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Chase has 2 great no annual fee cards that pair nicely with premium Ultimate Rewards cards: Freedom and Freedom Unlimited.
The Freedom card earns 5X in rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 per quarter in combined spending. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5X on all purchases with no cap.
Lots of peeps ask which is better. To which I always answer: it depends on how much you like the bonus categories. But there’s a longer answer even beyond that: how much to you plan to spend on the card each year?
Let’s talk about the break even point and which is better for your finances.
In This Post
Freedom Vs Freedom Unlimited
The most important thing to know about the Freedom card is the bonus categories. They rotate every 3 months. And you can earn 5X on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter across all the categories, when you activate the bonus.
So the $64,000 question is: are the bonus categories useful to you?
Freedom has 5X categories
- Link: Chase Freedom – Compare it here
In 2018, Q1 bonus categories were:
- Internet, cable, and phone service
- Gas stations
- Mobile payments
And currently (Q2), they’re:
- Grocery stores
- Chase Pay
I maxed out Q1 easily by using Apple Pay for tons of purchases, like Uber/Lyft, at grocery stores, at the hardware store, and at Walgreens.
This quarter, I’m focusing on grocery stores and Chase Pay, though others are doing well using PayPal to check out for online shopping.
Plus, Chase Pay is still limited, although it does include Shell gas stations, Starbucks, and lots of local restaurants when you order ahead. So between all the categories, I’ll max it out again this quarter.
We don’t know what Q3 and Q4 will have yet. But Chase has been copying the Discover It card hard lately. If that’s any indication, expect restaurants and Amazon/wholesale clubs for the rest of the year. These are incredible categories I can personally max out easily – as I’m sure most peeps can.
Past quarters also included:
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores
- Department stores
- Wholesale clubs
- Commuter transportation
- Movie theaters
So you never know what’ll pop up! If you spend the full $1,500 each quarter ($500 per month) and activate the bonus, you’d earn 7,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (or $75 cashback).
That’s 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (or $300 cashback) per year. Not a bad return for a card with no annual fee.
Beyond that, you earn 1X on all other purchases. So this card is good for the bonus categories… and not much else.
Freedom Unlimited requires NO thinking
- Link: Chase Freedom Unlimited – Compare it here
This cards earns 1.5X on all purchases. Full stop – that’s it.
If you don’t want to think about bonus categories or activating them, this card might be the way to go.
But if you’re torn whether to get this one or the regular Freedom, the number to know is $20,000.
That’s how much you’d need to spend to earn 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points with this card ($20,000 X 1.5).
It sounds like a lot. But it divides out to ~$1,667 per month in spending.
If you’re using the card for everything, it’s fairly easy to hit that target. Although I use other cards for bonus categories and my Blue Business Plus Amex for non-bonus spending.
Realistically, I wouldn’t use the card for that much spending. But you might – especially if it’s your first or only card.
Note: There’s a targeted offer to earn 3X the first year with this card. If you can get it to show, you’d only have to spend $10,000 the first year to earn 30,000 points. But you lose the 15,000-point sign-up bonus and drop to 1.5X after the first year. Run the numbers to see which offer is better for you – especially if you plan to use the card a lot.
So which is better for you?
To earn 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you’d need to spend:
- $6,000 per year with Freedom ($6,000 X 5), or $500 per month
- $20,000 per year with Freedom Unlimited (20,000 X 1.5), or ~$1,667 per month
If you like Freedom’s bonus categories, you get a lot more points for much less spending.
And if you spend a decent amount per month and don’t want to think about bonus categories, go for the Freedom Unlimited.
For this reason, I tell most of my friends to spring for the Freedom. Chase makes it easy to activate the bonus and track your purchases. Plus, when you’re ready, you’ll have a nice stash of Ultimate Rewards points to pair with another card. And that unlocks the ability to transfer your points 1:1 to Chase’s outstanding travel partners, like Southwest, Hyatt, and British Airways (all personal faves).
The Freedom is a good starter card for that reason. Whereas if you had the Freedom Unlimited, you’d have to spend a lot more to earn as many points.
If cashback is your goal, choose neither
Both cards are advertised as cashback cards. But their power lies in pairing them with another Chase card to access travel partners. Which, yes, requires you to get another Chase card. It’s a good points ecosystem to get associated with.
Some peeps don’t want 2 cards or to think about combining points and transferring them. And for them, I’d say there are better cashback cards.
For 5% cashback in rotating bonus categories, you can easily earn $600 (instead of $300) with the Discover It card instead.
And multiple 2% cashback cards are better than Freedom Unlimited’s 1.5%.
Both cards are part of a long-term strategy
- Link: Chase Sapphire Preferred – Compare it here
The Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards are stepping stones toward a bigger points strategy: that you’ll eventually pair them with a premium Ultimate Rewards card.
And both are an excellent place if you want to:
- Ease into the world of miles & points
- Avoid annual fees
- Earn rewards on all your spending
- Build your credit profile
- Begin a relationship with Chase
I’ve had my Chase Freedom for 15+ years by now. And I’ll keep it forever because it has no annual fee. It’s literally a free way to age all the other accounts on my credit profile, which helps boost my credit score.
These cards are also relatively easier to get approved for, if you have a limited credit profile. Plus, once you have a card with Chase, it gives you leverage for another one in the future.
For all these reasons, either card is a great place to start building your credit and travel goals. Plus, you can always switch from one to the other after a year.
I use Chase Ultimate Rewards points for free or cheap travel constantly. This past week, I spent 3 nights in San Francisco for free thanks to my $300 travel credit and points transferred to Hyatt. So it’s good to get your points balance growing while starting your other goals at the same time.
Keep in mind, you can NOT get most Chase cards (including these), if you’ve opened 5+ cards in the last 2 years. If you’re starting out, that shouldn’t be an issue. But something to note, for sure.
The number to know is $20,000. If you spend more than that per year, the Freedom Unlimited would earn you more points – that’s also assuming you’ll activate and max out Freedom’s bonus categories each quarter.
The Freedom requires much less spending for the most possible bonus points: only $500 per month compared with ~$1,667 on the Freedom Unlimited.
But ultimately, the best one for you depends how much you like the quarterly bonus categories. Typically, they’re super useful and easy to use. Past quarters included grocery stores, Amazon, wholesale clubs, and restaurants.
And both cards should be part of a longer-term goal for credit building or cheap travel. Obviously, both of those are great!
Lower spending and a good introduction to points is why I typically steer my friends and family to Chase Freedom. But considering both cards don’t have an annual fee, you really can’t go wrong either way.
Which card do you like better? Do you find Freedom’s bonus categories easy to use?
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