Chase Freedom Unlimited® review: Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase made
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
CardRatings Editor's Analysis: Pros & Cons
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers new cardholders the chance to earn $200 cash back once spending $500 within three months of account opening.
- There's no cap on the amount of rewards you can earn at any of the rewards levels.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® is offering a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then 14.99% - 23.74% Variable.
- There isn't an annual fee, but you'll be on the hook for foreign transaction fees if you use Chase Freedom Unlimited® while abroad.
Since Chase Freedom Unlimited® appeared on the scene in 2016, it's been among the top flat-rate cash-back cards on the market. But Chase upped the ante in September 2020, announcing an all-new rewards structure that moves the card into the TIERED cash-back rewards category and includes up to 5% cash back in some categories of purchases.
Let's jump into the details:
Chase began moving Chase Freedom Unlimited® toward a tiered rewards structure in July 2020, when it rolled out a new signup bonus offering new cardholders the opportunity to earn 5% cash back on up to $12,000 spent at grocery stores (excluding Target® and Walmart®) during your first year as a cardholder. That earning is in addition to the more traditional-style bonus of earning $200 cash back after spending just $500 in the first three months of card membership, which certainly helps to quickly get the rewards ball rolling.
Beyond that grocery store bonus earning for new cardholders, Chase Freedom Unlimited® cardholders earn tiered rewards in a number of other categories, too.
- 5% cash back on travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal
- 3% cash back at restaurants, including takeout and delivery
- 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
- 1.5% cash back on all other eligible purchases
Suddenly, what has been a consistent top flat-rate cash-back rewards card becomes a top tiered-rate cash-back rewards card. These rewards categories mean many people will be able to see their cash back (remember, that's accumulated in the form of popular Chase Ultimate Rewards® points) add up even more quickly than in the past.
In addition, Chase Freedom Unlimited® includes a lot of the features also included with the Chase Freedom Flex℠ card, like a $0 annual fee and a sweet offer of 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months, then 14.99% - 23.74% Variable after that, but it also carries with it a few notable (and enticing) differences: Namely, no rotating categories, no quarterly enrollments, and no cap on what you can earn (apart from that 5% on $12,000 spent in the first year at grocery stores). On an ongoing basis, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card offers users the chance to earn at least an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase – it's automatic. No hoops, no hassles, no questions asked. And, with the additional unlimited rewards categories, your earning gets even better.
For those of you who aren't convinced that this card alone is the path to your highest rewards, don't fret – we actually agree that Chase Freedom Unlimited® is really best suited as a complement to other Chase cards that also function on the Ultimate Rewards® platform. The addition of the 5% at grocery stores on up to $12,000 spent in the first is a HUGE update to the earning, though. Still, Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited® work quite well together in your wallet (we cover why below).
Before we get to that, though, here are a couple of other key points about Chase Freedom Unlimited® to note:
- $0 annual fee
- You can redeem your rewards for cash – any amount, any time
- Enjoy a $200 cash back bonus once spending $500 within the first three months of opening an account
- Introductory 0% APR on purchases for the first 15 months (then, 14.99% - 23.74% Variable).
The ease of racking up rewards with Chase Freedom Unlimited® is perhaps its most appealing feature, but it’s far from the only reason the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card could be a welcome addition to your wallet. Cash-back credit cards certainly aren’t a new idea, but there are some aspects of Chase Freedom Unlimited® that make us sit up and take notice.
To start, the at least unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase is a fairly high return for a no-annual-fee card and that's before you even take into account the 5% back on grocery store purchases up to $12,000 in the first year or the additional tiered categories. For comparison, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ card offers unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases outside the bonus categories. Plus, once you spend $1,500 each quarter in the featured 5% categories with the FlexSM card, your cash back rewards revert to that 1% level.
With Chase Freedom Unlimited®, you'll never cap out of that 1.5% or the other tiered categories.
And then there are the redemption options, which are a nice benefit in and of themselves.
One hundred points equals $1, so even taking the lowest earning rate of 1.5 points earned per $1 spent, you'll accumulate 100 points after you spend $67. Obviously, that gets even better if you're spending on restaurants at three points per $1 or on travel through the Ultimate Rewards® portal at five points per $1. Many cash-back reward cards restrict when you can cash in your points – as in, you need to accumulate enough points to redeem them in $25 increments or something similar. With Chase Freedom Unlimited®, there are no thresholds to meet in order to redeem your points for cash. Those redeemed points can equal cash deposited directly into an eligible checking or savings account or, since they are Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, they can be used to purchase travel, gift cards, products or services or they can be combined with Chase Ultimate Rewards®s points you earn using other cards on the system, possibly making them worth even more.
That's why, while we like Chase Freedom Unlimited® on its own, it's even better if you pair it with Chase Freedom Flex℠ and/or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (This card is not currently available on CardRatings). Here’s why:
- When paired with Chase Freedom Flex℠, you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Then use your Chase Freedom Unlimited® for purchases in all other categories to cash in at the 1.5% cash back on every purchase outside those bonus categories.
- When paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points between the two cards. Since Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders receive 25% more value when they redeem points for travel through Ultimate Rewards®, the points you earn with your Chase Freedom Unlimited® (and Chase Freedom Flex℠ for that matter) are worth more.
- Of these three cards, only the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card charges an annual fee, so if you're going to carry that card anyway, you won't be losing any money to add the other two to your wallet and points-earning strategy.
The information related to Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been collected by CardRatings and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card.
CHASE FREEDOM UNLIMITED® TRAVEL BENEFITS
Widely known as a cash back credit card, most people don't think of the Chase Freedom Unlimited® when it comes to travel. Like we covered above, however, since rewards can be redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, some people use the Chase Freedom Unlimited® like a travel card as well. With that said, there are a few travel perks people should be aware of when it comes to this card. The main Chase Freedom Unlimited® travel benefits include:
- Trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, offering reimbursement up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable passenger fares, if your trip is canceled or cut short by covered situations like sickness or injury.
- Travel and emergency assistance services, which provides you with legal and medical referrals or other travel and emergency assistance when you run into a problem away from home.
- Auto rental collision damage waiver, providing you with coverage for theft and collision damage for most cars in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.S., this coverage is secondary to your personal insurance.
- Roadside dispatch if you have a roadside emergency – anything from a tow or a jump start to a tire change, lockout service, winching or gas delivery. Roadside service fees will be provided when you call and will be billed to your card.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® credit card is a solid choice for anyone looking for cash back rewards. However, it's not perfect. One of the biggest drawbacks of the card is its foreign transaction fee. If you frequently travel outside of the United States or often make online purchases in a foreign currency, you may be better off going with another option, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which doesn't charge this fee. To put things in perspective, if you took an international trip and used your Chase Freedom Unlimited® card for $3,000 worth of purchases, you'd be looking at an extra $90 in fees.
What's more, the unchanging tiered structure of the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card is part of its appeal, you could earn larger rewards by selecting a card with rotating or bonus earning categories. For instance, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ card offers quarterly bonuses that can provide up to 5% cash back for spending in categories such as groceries and gas. Now, the updated rewards earning for Freedom Unlimited® goes a LONG way toward alleviating this drawback; however, it's possible it's going too far. There are a lot of new details and categories with Freedom Unlimited®, which means it's great for earning rewards, but it also means you have more details and strategy to keep up with.
To qualify for approval for the Chase Freedom Unlimited® you should have good to excellent credit. Chase doesn't specify the exact number you'll need to qualify, and additional factors from your application and credit history could also affect your approval chances. The credit bureau Experian, however, says those with good credit usually have FICO scores of at least 670, with excellent scores starting at 800. Please note, though, that these numbers can vary between different bureaus.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® vs. Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer
The big perk with the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer is that it doubles your cash back each time you pay your credit card bill. Here’s how it works: With the Citi card you’ll earn unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time. (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser)
With the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card, you earn a bit less at the base rate, 1.5% on everything that doesn't qualify for one of the higher category-earning rates, but the rewards are automatic. Each time you swipe your card, you'll earn at least that 1.5%. It's as simple as that.
Additionally, both cards have a 0% percent introductory period, but they differ on what that applies to. Chase Freedom Unlimited® extends that offer to purchases, with a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a 14.99% - 23.74% Variable APR will apply. With the Citi card, you can look forward to 18 long months of 0% intro APR on balance transfers, then 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable). The choice could come down to whether you have an existing balance you want to transfer or you know you have a big purchase yet to make.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® vs. Chase Freedom Flex℠
Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠ are both no annual fee credit cards offered by Chase. Both cards earn cash back in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards® with excellent redemption options, including using points for travel and gift cards, and they're both currently offering the same bonus for new cardholders: $200 cash back after spending $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening and 5% cash back on up to $12,000 spent at grocery stores during your first year (excluding Target® and Walmart® purchases).
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating quarterly bonus categories (activation of categories required), 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards® 3% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases 1% cash back on other purchases. If you don't want to keep up with roating categories, Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns at least an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase and you don’t have to worry about rotating categories or activation.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® vs. Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
With uncapped rewards earned on every purchase the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card are both excellent no-annual-fee credit cards. They both offer 1.5% cash back as a base rewards rate on all purchases, though Freedom Unlimited® also offers that 5% cash back on up to $12,000 spent at the grocery store during your first year as well as 5% on travel through Chase and 3% at restaurants and drugstores. The Chase card also has a higher welcome bonus of $200 after spending $500 within the first three months compared to $150 after spending $500 in the first three months for the Quicksilver® card.
For redemption options, both cards have the ability to redeem cash back at any time with no minimums and to redeem for gift cards. Where the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card sets itself apart is with the ability to redeem points on Amazon.com with the Chase Shop with Points feature as well as to redeem points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal. Another big difference to note is that the QuickSilver® card does not charge a foreign transaction fee, a unique perk for a cash-back credit card – especially one with no annual fee. To learn more about how these cards line up, check out our in depth Chase Freedom Unlimited® vs. Capital One® Quicksilver® comparison.
Chase Freedom Unlimited® is designed for people who aren't crazy about the idea of keeping up with rotating cash-back categories, but who do spread their spending out among multiple categories and like the flexibility of Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to be redeemed as cash or for various products and services. It's also good for people who want the ultimate complement to round out the other Ultimate Rewards®-earning cards in their wallet.
It's likely not the best choice, however, for people who use their card for international travel or who relish the opportunity to strategically use their credit cards to rack up maximum rewards in categories that change quarterly.