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It may not receive all the headline acclaim heaped upon other credit cards in the Chase portfolio, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, but the popular Chase Freedom is a powerful member of the issuer’s lineup capable of delivering strong rewards value to the savvy cardholder.
The real strength of Freedom lies in its deceptive nature. It’s billed as a cash-back credit card, but to treat it as such is to waste its unadvertised potential as a points generator. You can supercharge the return on its 5x rewards in rotating categories by paring Freedom with a travel card in Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program and transferring those points to that card.
But you’ll have put in some work to monitor your spending in those rotating categories to ensure you’re maximizing your earning opportunities. If you’re looking for an uncomplicated cash-back card that pays a flat rate, Chase Freedom isn’t for you.
Who is This Card For?
Chase Freedom may be the perfect fit for several kinds of credit card users. Are you just starting out in the rewards game? Freedom can help you learn the ropes and scope the lay of the points/miles land. Are you a hardcore 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 in the last 24 months. Are you someone who enjoys closely tracking your spending to squeeze every benefit out of a credit card? Freedom’s rotating bonus categories may fit the bill.
Perhaps it’s best to explore the kinds of users Freedom isn’t for. If you’re worried you’ll miss out on rewards because you don’t typically spend money in the rotating categories Chase offers, find another card. If you think the $1,500 quarterly cap on the 5x rewards is too low, find another card. If you don’t have the time or inclination to track category spending, find another card.
Sign-up Bonus and Annual Fee
Chase Freedom makes for a great starter card because it both pays a sign-up bonus and comes with no annual fee. The bonus isn’t great, but it’s something. 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 $315, according to TPG’s most recent valuations.
Note that current Chase Freedom cardholders or previous cardholders who received a bonus within the last 24 months will not qualify for this offer.
You’ll earn 1% cash back on all purchases. That’s not great, even for a rewards credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee. The big appeal for Chase Freedom, though, isn’t its standard cash-back rate. It’s the 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases at merchants in the card’s quarterly bonus categories. The bonus categories for April, May and June 2018 are groceries, PayPal and Chase Pay, the last of the which is the bank’s mobile wallet platform, which isn’t as widely accepted as, say, Apple Pay. But it’s fairly easy to maximize grocery spending to hit that $1,500 mark — just note that Walmart and Target don’t count as grocery store purchases.
If the three bonus categories this time around don’t appeal to you, know that they’ll change come the third quarter. Previous bonus categories have included Walmart and department stores and purchases made at gas stations; on spending with internet, cable and phone service merchants; and with mobile wallets.
To qualify for the 5x rewards, 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 will send you every quarter.
Chase typically gives cardholders plenty of time to activate and will award points retroactively. For the second quarter of 2018, 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 June 14, 2018. So if you activate any day before then, you’ll earn 5% cash back for category purchases dating back to April 1.
When you accrue points on Chase Freedom, they’re generally worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed for cash back, gift cards or travel. You may also use your points through Chase Pay for a statement credit to cover all or part of a Chase Pay purchase. But that option further devalues the points to $.008 per point. You can also enroll in Amazon’s Shop with Points program, but we don’t recommend this option.
If you plan to primarily redeem your rewards in the form of cash-back, know that you’ll only be able to earn a maximum of $75 per quarter on the bonus categories ($1,500 in purchases at 5% cash back).
If, on the other hand, you pair the card with another Chase credit card that’s part of the Ultimate Rewards program and transfer the Freedom points to that card, you can more than double the annual value of rewards. ($1,500 in purchases at 5x points equals 7,500 UR points per quarter. Those points are worth $157.50, according to TPG valuations. That’s $630 per year.) Depending on your redemption, though, you could get even more value for your points. For example, you could transfer 80,000 points to Korean Air to book a first-class flight that goes for nearly $5,000, getting you more than 6 cents per point in value.
Chase Freedom comes with some fairly standard industry perks, offering various coverage to protect recent purchases with the card:
Purchase Protection: Covers your new purchases for up to 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
Extended warranty: Extends the time period of a US manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less.
Zero liability: You won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information. Federal law generally limits your liability to $50.
New cardholders also will enjoy 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 17.24% to 25.99%. You’ll pay a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the transfer amount, whichever is greater.
Which Cards Compete with Chase Freedom?
The cards that compete with Chase Freedom typically streamline earning and redeeming rewards, making these solid picks for people without the time or inclination to track category spending. Remember, though, most of these don’t come with the luxury of boosting earnings via a pairing with an Ultimate Rewards card.
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Like Chase Freedom, Freedom Unlimited can be matched with a UR card to boost the value of the rewards, charges no annual fee and comes with a $150 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 in purchases during the first three months of account opening. The main difference: Freedom Unlimited ditches category spending in favor of a flat 1.5% cash back on all spending.
Citi Double Cash Card: Earn 2% cash back on all purchases, 1% when you make a purchase and 1% when you pay your bill. This card — like all reward cards, really — only makes sense if you plan to pay your bill on time and in full every month. There is no annual fee.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: This is a great option if you spend heavily on gas and groceries. Earn 6% cash back on purchases at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of spending each reward year, then 1%) plus 3% cash back at US gas stations and select US department stores, and 1% cash back everywhere else. You can earn a $200 bonus after you make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. The annual fee is $95 (See Rates & Fees).
Chase Freedom lands on TPG’s list of the best cash-back credit cards for one big reason: the quarterly 5x bonus and the ability to supercharge redemption rates. If you don’t have an Ultimate Rewards card in your wallet, Chase Freedom is still a worthy pickup — if you’re mindful of the bonus categories. In any case, this probably shouldn’t be the only rewards card you own, and, unless you’re just starting out in the rewards card game, it probably shouldn’t even be the main credit card you use, since other cards have higher earning rates and provide superior coverage.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred Card, please click here.
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With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards