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Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited

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Chase has offered some of the best travel and rewards credit cards on the market for years, and the issuer’s cash back options are no exception. To better align with the perks and benefits of the Chase Freedom Flex℠, Chase updated its already popular Chase Freedom Unlimited® with appetizing bonus categories on top of its traditional flat-rate rewards.

But which of these cash back credit cards would work best for your needs? That really depends on your spending style and how much effort you want to put into earning rewards. Both cards come with no annual fee, but the Chase Freedom Flex earns the most in rotating quarterly bonus categories, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers steady category bonuses and 1.5 percent back on all purchases. Both cards boost earnings in categories like dining and drugstore purchases as well as travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

If you are considering a new cash back credit card and are wondering which of these two options to pursue, keep reading to see how they compare.

Main details

Features Chase Freedom Flex Chase Freedom Unlimited
Welcome bonus Earn a $200 bonus when you spend $500 within 3 months of account opening Bankrate offer: Earn an additional 1.5 percent back on top of purchases’ original cash back rate (on up to $20,000) for the first year
Rewards rate
  • 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly bonus categories (then 1%; activation required)
  • 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022
  • 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases
  • 1% back on all other purchases
  • 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022
  • 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases
  • 1.5% back on all other purchases
Intro APR 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 15.74% to 24.49% 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 15.74% to 24.49%
Annual fee $0 $0

Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited highlights

Both of these cash back cards can be rewarding in their own right, but the right one for you depends on your spending habits and rewards goals. The following section highlights how these two cards compare in some of the most important categories.

Welcome bonus winner: It depends

The Chase Freedom Flex offers new cardholders a welcome bonus of $200 when they spend $500 within three months of account opening. The Chase Freedom Unlimited used to offer this same welcome bonus, but now, when new cardholders apply through Bankrate, they can earn an additional 1.5 percent back on top of purchases’ original cash back rate (on up to $20,000) for the first year. That means you could earn:

  • 6.5 percent back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 6.5 percent back on Lyft rides (through March 2022)
  • 4.5 percent back on dining and drugstore purchases
  • 3 percent back on all other purchases

The Chase Freedom Unlimited’s welcome bonus is remarkable when you consider the fact that many cards with annual fees don’t usually offer such high rewards rates, particularly on all purchases. As for the Chase Freedom Flex, its welcome bonus has a spending threshold that’s very easy to meet, plus a cash bonus that’s rare for no-annual-fee cash back cards.

The welcome bonus winner for this category really depends on which categories you spend the most in, how much you spend and how much effort you want to put into earning rewards. Considering that the average cardholder’s annual spending is around $15,900, the Chase Freedom Unlimited’s welcome bonus could net you more than $200 in additional cash back the first year.

Rewards rate winner: It depends

It’s hard to compare these two cards in terms of their rewards rates—they’re nearly identical. Both cards offer the same bonus categories: 5 percent back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5 percent back on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and 3 percent back on dining and drugstore purchases.

The difference is that the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers 1.5 percent back on all non-bonus spending (compared to 1 percent with the Chase Freedom Flex), and the Chase Freedom Flex offers 5 percent back (after activation) on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly bonus categories (then 1 percent).

If you spend a lot of money on regular purchases (for example, utility bills, kids’ sports, daycare, insurance, etc.) that don’t typically earn bonus rewards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited could easily leave you with more rewards in the end. After all, earning an unlimited 50 percent more in rewards on all regular purchases (and even more the first year) has the potential to lead to a larger rewards balance.

The Chase Freedom Flex offers 5 percent back in rotating quarterly categories after activation, but this is capped at $1,500 in spending per quarter (then 1 percent). This means you can earn a maximum of $75 in rewards each quarter, or $300 per year. The catch is that you won’t have any control over which categories are offered that quarter, so you may struggle to maximize rewards. Also note that Chase doesn’t release its quarterly categories in advance, so you won’t be able to plan your purchases ahead of time.

Annual Fee winner: Tie

Both the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited come with no annual fee, which makes them easy to keep in your wallet for the long haul. No-annual-fee credit cards can be beneficial if you don’t charge a lot on your card but still want to earn rewards on your spending.

Travel perks winner: Tie

Both of these cash back cards offer trip cancellation and interruption insurance. If your trip is canceled or cut short due to sickness, severe weather or other covered circumstances, you can be reimbursed up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for prepaid tickets and non-refundable passenger fares.

Note, however, that both cards charge a 3 percent foreign transaction fee on all purchases outside of the U.S., which can add up quickly if you travel abroad often. If you’re a frequent traveler, we suggest pairing either of these cards with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which comes with no foreign transaction fees. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is considered to be one of the best beginner travel cards thanks to its relatively low annual fee of $95.

By pairing the Chase Sapphire Preferred with either card, you can pool your points in your Chase Sapphire Preferred account for better travel redemptions through Chase or even 1:1 transfers to airline and hotel partners like Southwest Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Marriott Bonvoy and IHG Rewards. This is a flexible way to get the most redemption value through Chase Ultimate Rewards and Chase travel partners.

Which card earns the most?

The card that can help you earn the most cash back really depends on how much you spend each month and which categories you spend the most in. The following example shows how you might end up with more rewards with one of these cards over the other.

Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited spending example

Imagine you use your credit card for all of your regular spending and household bills. You also use your credit card to take advantage of the Chase Freedom Flex bonus categories each quarter. For Q1 (January to March) of 2022, the eligible categories are grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target) and eBay.

So, for Q1, say you spend the following:

  • $500 per month on grocery store purchases ($1,500 quarterly total)
  • $250 per month on dining at restaurants ($750 quarterly total)
  • $800 per month on miscellaneous expenses ($2,400 quarterly total)

With the Chase Freedom Flex, you would earn $121.50 in rewards over three months. That’s $75 in rewards for grocery store purchases, $22.50 in rewards on dining at restaurants and $24 on rewards for miscellaneous spending.

In comparison, with the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you would earn $150.75 in first-year rewards over three months. That’s $45 in rewards for grocery store purchases, $33.75 in rewards on dining at restaurants and $72 in rewards on miscellaneous purchases. After the first year, this same spending would earn $81 in rewards over three months—$22.50 in rewards for grocery store purchases, $22.50 in rewards on dining at restaurants and $36 in rewards on miscellaneous purchases.

This example shows how your spending and rewards might look in a quarter where you max out the Chase Freedom Flex quarterly bonus category. You should keep in mind, however, that things might look different in quarters where the bonus category doesn’t align well with your spending. In that case, you’ll likely earn 1 percent back on most purchases. So, if you spend a lot more on regular, non-bonus purchases or don’t anticipate maxing out any bonus categories each quarter, the Chase Freedom Unlimited’s 1.5 percent back on regular purchases is likely the better choice.

Why should you get the Chase Freedom Flex?

The Chase Freedom Flex is a World Elite Mastercard, so it comes with a handful of unique benefits compared to the old Chase Freedom card. Here are some of the reasons you should consider signing up.

Additional benefits

The Chase Freedom Flex comes with purchase protection against damage or theft, extended warranties on qualifying items, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, an auto rental collision damage waiver, and travel and emergency assistance services.

You’ll also get cellphone protection when you pay your phone bill with your credit card, as well as other World Elite Mastercard benefits, including exclusive offers for ridesharing, food delivery and online shopping, among others.

Redemption options

This card lets you redeem your rewards for cash back, merchandise, travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, gift cards and more. For superior redemption options, consider pairing this card with a Chase travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Recommended credit score

You need good credit or better to qualify for this rewards credit card, which typically means having a FICO score of 670 or higher.

Why should you get Chase Freedom Unlimited?

The Chase Freedom Unlimited comes with some pretty hefty perks for a no-annual-fee credit card. Here are some of the reasons you should consider signing up.

Additional benefits

Like the Chase Freedom Flex, you’ll get purchase protection, extended warranties, trip cancellation and interruption insurance (a fantastic deal for a card with no annual fee), an auto rental collision damage waiver, travel and emergency assistance services and more.

Redemption options

With the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can redeem for cash back, gift cards, merchandise and travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you have a premier travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can get even more value for your rewards when you use points to book with Chase or transfer points to popular Chase Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel partners.

Recommended credit score

You need good credit or better to qualify for this rewards credit card, which typically means having a FICO score of 670 or higher.

How to pick between the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited

Choosing between the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited might boil down to one question: Which is more important to you, maximizing your rewards with a little effort or having a hassle-free way to earn cash back?

Why you might choose the Chase Freedom Flex card

If you have the time and skill to manage its rewards categories, the Chase Freedom Flex card gives you the opportunity to earn rewards at a higher rate over time.

You can earn 5 percent cash back in rotating categories (after activation and up to $1,500 each quarter, then 1 percent), which in the past have included online retailers, grocery stores, wholesale clubs, streaming services, gas stations and more. That’s on top of the bonus cash back you get in year-round categories like dining, drugstore purchases and Ultimate Rewards travel.

The 5 percent cash back rate is one of the highest yields in the marketplace, but it may require savvy planning to max out each quarterly bonus category. It may also depend on how well your spending habits align with the quarterly bonuses and how much effort you’re willing to put into planning your purchases.

Why you might choose the Chase Freedom Unlimited card

The Chase Freedom Unlimited may be a better option if you’re looking for a simple, everyday cash back card with a generous rewards rate on all purchases. With this card, you’ll earn at least 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases without having to deal with rotating categories, earnings caps or quarterly activation.

Of course, like with the Chase Freedom Flex, you’ll still earn 5 percent cash back on travel you purchase through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3 percent back on dining and drugstore purchases.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited may not provide you with the highest potential for rewards, but it’s a good fit for those looking for a better-than-average rewards return without all the fuss.

The bottom line

Make sure to take a closer look at each card option and keep your spending habits in mind. Then, decide whether you want to focus on maximizing bonus categories or earning a higher rewards rate on all regular purchases. Also, take the time to compare other credit cards on the market today, including other Chase credit cards. With some basic research, you’ll find the card that’s right for you and be earning cash back in no time.

Written by
Tim Maxwell
Contributor
Tim is a freelance personal finance writer and blogger with a particular focus on credit cards and consumer lending. In 2002, he stumbled upon a copy of "The Millionaire Next Door," by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, which ignited a passion for learning and sharing fact-based money principles. Tim has a passion for demystifying personal finance and helping people live their best lives.
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