus categories by the activation deadline to get the 5% cash back. In short, you’ll have to pay attention to the rewards calendar to get the most out of your card.

Having rewards categories on rotation undoubtedly means a bit more work for cardholders, but it also adds flexibility to how you can maximize your cash back. Apart from common rewards areas like gas and groceries, there are opportunities to earn bonuses at different times of the year for purchases made from department stores, home improvement merchants, drugstores, streaming services, tolls or for using specific payment systems like PayPal and Chase Pay.

The case for the Chase Freedom Unlimited

Of course, having rewards categories — particularly rotational categories — makes a credit card more complex to use. Not only will you need to keep tabs on the rewards calendar, but you’ll also need to look at your monthly statement to be on top of whether your favorite stores have merchant codes in line with your expectations.

If all that sounds like it’s too much hassle, then the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a better choice for you. With a decent 1.5% flat-rate cash back on all purchases, and no limits or caps, there’s really not much to worry about with this card. You get a healthy $200 sign-up bonus, 0% introductory APR for 15 months, along with benefits like 120-day purchase protection, extended warranty, flexible redemption options and rewards that don’t expire for the life of the account — just as you would with Chase Freedom.

It’s worth noting that both these cards charge 3% foreign transaction fees — so neither are great for overseas travel. Additionally, if you want to transfer a balance to take advantage of the low introductory APR, make sure you do it within 60 days of account opening so you’ll get the lower balance transfer fee of 3%. Transfers made after this will incur a 5% fee.

In a nutshell

If you’re after a cash back credit card because you want to keep things simple, then the Chase Freedom Unlimited is for you.

Chase Freedom, on the other hand, would be suitable if you love the challenge of maximizing your cash back and don’t mind the task of keeping tabs on the latest with the rewards categories. To get more out of the cash back program, you’re ideally a little bit flexible with where you spend your money and are happy to shop somewhere different if it means getting bigger bonuses.

At the end of the day, both cards have some great features, and neither of them have an annual fee. So choosing between them really comes down to your spending patterns and how much effort you can put in to earn rewards.

Kristie Kwok

Kristie Kwok is a finance content writer with in-depth knowledge of the banking industry from her previous work experience in banks such as UBS, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland. She is a qualified accountant with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, specializing in Accounting and Finance.