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Official application link: Chase Freedom Unlimited
Hidden behind a shiny plastic design and a bunch of advertising focusing on “cash back,” the Chase Freedom Unlimited packs a mighty punch. At first glance it may seem like a fairly tame card with its non-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 their toe into the world of travel rewards. 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. Not only is it relatively easy to get approved for, but it can also help you build a relationship with Chase so you can later get some of the issuer’s more valuable cards, like 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. This card is also great for big spenders, thanks to a 3% (or 3x points) return on the first $20,000 you spend in your first year and unlimited 1.5% (or 1.5x points) return on all other purchases. And, 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.
The current sign-up bonus on the Chase Freedom Unlimited is 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent. If you spend $20,000 in your first year, you’ll earn $600 — which is $300 more than you’d normally earn with the card.
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 is awarded to you in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. So the $600 that you could earn on your first $20,000 in spending will actually arrive in your account as 60,000 points, which you can then choose to redeem for cash back at a rate of 1 cent per point to get $600 if you wish. Or you can get a massively higher value out of those points by combining them with other Ultimate Rewards cards for top-notch travel redemptions. More on that in a moment.
With the Chase Freedom Unlimited, there’s no keeping track of bonus categories, watching your spend or worrying whether certain merchants code the way you’d expect them to. The card earns a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases — again, in the form of 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent — with no limits or caps. Of course, in your first year you’ll earn a flat 3% cash back on your first $20,000 in purchases.
Long term, 1.5% isn’t bad for a straight-up cash-back card—but it also isn’t great. Frankly, if your only interest in a credit card is earning 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).
But if you’re looking to turn your credit card rewards into more than just cash in your pocket, the magic in the Freedom Unlimited appears when it comes time to redeem those rewards you’ve earned.
The key to maximizing the Chase Freedom Unlimited comes from the fact that you earn your rewards on this card in the form of points. You can cash out those points for cash back any time you want, but 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 — you can combine your points across your cards and turn them into full-fledged Ultimate Rewards points.
This opens up a ton of new redemption options. The first is to use your points to book travel through the Chase travel portal at a rate of 1.5 cents per point if you have the Sapphire Reserve, or 1.25 cents per point with either of the other two cards. 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 these 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 them two of the most powerful combinations of cards you can have in your wallet. But even just combining the Freedom Unlimited with the Sapphire Reserve will vastly improve your return on this card. In that case, you’ll earn 1.5x points for all spending on the 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).
What cards compete with the Freedom Unlimited?
There are two cards that give the Chase Freedom Unlimited a run for its money by also offering a way to earn valuable transferable points without paying an annual fee.
The first is the Freedom Unlimited’s little brother, the Chase Freedom. The Freedom 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. While the Freedom Unlimited earns unlimited 1.5% cash back, 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 US 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 3% cash back on the first $20,000 you spend in your first year, 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, but it takes pages and 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 spend, 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.
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