Credit card showdown: Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited

Sep 30, 2021

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No matter what kind of cardholder you are, Chase probably has a credit card that fits your needs.

Chase’s array of personal credit card products ranges from the $550-per-year, 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.

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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 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 for a bonus through the Chase travel portal or by transferring them to partners.

Related: Maximizing the Chase Trifecta

Let’s dive into the details of each card to see which makes more sense for you.

Comparison overview

Both the Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited are two great no-annual-fee cards to add to your wallet. But with many similarities and differences, which one is best for your needs? Here is how they stack up:

Card Chase Freedom Flex Chase Freedom Unlimited
Annual fee $0 $0
Sign-up bonus Earn $200 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. Plus, earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Earn $200 after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. Plus, earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
Earning on rotating quarterly bonus purchases Earn 5% cash back (5x points) on your first $1,500 spent in rotating quarterly bonus categories (activation required). After that, earn 1% (1x) on all purchases. No rotating quarterly bonus categories.
Earning on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards 5% cash back (5x points) 5% cash back (5x points)
Earning on dining (including takeout & eligible delivery services) 3% cash back (3x points) 3% cash back (3x points)
Earning at drugstores 3% cash back (3x points) 3% cash back (3x points)
Earning on non-category bonus purchases Earn 1% cash back (1x points) on all other purchases. Earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on all other purchases.
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 14.99%-23.74% applies. 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99%-23.74% applies.
Cellphone protection Yes. 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 fee 3% 3%

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 bonuses

The Chase Freedom Flex offers 5% back on the first $1,500 spent on rotating categories each quarter.

During the last quarter of 2021, Oct. through Dec., Walmart and PayPal purchases were designated categories. We’ve seen grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and other relatively common spending categories eligible for 5x back in other quarters.

Even if you don’t think you’ll maximize these two categories, thousands of online retailers offer an option to checkout via PayPal. So even if you aren’t a typical PayPal user, it’s pretty easy to select this option on your next online shopping trip — especially as we head into the holidays.

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.

Related: Activate now: New 5x quarterly bonus categories on Chase Freedom, Freedom Flex announced

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

On the other hand, 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, but you’ll miss out on the significantly increased 5% rotating categories.

Your monthly spending habits will determine which card makes the most sense. If you want pure simplicity and don’t want to worry about categories that change every three months and require quarterly activation, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is your best option.

Aside from the benefits, both cards offer the same welcome bonus: Earn $200 in cash back after spending $500 in the first three months. Plus, earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

Or, if you also have a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards card, this is worth 20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points from the simple $500 spend, plus up to 60,000 points with your first-year grocery purchases — valued at $400 to $1,600 towards travel by TPG valuations.

When to get the Chase Freedom Flex

Although the two cards are incredibly similar, there are some situations where it makes more sense for you to get the Freedom Flex over the Freedom Unlimited.

Related: Check out our full Chase Freedom Flex review

Your spending habits change throughout the year

The Chase Freedom Flex offers 5%/5x rotating categories that change each quarter.

If you maximize those categories, you can earn $300 bonus cash back in points each year on those bonus categories alone (or 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 thrown in, such as streaming services, gym memberships, assorted online retailers like Amazon, home improvement, and more.

If you change spending habits or manage a card lineup that can accommodate shifting spending to maximize categories, this could be the better option.

Related: Best credit cards for each spending category 

You already have 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.

But it’s a bit redundant to have a 1.5% flat-rate credit card if you already have a flat-rate card such as the Citi® Double Cash Card or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

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 card, 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 on the ground, etc.) or stolen.

Related: Credit cards that cover cellphone loss and damage

When to get the Chase Freedom Unlimited

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

On the other hand, there are scenarios where the Freedom Unlimited could provide more value.

Related: Check out our full Chase Freedom Unlimited review 

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.

Let’s say you only end up using the rotating categories about half of the time. That’s around $150 (or 15,000 points) per year in rewards. If you are spending around $835 per month on the card (regardless of categories), you’ll end up better off with the Chase Freedom Unlimited. 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 a good credit card for starting out. You’ll get guaranteed rewards across every purchase without having to remember to activate and track bonus categories. Add in the 3% bonus on dining and drugstores and 5% bonus when you book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited is an excellent beginner credit card.

Later on, you can add one of the premium Chase Ultimate Rewards cards to your wallet, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, to fully maximize your points.

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 is a better option than 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 thinking 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 holding 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 to 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

Bottom line

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.

Official application link: Chase Freedom Unlimited
Official application link: Chase Freedom Flex

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg and Jennifer Yellin. 

Featured photo by Astrakan Images/Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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