Chase Freedom Unlimited: A surprisingly great credit card
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The no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited is a perfect card for beginners and advanced award travelers alike. With a fixed 1.5% return on all purchases, cardholders don’t need to keep track of bonus categories. If you pair this with a card that earns 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 a shiny plastic design and advertising that focuses on cash back, the Chase Freedom Unlimited packs a mighty punch. At first glance, it seems like a fairly tame card with a traditional sign-up bonus, cash-back focus and no bonus categories, but there’s a lot more to it when you dive under the hood.
In fact, not only does the Freedom Unlimited consistently stay near the top of my wallet, but it’s also my first recommendation to people just starting to dip into the world of travel rewards. When I was in college, I found that this simple card with no annual fee was also 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 Chase Freedom Unlimited can be an amazing card to start with. 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.
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 with the card never expire as long as you keep it open. The card offers 120-day purchase protection and extended warranty protection that extends eligible manufacturer’s warranties by an additional year.
Keep in mind 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 cleanly into a specific bonus category.
Further reading: The best credit cards for everyday spending
The current sign-up bonus on the Chase Freedom Unlimited is $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months.
That may not sound like the most impressive sign-up bonus in the world, but the thing to keep in mind is that with the Freedom Unlimited, all your cash back can be transferred into Chase Ultimate Rewards points — but only if you already have an Ultimate Rewards earning card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Ink Business Preferred. With these cards, you can transfer that $150 cash back into 15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and use them in the 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:
- 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers; then a variable APR of 16.49% – 25.24% applies
- Purchase protection: Covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account
- Extended warranty protection: Extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less
Note that the Freedom Unlimited charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, so this is not the best card to take with you on an international vacation.
With the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you don’t have to keep track of bonus categories, watch your spending or worry if certain merchants code the way you’d expect them to. The card earns a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no limits or caps.
Long term, 1.5% isn’t bad for a straight-up cash-back card — but it also isn’t great. Frankly, if you’re only interested in a credit card that earns cash back, you’ll do better with a Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers a higher 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy plus 1% when you pay). Citi now allows cardholders to convert their cash back to ThankYou Points via a linked ThankYou account.
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, you can maximize your Chase Freedom Unlimited cash back 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 convert your Chase Freedom Unlimited cash back across these three cards and turn them into full-fledged Ultimate Rewards points.
Simply by combining the Chase Freedom Unlimited with the Sapphire Reserve you will vastly improve your return on this card. In that case, you’ll earn 1.5x points for all spending on the Chase Freedom Unlimited and redeem those points at a minimum rate of 1.5 cents each with the Sapphire Reserve at the Chase travel portal, thereby guaranteeing yourself an effective 2.25% return (1.5 points per dollar multiplied by 1.5 cents per point = 2.25 cents per dollar).
In either case, you’re already getting more value per point than the 1 cent each you’d get by redeeming them for cash back. But then there’s another possibility: By transferring your points to Chase’s amazing airline and hotel partners, you’ll open up ultra-high-end redemptions that would be almost impossible to get otherwise, such as Lufthansa first-class flights to Europe or even Singapore Suites to Asia.
The ability to get this sort of premium-cabin redemptions is why TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each and also why the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a key part of both the Chase trifecta and the Chase quartet of credit cards, making it part of the most powerful combination of cards you can have in your wallet.
What cards compete with the Chase Freedom Unlimited?
There are two cards that give the Chase Freedom Unlimited a run for its money by offering a way to earn valuable transferable points without paying an annual fee.
The first is the Chase Freedom, which currently offers a $150 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months. The Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards are remarkably similar — the main difference is earning structure. The Freedom Unlimited earns unlimited 1.5% cash back, while the Chase Freedom earns 5% cash back on your first $1,500 in purchases in rotating categories that change every quarter (again, the cash back comes as 5x Ultimate Rewards points). While 5x is certainly better than 1.5x, the $1,500 cap and changing categories can make it tough to fully maximize the Freedom’s benefits. You’ll have to look at your own spending patterns to see whether the Freedom 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 bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first three months, and earns 2x on your first $6,000 in spend at U.S. supermarkets each year, then 1x.
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 needing to have 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 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.
The information for the Amex EveryDay® Credit 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 final competitor is the Discover it® Miles. Even though this card doesn’t earn transferable points, it does have a sign-up bonus that competes with the Freedom Unlimited. In particular, the Discover it Miles offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent but matches your miles at the end of your first year. While the Freedom Unlimited only offers 1.5% cash back, the Discover it Miles will match all of your first year spending. However, Discover it Miles are only worth 1 cent each, with no opportunity to boost their value.
Premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve offer an incredible amount of value; it takes pages to describe all the perks, bonuses, benefits and redemptions options. That’s definitely 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 get going quickly by building up valuable travel points, the Freedom Unlimited is a card that should probably be high on your list.
Here’s the link to apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited
All photos are by The Points Guy staff.
SIGN-UP BONUS: $150 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $150
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: No annual fee + earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
- 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
- No minimum to redeem for cash back
- Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open