Posted by William Charles on October 26, 2017
Credit Cards

Published on October 26th, 2017 | by William Charles


Chase Freedom Vs Chase Freedom Unlimited – Which Card Is Better?

Chase offers two no annual fee rewards cards, Chase Freedom & Chase Freedom Unlimited. Often when you no longer want one of their Chase branded rewards cards with an annual fee (e.g Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve) your best option is to downgrade it to one of these Freedom cards.

What’s The Difference Between The Two?

The cards are basically identical (e.g they share the same guide to benefits & fees). The only real difference is in the rewards structure:

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on all purchases
  • Chase Freedom earns 5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on rotating categories that change quarterly (cap of $1,500 in spend per quarter) and 1 Ultimate Rewards points on all other purchases

The sign up bonus on both cards is typically the same as well (e.g standard offer is 15,000 points after $500 in spend but you do see targeted offers of up to 30,000 points).

What Card Is Better?

To determine what card is better you need first decide how much you value Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Points are worth 1¢ each towards statement credit, but they can be transferred to Chase’s travel partners if you have one of the following Chase branded card with an annual fee:

If you don’t have one of those cards then the Freedom Unlimited will be of little use as it’s basically just a 1.5% cash back card (poor compared to other options) and the 5% on rotating categories that the regular Freedom offers would be much more useful. If you do have one of those cards then you can transfer to the following travel partners:

Chase Travel Partners (All Transfer 1:1)  
British Airways Executive ClubSingapore Airlines KrisFlyerVirgin Atlantic Flying Club
Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLMSouthwest Airlines Rapid RewardsAer Lingus
Korean Air SKYPASS (leaving program on August 25th, 2018)United MileagePlusIberia Plus
Hyatt Gold PassportMarriott Rewards
IHG Rewards ClubThe Ritz-Carlton Rewards

You also need to look at what credit cards that earn at a high rate on all spend you have available to you. We need this so we can use it as a bench mark to compare the Chase Freedom Unlimited to.

  • If you have a 2% card, then you need to value Ultimate Rewards points at over 1.34¢ per point otherwise you’d never use the Unlimited.
  • If you have a  2.5% card then you need to value Ultimate Rewards points at over 1.67¢ per point otherwise you’d never use the Unlimited
  • If you have a 3% card then you need to value Ultimate Rewards points at over 2¢ per point otherwise you’d never use the Unlimited

If you don’t value them above those rates then the Chase Freedom will be better (even if you just spend $1 on a 5% category) as you’d never want to use the Unlimited card.

Once you’ve done that you need to work out how much spend you would put in the Chase Freedom categories. Here is a list of what they currently offer and have offered in the past:

2017Gas Stations, Local Commuter TransportationGrocery Stores & DrugstoresRestaurants & Movie TheatersWalmart & Department Stores
2016Gas and local commuter transportationGrocery Stores & Wholesale ClubsRestaurants & Wholesale ClubsDrugstores, Department Stores & Wholesale Clubs
2015Grocery Stores, Movie Theatres And Starbucks storesRestaurants,, H&M, Bed Bath & BeyondGas stations, Kohl’,,,
2014Gas stations, Movie Theaters, Starbucks StoresRestaurants, Lowe’s home improvement storesGas stations, Kohl’sAmazon, Zappos & select department stores
2013Restaurants & MoviesHome improvement storesGas stationsOnline shopping
2012Gas stations,Amazon.comGrocery Stores, Movie TheatersGas Stations, RestaurantsHotels, Airlines, Best Buy, Kohls
2011Grocery Stores, Drug StoresHome Improvement, Lawn & Garden, Home FurnishingsGas, Hotels, AirlinesDining, Department Stores, Movies, Charity

For example let’s say you max out the 5% categories each year (unlikely for most people) you’d spend a total of $6,000 and earn 30,000 Chase UR points. To earn the same amount of points on the Chase Freedom Unlimited card you’d need to spend $20,000. I think that helps illustrate the value proposition the regular Chase Freedom provides over the Unlimited card. Another illustration is that on every day spend the Unlimited earns 0.5 point more whereas on the 5% categories the regular Freedom earns 4 points more.

Final Thoughts

For the majority of readers the regular Chase Freedom is the better card. I can think of a few exceptions:

  • You spend a lot of money on things that’s difficult/impossible to get a category bonus on (and I’m not just talking about the categories the Freedom offers).
  • You already have a regular Chase Freedom/won’t be able to spend much on the 5% rotating categories.

Even then you still need to value Chase UR points at a significantly high rate and have a premium Chase card to allow for point transfers. I think in general the Unlimited card is overrated, especially with more cards offering 2%+ cash back on all purchases. For some people the card is obviously fantastic and can provide a lot of super sized value but as mentioned for the majority of people the regular Freedom makes more sense.

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Great article, and I agree with the points! That being said, I respectfully submit that it should be “Which card is better?” rather than “What card is better?”

Noob question: WIth a premium Chase card (Ink), you can transfer you Freedom points to travel partners – but you can also use Freedom points to book travel through the UR portal, correct?

Correct. Freedom pts would be transferred to the premium card and then can be transferred or used to book travel through UR portal at 1.25 (or 1.5 CSR) cpp rate.

I should add the UR portal is fine for booking flights but for hotels will prevent you from earning points for your stay or getting status benefits. Hotels view it as any other travel portal.

I’ve earned SPG points for bookings made through the portal on a couple of stays now. I have no status with them, but the Starpoints definitely posted after the stay.

Thanks. Just wanted to confirm.

Also, thanks DoC for the informative article. Been pondering which card would be better, and this helps!

Chase Freedom is the best of the two photographed with the 5% quarterly cashback. Now if you have a more advance Chase card, you can transfer the UR points.

The reason that I yawn at the Freedom Unlimited is that I have three 2% cashback everyday cards and a few dedicated uses cards at 3% cashback (AARP Visa / FNBO Gas and Groceries) Toss in USB CashPlus too. Business card for 5X points even covers utilities and cell phones.

I have the Freedom Unlimited, but it’s not as useful as you might think, because sometimes thinks code as travel/restaurant in which case I’d use my Sapphire Reserve. In that case, you might have purchases where it might be worth risking the .5% for the possibility of getting an additional 1.5%

The Freedom Unlimited is very good in combination with the Chase Sapphire Reserve if you use the CSR’s 1.5 cent per point feature in booking flights. I have both. I only use the Freedom for bonus categories, but I use the Unlimited for other stuff. I downgraded my Sapphire Preferred to the Unlimited when I got the Sapphire Reserve.

Strictly speaking you are getting 1.5×1.5=2.25% value per dollar on your CFU spend redeemed through CSR UR portal. Would be better off using CF for quarterly categories and getting a 2.5% or 3% card for everything else if UR portal is your primary method of redemption.

The rotating categories are awesome for earning on the regular Freedom when you have the CSR. 5.0×1.5= 7.50% value per dollar spent. I don’t know any other card that comes close to that.

INK cash x5 all the time on certain categories, office, cell, etc. with $25k limit instead of hypothetical $20k limit of freedom. Sure not the same categories but also a lot easier to max out then freedom.

there is really no one best card, it’s the combination that make UR a powerful point echo system.

2.5% or 3% cards don’t exist though, unless you pay an annual fee, and by that time, you need to spend a lot of money to do better than a 2% card or Chase FU (paired with CSR and use of UR portal at 1.5 redemption).

Depends on what folks are doing I imagine, but for me, I hardly ever use my Citi Double at 2% because I’m meeting minimum spend or even if I’m not, would use an Amex SPG card because SPG points are probably worth more to me (and most people) than 2.25% which is what the Chase FU gets after redemption with CSR.

I know there’s a crowd here that manufactures spend on as many cards as possible, and for a lot of those people, organic spend is done on an everyday card. But I suspect that crowd is far from the majority, even here.

the BOA Travel rewards card that earns 2.625% on everything, has no annual fee, and foreign transaction fees are waived says Hi…. Yes you have to hav $100,000 in a merrill edge IRA or brokerage but if you are playing games at this level of sophistication and are over 30 that should be fairly doable.

Fair point, but I do this to a high degree of sophistication and I won’t put 100k with BofA (Merrill).

For one thing, BofA is pretty upset with me for opening too many MLB cards and likes to approve me in error. For another, there are datapoints of BofA ending all relationships, just a few weeks ago I saw somebody applied for a BofA biz checking or maybe it was just personal checking, BofA saw all the Chex inquiries and shuttered all their accounts.

So no, I won’t be doing anything more than small potatoes with BofA.

Otherwise yes, makes sense to work that program. I just don’t have faith that BofA wouldn’t retaliate for the churning stuff, and I’m not gonna mix my retirement savings with churning activities.

We keep ours with Vanguard.

Discover It Miles. USAA Limitless. As Rabb MD points out BofA TR with status. 1st year Alliant Visa, 2nd year depends on level of spend but can approach 2.4%.

I’m not eligible for USAA. Discover It Miles…that margin over SPG value or 2.25 CFU is not worth it for the one-year hoop. At least not for me, but you’re probably right for some people.

I don’t see why you should have to choose. Neither has an AF.

In your final thoughts you say “You already have a regular Chase Freedom” as a reason to get the Unlimited. You can have multiple regular Freedoms. I currently have three through product change

I believe recent datapoints indicate that Chase is no longer allowing you to PC a different card (CSP, CSR, for example) to a Freedom, if you already have a Freedom. This is a farily recent change, though. If you already have multiple Freedom cards, you can keep them, but you can apparently no longer get new multiples that way.

I just don’t see a scenario where FU is better than 1) general spend to meet a bonus requirement, 2) BB+ 2MR/$, or 3) 2% cashback.

agree with your 1 and 2 but will have to disagree with your 3. FU points have the potential to be valued as much as 8-10c but a 2%, aka 2c, will never be worth more.

There is an argument to be made that 2% cash back for something needed is better than using points on a future discretionary purchase, especially when a point hoarding mentality exists, not that it does with any of us 😉

Remember, the difference between 2% and 2.5% return only amounts to $5 for every 1000 charged, At $2,000/month in charges, that’s only $120/year.

I think we might set a comment record if William decides to tackle this one.

Great post!

The $6,000 vs $20,000 comparison is what I always say when asked which card is better.

Most people just don’t spend enough, after those spent toward sign-up bonus requirements, to be anywhere close to $20k. FU is barely worth it.

I’m a heavy churner and the FU is my card for everyday spend, when I’m not working towards a MS.

Category spend goes on my Freedom, travel and dining on my CSR, and everything else on my FU. All points get combined to my CSR for redemption.

I just assumed everyone did it this way! (If they had all 3 cards). I recommend the FU to family/friend non-churners who want something simple.

I’ve got both i use freedom unlimited for auto payment every month. and use 2 of my freedom card for 5% cash back which i think it helps alot

Is there any truth to the comment that said that change won’t allow a PC from CSR or CSP to a Freedom card if you already have one? Also, what’s the harm in getting both the FU and the F. As stated above the real value of UR for a small time point enthusiast, is taking advantage of the complete suite of cards. Even if I were to max out a number of Freedom cards on all quarterly bonuses ( cards), there’s still plenty of spending on the table. At a minimum value of 2.25 cents, I”ll take it.

My experience: in September I tried three times to convert my CS to CF#2 but no go. PCed to CFU, waited two weeks, PC to CF#2 was no issue.

Did you already have a CFU and was forced to PC to another one, or did you only have a CF and had to PC to the available CFU instead of the CF?

> You spend a lot of money on things that’s difficult/impossible to get a category bonus on (and I’m not just talking about the categories the Freedom offers).

I am able to put most of my utilities (Phone, Internet, Gas, Electric, Water, Sewer) on a credit card, so I’ve found the Citi DoubleCash (and more recently, the CFU) to be very useful for that since it is a large amount of non-bonus spend.

Dec 1 my AF hit on my CSP card (opened one year ago), so I’m going to call to cancel/downgrade (assuming it’s still true that Chase is unlikely to offer interesting retention bonuses in my situation).

I already have one Freedom card, and I rarely max out the quarterly 5% categories, but I can imagine putting more work into that in the future if I have two Freedoms.

I have other cards that will give me decent bonuses on dining, mainly the new BofA PR card. Given that, am I right that there’s zero reason to choose to downgrade to a Freedom Unlimited – I might as well get a second Freedom just in case I ever manage to go over the max in the 5% category spend?

If I downgrade to the Freedom, will my UR points just automatically stay with the card, or should I transfer them to my existing Freedom, or to my new Ink Preferred? I’m planning on getting a CSR in another year when my CSP bonus rolls off the screen and I probably won’t spend or redeem any UR points until then.

Thanks for any advice…

I decided to downgrade my unlimited for the Sapphire (original) and then hopefully I could apply for the Unlimited.

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