Chase Freedom Unlimited: A great card for beginners and pros alike
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Chase Freedom Unlimited overview
The no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited is a perfect card for both beginner and advanced award travelers. While most cards offer 1% back on purchases outside of bonus categories, you’ll earn 1.5% back on non-bonus spending with the Freedom Unlimited. If you pair this with a card that earns premium Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can convert your rewards into fully transferable points, doubling their value. Card rating*: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
*Card rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
Hidden behind advertising that focuses on cash-back rewards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited actually packs a mighty punch. At first glance, it seems like a tame cash-back card with a modest sign-up bonus — but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Not only does the Chase Freedom Unlimited consistently stay near the top of my wallet, but it’s also my first recommendation to people just starting to dip their toes into the world of travel rewards. When I was in college, I found that this simple card with no annual fee was a much easier sell to my friends looking to build credit. So, let’s take a look at what makes this card so deceptively great.
Who is this card for?
If you’re new to points and miles, the Freedom Unlimited can be an amazing card. Approval is relatively easy, and the card helps you build a relationship with Chase so you can eventually get some of the issuer’s more valuable cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve (truthfully, it is even a great card for experts as well).
The Freedom Unlimited has no annual fee, so it’s a card you can keep open for many years without paying a penny for it — and the rewards you earn never expire as long as you keep the card open. The card also offers enticing benefits such as 120-day purchase protection and extended warranty protection that extends eligible manufacturer’s warranties by an additional year.
Keep in mind that the Freedom Unlimited is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, which means the bank will automatically reject applicants who’ve opened five or more cards in the last 24 months. But if you have any slots left with Chase, this card is great for everyday spending, helping you mop up extra points on purchases that don’t fit into a specific bonus category.
A $200 sign-up bonus
The Chase Freedom Unlimited’s sign-up bonus is pretty straightforward: New applicants earn a $200 bonus after spending $500 in their first three months of account opening. Plus, you’ll earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. This low minimum spending requirement and first-year grocery offer should be an easy way for you to earn some cash.
Of course, this offer isn’t nearly as good as what you’ll find with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but pairing this no-annual-fee card with one of those more premium cards will only enhance your bonus potential.
This is because the cash back earned with the Freedom Unlimited can be converted into Chase Ultimate Rewards points — but only if you already have another card that earns Ultimate Rewards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. With these cards, you can convert that initial $200 cash back into 20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (as well as converting any subsequent points you earn on the card) and transfer them to airline or hotel partners or use them in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
You get what you pay for when it comes to card benefits and since the Chase Freedom Unlimited has no annual fee, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t offer many perks and benefits. Still, there are a few nice features worth highlighting:
- 0% intro APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.99% – 24.74% applies.
- Secondary car rental insurance for theft and collision damage on most cars in the U.S. and internationally.
- Purchase protection that covers new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
- Extended warranty protection that extends the time period of a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less.
- Rewards that 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).
Note that the Freedom Unlimited charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, so this isn’t the best card to take with you when traveling outside of the country.
The Freedom Unlimited has long been hailed as a great card for non-bonus spending since it earned 1.5% back across all purchases. But the card got a refresh in 2020 and some new bonus categories on top of the 1.5% back only increase the card’s value. You’ll now earn 5% back on travel booked through Ultimate Rewards, 3% back on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services) and 3% back on drugstores.
Thanks to Chase’s partnership with Lyft, you can also earn 5% cash back on Lyft rides paid for with the Freedom Unlimited through March 2022. When you pair that with an Ultimate Rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, that means earning 5 points per dollar.
The card has always offered a solid rewards rate, but the addition of these fixed categories makes it an even more impressive no-annual-fee option.
You can redeem the cash back earned on your Chase Freedom Unlimited as a statement credit and direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts, or in the Ultimate Rewards portal for travel, shopping at Amazon.com or buying gift cards.
However, as with the sign-up bonus, you can maximize your Chase Freedom Unlimited if you also have one of three other Chase cards — the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. With these cards, you can turn your Chase Freedom Unlimited cash-back points into full-fledged Ultimate Rewards points.
What cards compete with the Chase Freedom Unlimited?
There are currently two cards that give the Chase Freedom Unlimited a run for its money, offering ways to earn valuable transferable points without paying an annual fee.
The first is the Chase Freedom Flex, which currently offers a $200 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months. The Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited cards are remarkably similar, with the only real difference being the earning structure.
The Chase Freedom Flex earns 5% cash back, on your first $1,500 in purchases each quarter you activate, in rotating categories that change every quarter (again, the cash back comes as 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar). Then, on all other non-category purchases, you are only earning 1% cash back.
Both cards earn 5% back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases. Although 5x is certainly better than 1.5x, the $1,500 cap and rotating cash-back categories can make it tough to maximize the Freedom Flex’s benefits. You’ll have to look at your own spending patterns to see whether the Freedom Flex or the Freedom Unlimited makes sense for you.
The other obvious competitor is the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express. This no-annual-fee card offers a 10,000-point welcome offer after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership, and earns 2x on your first $6,000 in spending at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year, then 1x. The information for the Amex EveryDay card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
One major advantage that the EveryDay card has over the Freedom Unlimited is that you can transfer points from the EveryDay card to American Express’ airline and hotel partners without having to pair it with any other Amex cards.
The other unique benefit of the EveryDay card is that you’ll earn a 20% bonus on your points when you make 20 or more purchases in a billing cycle, but that still falls short of the flat 1.5x rate that the Freedom Unlimited earns on non-bonus spending unless you’re mostly making small purchases at grocery stores. TPG values Amex Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, so you’ll get the same value per point with either card.
Premium cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve offer an incredible amount of value; it takes pages to describe all the perks, bonuses, benefits and redemption options. That’s not a complaint, but there’s something to be said for simplicity. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great card for everyday, non-bonus spending and can provide incredible value when paired with a premium Chase card.
So if you’re just starting out with credit cards and want to build up valuable travel points quickly, the Freedom Unlimited card should be first on your list.
Official application link: Chase Freedom Unlimited
Additional reporting by Stella Shon.
Featured photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.
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