Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited: Which Comes Out on Top?

The names might be similar, but the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited hold their own when it comes to different rewards structures.
Last updated Jan 28, 2020 | By Matt Miczulski
which chase freedom card is better

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Chase offers an impressive lineup of credit cards, ranging from premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve to cashback credit cards and business credit cards.

Two card choices you might be weighing are the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited. These cashback credit cards are both highly rated and offer impressive rewards. Comparing them by names alone, however, can easily lead to mistaking them to be the same card, which isn’t the case. 

Aside from sharing similar names, they have a few other features in common. But they also have a lot that makes them distinctive. Keep reading to who should win for you in a Chase Freedom vs Chase Freedom Unlimited comparison.

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Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited

While there are many similarities between these two cashback credit cards, there are also a number of differences that set the two apart, especially in the earning structure. Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

Chase Freedom Chase Freedom Unlimited
Rewards rate 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
Sign-up bonus $150 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months Earn a $150 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months
Intro APR 0% for 15 months 0% for 15 months
Annual fee $0 $0
Foreign transaction fee 3% 3%
Redeeming rewards
  • Cashback statement credit
  • Transfer points to a premium Chase card
  • Direct deposit
  • Travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Gift cards
  • Cashback statement credit
  • Transfer points to a premium Chase card
  • Direct deposit
  • Travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Gift cards
Free credit score? Yes — through Chase Credit Journey Yes — through Chase Credit Journey
Recommended credit Excellent, Good Excellent, Good
Plastic or metal? Plastic Plastic
Best for: Maximizing cashback rewards in select 5% bonus categories Simple cash back on every purchase without any fuss

Which Chase Freedom card is better?

While the value of each Chase Freedom card depends on your spending habits, we’ll assume earning more rewards is the determining factor, since the biggest difference between the two cards lies in the reward rate.

To showcase the differences, we put the two cards head to head, using someone who spends $15,000 annually for our example.

Chase Freedom

Annual spend $15,000
Welcome bonus $150 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months
Reward rate 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases
Year 1 cash back $540 (with bonus)
Year 2 cash back $390

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Annual spend $15,000
Welcome bonus Earn a $150 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months
Reward rate unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
Year 1 cash back $375 (with bonus)
Year 2 cash back $225

If both cards are leveraged for maximum rewards, the Chase Freedom ultimately offers the most cash back. If you don’t utilize the bonus categories to their fullest, however, you'll only earn at a rate of 1% and risk losing out on some of the rewards-earning power of the card. In that case, the 1.5% cash back with the Freedom Unlimited would be more valuable.

How to choose which Chase Freedom card is right for you

While there’s a difference in earning potential between the two cards, there are some other important factors to take into consideration when comparing the Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited to help you determine which Chase Freedom card is better for you.

The Chase Freedom card utilizes a cashback calendar that changes every quarter and isn’t announced until shortly before the window opens to activate it, so you don’t always know what’s going to be offered. Although the calendar often changes between popular rotating categories like grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and department stores, it’s impossible to know, and that makes it difficult to plan ahead.

If you’re someone who dines out often but “restaurants” never appears on the calendar, you’ll be stuck earning 1% instead of the 1.5% cash back you could have been earning with the Freedom Unlimited. Also keep in mind that the bonus categories usually only show up for one quarter, limiting the 5% you would earn dining out to only three months out of the year.

The changing bonus categories with the Chase Freedom do have their appeal, though. It can be exciting to see what category is announced next, especially if they align perfectly with your spending habits. But if you’re not interested in having to activate a new cashback category every three months, the straightforward, flat-rate earning structure offered by the Chase Freedom Unlimited might be more attractive.

Best for first-year value: Chase Freedom

If you’re able to max out your spending in all of the rotating categories, the Chase Freedom is the clear winner. Just remember that spending in the bonus categories is where you're going to earn the most. 

Best for sign-up bonus: Freedom and Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited tie for this honor. With the Chase Freedom you can earn $150 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months, and with the Chase Freedom Unlimited you also earn a $150 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months. For both of these cards, even if you use your card just for buying groceries or even filling up your gas tank, you should be able to easily earn this bonus.

Best for simple cash back: Chase Freedom Unlimited

The reward structure you get with the Chase Freedom Unlimited is simpler because it doesn’t require you to track and activate bonus categories each quarter, allowing you to go about your life without any added responsibility.

The flat-rate structure of the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is ideal for those who want to make sure they’re earning cash back every time they swipe their card.

Best if you want to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points: Chase Trifecta

Chase pays its cashback rewards in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Since the amount of cash back you earn on your purchases is the main difference between the Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited, this is where you’ll want to look for the best value.

  • With the Chase Freedom Unlimited’s unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, you earn 1.5 points (worth $0.015) for every dollar spent.
  • With the Chase Freedom, you earn 1% cash back on all other purchases outside of its rotating bonus category, which earns you 1 point (worth $0.010) for every dollar spent. When you make purchases in one of the rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 quarterly), then that gives you 5% cash back, which translates to 5 points (worth $0.05) for every dollar spent.

If you like the sound of all these rewards, you can take your earning a step further with something known as “The Chase Trifecta.” This is a simple strategy that involves using both Chase Freedom cards and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card strategically to maximize the number Chase Ultimate Rewards you earn on your purchases.

Best for balance transfers: Freedom and Freedom Unlimited

Either card would be a good choice if you have balances you want to transfer. The Chase Freedom offers a 0% APR for 15 months, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited also offers a 0% APR for 15 months. They both charge the same balance transfer fee as well.

All of this means that choosing either of these cards would give you more than a year to pay down your transfer and save some serious cash on the interest.

Best if you’re willing to put in extra effort: Chase Freedom

It requires some additional effort on your part, but if you’re willing to track the bonus categories and make sure to activate them when the time comes, the Chase Freedom offers an overall higher earning potential.

The extra effort might also mean organizing and planning your spending around the rotating bonus categories. To help you out, we regularly update our Chase Freedom bonus categories calendar.

Frequently asked questions

Can I have both Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited?

Yes, having both Freedom cards can be a great option if you can’t decide between the two, and neither card charges an annual fee.

You’ll have to be a bit more strategic with your spending, but you should be able to cover a large amount of your purchases. Maximize the Chase Freedom for its 5% bonus categories whenever possible, and use the Freedom Unlimited to earn higher flat-rate rewards on everything else.

You can also convert your rewards to Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Can I switch from Chase Freedom to Freedom Unlimited?

Yes, Chase allows product changes, though there might be stipulations. It’s best to contact Chase directly so they can determine your eligibility to switch between products.

Is there a way to earn even more cash back with a Chase Freedom card?

Yes, in addition to the primary rewards of both the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can earn bonus points when you “Shop Through Chase” via their online shopping portal. With over 350 stores to shop at, you can earn between one to 15 bonus points per dollar spent each time you make a purchase, making it a great way to earn extra cash back on items you plan to buy anyway.

Can I apply for Chase Freedom Unlimited if I have Chase Freedom

Yes. There are no restrictions on doing this. So if you have one Chase Freedom card, you can indeed apply for the other.

What credit score do you need for Chase Freedom?

For the Chase Freedom card, applicants with a good-to-excellent credit score have a good chance of approval. A good FICO credit score is generally considered to be 670-700 or above. An excellent credit score is 800 or above. Vantage is the other credit scoring system used by the three bureaus. Based on that scale, a 700 or above is considered a good score and 750 or above is considered excellent.

What credit score do you need for Chase Freedom Unlimited?

Chase looks for the same range of credit scores for the Freedom Unlimited card as it does for the Freedom card. Having a score between 670 and 850 gives you a good chance at approval.

Can you upgrade a Chase Freedom card?

Both the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards are eligible for a product change or upgrade. To request an upgrade, it’s best to call customer service to see if you qualify and what is involved with the process. Chase’ customer service number is 1-800-432-3117.

Can you have two Chase Freedom cards?

Because Chase allows for product changes, you could end up with a second Chase Freedom card if you choose to downgrade from a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. This might be done if you’ve had either Sapphire card for at least a year and aren’t getting the level of benefit that makes it worthwhile for you or you simply don’t want to continue paying an annual fee.

You can contact Chase’s customer service (1-800-432-3117) to request to downgrade your Sapphire card to a Chase Freedom card. This will enable you to continue to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards in the form of cash back that can also be used as points.

Thus, if you already have a Chase Freedom card, downgrading will add a second one to your wallet. This multiplies your ability to earn 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Bottom line

If you’re considering either the Chase Freedom or Freedom Unlimited card, there really is no wrong decision. They are two comparable cards with similar features and benefits. The only real decision is which rewards rate works best with how you spend.

And, if you get one card and find you still want to benefit from the rewards offered by the other, you can always apply for the second one. Then you’ll be earning on both Chase Freedom cards!

Unlimited Cash Back

Benefits

  • $150 sign-up bonus
  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • 5% cash back on Lyft rides
  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases