Rotating 5x earning and a key member of the Chase Quartet: Chase Freedom card review
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the 2020 quarterly bonus categories. It was originally published on Dec. 11, 2019.
The Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back in select categories that change quarterly, as well as travel and shopping protections that aren’t common on cards without an annual fee. You can convert rewards earned on the Chase Freedom to Ultimate Rewards if you have a card that earns Ultimate Rewards, which effectively doubles your return by unlocking valuable redemption opportunities. Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
The Chase Freedom is one of the earliest cards I used to try to maximize my earnings. This is because the Chase Freedom earns 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter. To get the most out of it, you’ll need to be aware of which purchases will earn bonus points and primarily use your Chase Freedom to make these purchases.
Although the Chase Freedom is marketed as a cash-back card, if you have a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card — the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card — you can transfer rewards earned by your Chase Freedom to Ultimate Rewards points. Doing so effectively doubles your earnings: based on TPG’s valuations, you can earn a 10% return on up to $1,500 in bonus category purchases each quarter.
Let’s take a closer look at the Chase Freedom so you can determine whether it is a good fit for your spending and lifestyle.
Who is this card for?
The Chase Freedom is a great fit for several kinds of credit card users:
- Are you just starting out in the rewards game? You can accrue cash back with the Chase Freedom that can be converted to Chase Ultimate Rewards points once you add a Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card to your wallet.
- Are you a points accumulator who already has other Chase cards in your wallet? Adding this card could help you complete the Chase quartet. Just be sure to watch out for the issuer’s 5/24 rule, which could restrict you from opening new cards with Chase if you’ve opened five or more accounts across all issuers in the last 24 months.
- Are you someone who enjoys closely tracking your spending to squeeze every benefit out of a credit card? The Chase Freedom’s rotating bonus categories may fit the bill.
The Chase Freedom may not be a good choice for you if you don’t typically spend money in the card’s rotating categories, or if you don’t have the time or inclination to track category spending.
Related reading: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase cards
The Chase Freedom makes for a great starter card because it pays a sign-up bonus, yet has no annual fee. The bonus isn’t nearly as high as you’ll see on some cards with high annual fees, but it’s decent for a card with no annual fee. If you sign up through the links in this article, you’ll earn $150 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases during your first three months after account opening.
You can boost the value of the sign-up bonus by converting the bonus to points (15,000) when you transfer them to a Chase account that’s part of the Ultimate Rewards program. Those points are worth $300, according to TPG’s most recent valuations.
New cardholders have access to a 0% introductory APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period expires, the standard rate is a variable APR of 16.49% to 25.24%. You’ll pay an introductory balance transfer fee of $5 or 3% of the transfer amount (whichever is greater) when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open (then $5 or 5%).
Note that current Chase Freedom cardholders or previous cardholders who received a bonus within the last 24 months will not qualify for the sign-up bonus. You’ll also likely be automatically rejected for the card if you have opened five or more accounts across all issuers in the last 24 months under Chase’s infamous 5/24 rule.
Related reading: 7 cards currently offering welcome bonuses of 100,000 points or more
Main benefits and perks
The Chase Freedom comes with some excellent perks for a card without an annual fee. The card’s most well-known perk — and the reason most cardholders add it to their wallet — is the 5% earning on up to $1,500 spent in rotating bonus categories each quarter.
The Chase Freedom also offers some travel protections that can save you a lot of money and hassle when your vacation doesn’t go as expected. When you pay for a car rental entirely with your card you may be covered by an auto rental collision damage waiver that’s secondary in the U.S. but primary abroad. You and your immediate family also will be covered by trip cancellation and interruption insurance of up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for pre-paid, non-refundable passenger fares when you pay for these fares with your card.
The Chase Freedom offers two shopping protections if a recent purchase made with your card becomes damaged. Purchase protection may cover your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account. Extended warranty protection may extend the time period of U.S. manufacturers’ warranties by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less.
The Chase Freedom also offers other benefits including:
- Rewards don’t expire as long as your account is open
- Tap to pay with your contactless card
- Travel and emergency assistance that can arrange legal and medical referrals or other travel and emergency assistance if you run into a problem away from home (although you will be responsible for the cost of any goods or services obtained)
- Complimentary Visa Signature concierge service
- Roadside assistance that can dispatch the help you need — from a tow or jump start to a tire change, lockout service, winching or gas delivery (but you’ll need to pay for any roadside service fees)
Related reading: The best credit cards with travel insurance
How to earn
With the Chase Freedom, you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases at merchants in the card’s quarterly bonus categories and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The bonus categories change each quarter, but here are the bonus categories for 2020:
As you can see, the current bonus categories for the first quarter of 2020 are gas stations. internet/cable/phone services and select streaming services. Earning 5x points while still sitting on the couch is extremely easy this quarter.
If the bonus categories don’t appeal to you during a particular quarter, know that they’ll change once the quarter completes. Previous bonus categories have included Walmart, gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, home improvement, Starbuck’s, theme parks and more.
To qualify for 5% cash back, you’ll need to activate the bonus categories every quarter. This may be a nuisance, but Chase offers numerous activation options, including a one-click email activation Chase can send you every quarter.
Chase typically gives cardholders plenty of time to activate and will award points retroactively. For the fourth quarter of 2019, Chase offers this guidance:
In fact, you’ll earn 5% cash back for all category purchases you’ve made for the whole quarter (up to $1,500), no matter when you activate as long as it’s by December 14, 2019. So if you activate any day before then, you’ll earn 5% cash back for category purchases dating back to October 1.
Additionally, you can earn bonus points when you Shop Through Chase. Shop Through Chase is a shopping portal that provides additional cash-back earnings when you click through and use your Chase Freedom card to complete the online purchase. For example, here are just a few of the current offers on my Chase Freedom card:
How to redeem
When you accrue points on the Chase Freedom card, they’re generally worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed for cash back, gift cards or travel. You can also use your points through Chase Pay for a statement credit to cover all or part of a Chase Pay purchase or an Amazon Shop with Points purchase, but these options will only provide a redemption value of 0.8 cents per point, so we generally don’t recommend them. One exception is if you are targeted for semi-frequent promotions with Amazon Shop with Points, through which you can get a discount when you redeem at least one point.
If you pair the Chase Freedom with a Chase credit card that’s part of the Ultimate Rewards program, you approximately double the annual redemption value of your rewards. This is because when you transfer the earning from your Chase Freedom to your other card, the rewards become Ultimate Rewards points. Eligible Ultimate Rewards program cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.
You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to various airline partners such as Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, as well as use these points to book travel through Chase Travel. Here are some guides that will help you maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards redemptions:
- How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- Sweet spots: The best ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- Best Ways to Redeem Chase Points on Oneworld airlines, SkyTeam airlines and Star Alliance airlines
- Maximizing Chase Ultimate Rewards points for domestic travel
- How to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for hotels
- Using Chase Ultimate Rewards points for activities
How does the Chase Freedom compare?
The Chase Freedom is directly comparable to the Discover it® Cash Back. Neither charges an annual fee and both offer 5% cash back on the first $1,500 in purchases made in rotating bonus categories that change quarterly (enrollment required). The Discover it Cash Back tends to accept a wider range of credit scores, so it may be a better choice if you have less-than-excellent credit.
But there are certainly some reasons to consider the Chase Freedom over the Discover it Cash Back. The Chase Freedom offers some benefits that aren’t provided by the Discover it Cash Back, such as extended warranty protection, purchase protection, trip cancellation and interruption insurance and an auto rental collision damage waiver. The Chase Freedom also can become part of a solid Ultimate Rewards points-earning strategy when paired with a Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card.
Ideally, you’ll only use rotating bonus category cards like the Discover it Cash Back and Chase Freedom for purchases in their quarterly bonus categories. So you should also have an everyday spending card in your wallet such as the Citi® Double Cash Card or Chase Freedom Unlimited, and, you may want to have some cards that provide increased earning in categories you frequently utilize.
Related reading: The best cash-back credit cards of 2020
The Chase Freedom lands on TPG’s list of the best cash-back credit cards for two reasons: the quarterly 5x bonus categories and the ability to supercharge redemption rates. If you have an Ultimate Rewards card in your wallet, you should seriously consider adding the Chase Freedom to your wallet to elevate your earning in the quarterly bonus categories.
If you’re planning to get an Ultimate Rewards card in the future, you may want to go ahead and get the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards. You can stockpile rewards on these no-annual-fee cards and then later transfer these rewards to your Ultimate Rewards card. Even if you don’t have or plan to get an Ultimate Rewards card, the Chase Freedom may still be a worthy addition to your wallet if you’re mindful of the rotating bonus categories.
Apply here for the Chase Freedom card with a $150 sign-up bonus.
Additional reporting by Mike Cetera.
Featured image by JT Genter/The Points Guy.
- Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
- Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
- Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – it's automatic
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
- 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
- No annual fee
- Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
- Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠