Credit card showdown: Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Chase’s array of personal credit card products ranges from the ultra-premium Chase Sapphire Reserve to the “cash back” Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards, which don’t charge annual fees.
With so many options, picking the right card can be difficult if you aren’t sure what you want.
Thanks to Chase’s 5/24 rule (which means that you could automatically be rejected for most Chase cards if you’ve opened five or more cards in the last 24 months), it’s important to have a clear strategy about which Chase cards you want to add to your wallet.
Today, we’re looking at two of Chase’s no-annual-fee credit cards — the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited. By themselves, both earn points that can only be redeemed as cash back at 1 cent per point.
However, you can pair either card with a more premium Chase Ultimate Rewards card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, to turn those points into full-fledged Ultimate Rewards points. Then, you can redeem the points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal or by transferring them to partners.
Let’s go over the details of each card to see which makes more sense for you.
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But with many similarities and differences, which one is best for your needs? Here's how they stack up:
|Card||Chase Freedom Flex||Chase Freedom Unlimited|
|Sign-up bonus||Earn $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.||Earn an additional 1.5% on all purchases up to $20,000 spent in the first year. That’s a value of up to $300 cash back.|
|Earning on rotating quarterly bonus purchases||5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate.||None.|
|Earning on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards||5% cash back.||5% cash back.|
|Earning on dining (including takeout & eligible delivery services)||3% cash back.||3% cash back.|
|Earning at drugstores||3% cash back.||3% cash back.|
|Earning on non-category bonus purchases||1% cash back.||1.5% cash back.|
|Redemption options||Redeem points as cash back, or transfer them to Ultimate Rewards points if you also hold a premium Chase card (Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card).||Redeem points as cash back, or transfer them to Ultimate Rewards points if you also hold a premium Chase card (Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card).|
|Introductory APR||0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 17.99%–26.74% applies.||0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 17.99% - 26.74% applies.|
|Cellphone protection||Up to $800 per claim and $1,000 per year (maximum of 2 claims in a 12-month period with a $50 deductible per claim).||No.|
|Foreign transaction fees||3% of each transaction.||3% of each transaction.|
As you can see, the two cards with similar-sounding names are actually unique in their own ways. The one that is best for you most likely comes down to your monthly spending habits.
The other main difference is that the Chase Freedom Flex is a Mastercard, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a Visa. While there aren’t too many earth-shattering differences, the big — and highly desirable — perk of many Mastercards is cellphone protection.
Comparing earning rates and current welcome bonuses
The current welcome bonuses are slightly different on each card. For those who value simplicity, you can easily earn $200 cash back after spending $500 in the first three months of account opening with the Freedom Flex.
But on the Freedom Unlimited, new applicants have the opportunity to earn an additional 1.5% cash back on all purchases in the first year of account opening, up to the first $20,000 spent:
- 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards (instead of 5%).
- 4.5% on dining and drugstore purchases (instead of 3%).
- 3% on all other purchases (instead of 1.5%).
If you're able to spend up to the $20,000 threshold, that's like earning an additional $300 cash back. While more lucrative than the $200 welcome offer on the Freedom Flex, note that this "additional 1.5% cash back" welcome offer requires much more spending — and you won't get the satisfaction of earning that sign-up bonus all at once.
On the other hand, the Chase Freedom Flex offers 5% back on the first $1,500 spent on rotating categories each quarter, but just 1% on all other eligible purchases.
Currently, we're in the second quarter of 2022 (April to June), and Amazon.com and streaming services are the designated categories. In the past, we’ve seen grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and other relatively common spending categories eligible for 5% cash back.
With many popular spend categories, this makes maximizing the 5% cash back incredibly easy to do and can put an extra $75 back into your pocket each quarter — for a bonus of $300 per year.
After the first year, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers 1.5% back on all your spending (except for the fixed bonus categories). This gives you slightly more rewards on your everyday purchases when compared to the Chase Freedom Flex (with just 1% back on all your spending), but you’ll miss out on the significantly increased 5% rotating categories.
Ultimately, your monthly spending habits will determine which card makes the most sense, especially with their varying welcome offers.
When to get the Chase Freedom Flex
Your spending habits change throughout the year
If you maximize those categories, you can earn $300 cash back each year on those bonus categories alone (or 30,000 points, which is up to $600 in total value if you also have a Chase Ultimate Rewards card to pair with it). Although the categories don’t repeat exactly in each quarter of each year, there are spending categories you’ll tend to see repeated. This includes gas stations, wholesale clubs, grocery stores, drugstores and restaurants. More novel categories are often included, such as streaming services, gym memberships, assorted retailers like Amazon, home improvement and more.
If you change spending habits or manage a card lineup that can accommodate shifting your spending to maximize categories, this could be the better option.
You already carry a card for non-bonus spending
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is an excellent card for expenses that don’t fall under other bonus categories or folks who just like simplicity as part of their points strategy.
In that case, the rotating categories of the Freedom Flex will likely make a better addition to your wallet.
Related: Best cards for everyday spending
You need a card that offers cellphone protection
If you don’t already have a card that offers cellphone protection, now is your opportunity to jump on a no-annual-fee card with this benefit.
With the cellphone protection that comes with the Chase Freedom Flex, you’ll be reimbursed up to $800 per claim (up to $1,000 per year). There is a maximum of two claims in a 12-month period and you’ll be charged a $50 deductible per claim.
This is a unique perk among credit cards and a benefit that will most likely save you money year after year if your phone is damaged (such as falling in a pool, dropping it on the ground, etc.) or stolen.
When to get the Chase Freedom Unlimited
You won’t maximize rotating categories
If you maximize the Freedom Flex bonus categories, that’s a solid $300 in rewards (or 30,000 points) each year. But if you aren’t going to activate, track or use those categories each quarter, you’ll be better off with the flat 1.5% back on every purchase in the long run.
Of course, the less you think you’ll use the categories, the lower the spending threshold that you’ll still end up on top with the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
You are planning on using it as your primary card
If you are a beginner who doesn’t have other rewards credit cards quite yet, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is great for starting out. You’ll get guaranteed rewards across every purchase without having to remember to activate and track bonus categories.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is interchangeable with the Chase Freedom Flex in that respect. Still, for those who are putting most of their spending on this card across many categories, a flat-rate card is a better option than one with rotating categories.
Related: The Chase credit card trifecta
You want simplicity
If you want a card that is incredibly easy to use without having to remember the bonus categories each quarter, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the way to go. The card offers simplicity at its finest, without having to think about which card to use for most purchases.
Remember, you can have both
I’ll admit that I created a false dichotomy here — you don’t necessarily have to choose one over the other.
If you have multiple 5/24 slots left with Chase and want both of these cards, by all means, consider carrying both. You can put bonus spending on the Freedom Flex, taking advantage of the 5% whenever you can, and use the Freedom Unlimited for a nice 1.5% return on all non-bonus spending. If you are looking to downgrade from a more premium Chase Ultimate Rewards card, it could also be possible to product change to one of these no-annual-fee cards.
Related: Maximizing the Chase quartet
Whether you opt for the Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited (or both), these cards fit nicely into just about every type of credit card strategy. If you’re new to the world of points and miles and have a more limited credit history, these cards are easier to get approved for than premium cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
They can also help you build a strong relationship with Chase while earning valuable rewards — just resist the temptation to redeem them for cash back until you get a Sapphire later. Even if you’re a more advanced award traveler, you can get a lot of value from these cards. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is one of the best cards for everyday spending with its 1.5% return. And with no annual fee, the Chase Freedom Flex is worth keeping around for the 5% bonus categories as well.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon and Ethan Steinberg.