Credit card showdown: Citi Double Cash vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
You might think you need to pay an annual fee to get a good cash rewards credit card. But with offerings such as the Citi® Double Cash Card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® from two top credit card providers, you can earn cash back without paying for the privilege.
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Both of these cards offer very good cash-back rates on everyday purchases. While the Citi Double Cash earns a higher 2% (1% when you buy and 1% as you pay) cash-back rate compared to 1.5% on the Chase Freedom Unlimited, the latter makes up for that with even higher rates in certain bonus categories. Both cards allow you to convert your cash back into valuable transferable points for even more value.
How do these cards compare to each other? Which one makes it easiest to rack up the cash rewards fast? We’ll take a look at how two of the best credit cards stack up in a head-to-head comparison.
Comparing Citi Double Cash and Chase Freedom Unlimited
|Citi Double Cash||Chase Freedom Unlimited|
|Minimum spending requirement||None||Bonus earned after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening|
|Everyday spending earning rate||2% cash back on purchases: 1% when you use the card, 1% when you make the minimum payment on time||5% back on travel booked through Ultimate Rewards, 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3% on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services), 3% at drugstores, 1.5% unlimited on all other purchases|
|Bonus categories||None||Travel booked through Ultimate Rewards portal, Lyft rides, dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services) and drugstores|
|Value of points/miles*||2%-3.4%||1.5%-2.75%|
|Foreign transaction fees||3% of each transaction (USD)||3% of each transaction (USD)|
|Other benefits||Access to special events through Citi Entertainment, Citi Identity Theft Solutions, Lost Wallet service, 24-hour fraud protection, zero liability purchase protection against unauthorized charges, digital wallet capabilities||Unlimited access to your credit score and credit information through Credit Journey, zero liability protection for unauthorized purchases, purchase protection (up to $500 per claim with a maximum of $50,000 per account), extended warranty protection, three months of DashPass|
*Based on TPG valuations
Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a welcome bonus of $200 after you make $500 in purchases within three months of account opening. However, be aware that the bonus is only available to new cardholders and only if you have not collected a sign-up bonus for the same card within the past 24 months.
The Citi Double Cash has no sign-up bonus at this time.
Winner: Chase Freedom Unlimited. With a relatively small spending requirement and a generous bonus, Chase obviously wins this category.
Citi Double Cash: 1% cash back when you make a purchase and 1% when you make your minimum payment on time, for a total of 2% on every purchase.
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Straight 1.5% back on everything and 5% on Lyft rides through March 2022. Plus, bonus categories and earnings such as 5% back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% back on dining and 3% back at drugstores.
Winner: Chase Freedom Unlimited. While you can earn 0.5% more on all non-bonus categories with Citi than with Chase, the 3% rate on dining and drugstores could edge out Citi Double Cash for some cardholders.
Both cards have multiple options for redeeming your cash back, including a statement credit, direct deposit or points through the cards’ respective rewards portals.
Citi Double Cash: You can cash in your rewards for a statement credit or direct deposit. You can also use your rewards to pay your mortgage or a student loan held by Citi. You’ll need at least 2,500 points, worth $25, to cash out in this way.
As a Citi Double Cash cardholder, you also have the option of transferring your rewards into ThankYou points. When you forego the cash and convert your rewards to points, they become worth 3.4% of your original purchase, which represents a much better return. Spend those ThankYou points through the Citi rewards portal to pay for travel, including air travel on partners such as JetBlue, purchase gift cards or even make a charitable contribution.
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Chase makes it easy to redeem rewards through the Ultimate Rewards portal — but only when paired with a Chase Ultimate Rewards card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve. Otherwise, you can choose from cash back deposited directly into your bank account or a statement credit, where each cent earned gives you a cent back toward your credit card balance.
You can also choose a gift card at the same rate. Gift cards start as low as $5, which means you can start redeeming once you’ve accrued just 500 cents. You can also spend your points on Amazon, but they are only worth .08 cents each. It’s smarter to buy an Amazon gift card at the higher rate of 1 cent per point.
Where Chase Freedom offers the most flexibility and greatest reward is by transferring your cash back to a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve card, where points are worth 1.25 cents or 1.5 cents, respectively. Use your points to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal or transfer to one of the many Ultimate Rewards transfer partners to get the most value.
You can also make a charitable contribution to a wide variety of 501(c)(3) corporations with your Chase rewards.
Winner: Citi Double Cash. The capability to convert your cash rewards to ThankYou points worth 3.4% puts Double Cash ahead of Chase Freedom Unlimited when it comes to rewards redemption. Plus, you don’t need a second Citi card to take advantage of increased rewards; Chase requires having a Sapphire card to transfer your rewards and receive a higher value.
Neither of these cards offers top-tier benefits such as an up-to-$100 enrollment fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, cellphone protection or rental car insurance. But considering these cards also carry no annual fee, the benefits aren’t bad.
Citi Double Cash: Citi emphasizes security and credit management with a roster of benefits that include a digital wallet, or virtual account numbers, to make online purchases more securely, 0% liability on unauthorized purchases, Fraud Early Warning notifications and free access to your FICO credit score. Citi’s Lost Wallet service can replace your Citi card in as little as 24 hours and also provide you with emergency cash (subject to your card’s cash-advance limit).
This Mastercard really shines, though, with the Citi Entertainment program. You can gain VIP access to concerts, sporting events and other entertainment experiences.
Chase Freedom Unlimited: Like the Citi card, Freedom Unlimited offers zero liability on unauthorized purchases and unlimited access to your credit score through Chase’s Credit Journey program. You also get purchase protection of up to $500 on every purchase, with a maximum of $50,000 in claims, and extended warranty protection, giving you peace of mind when you use your Chase card to shop.
Added last year, Chase’s partnership with food delivery service DoorDash gives Freedom Unlimited cardmembers a complimentary DashPass for three months. The DashPass provides unlimited free delivery on all DoorDash orders $12 and up. After three months, cardmembers can extend their pass for one year at 50% off the current price ($9.99 per month right now).
Winner: Tie. The benefits for both cards seem largely comparable, with multiple fraud protection benefits and a host of convenient features. Chase wins out with the extended warranty and purchase protection. But if you’re looking for unique experiences, the Citi Entertainment program delivers.
Citi Double Cash provides better rewards (up to 3.4% back if you convert your cash to ThankYou points) and enticing benefits. As a straightforward flat-rate cash-back rewards card, the Citi card makes it easy to shop, pay your bill and earn rewards. You don’t have to keep track of bonus spending categories as you do with some other cards, such as Chase Freedom Flex or Discover it. The Citi Entertainment benefit gives you early access to concerts and sporting events, plus exclusive VIP experiences.
Both cards stand as solid cash-back rewards cards for everyday use. But unless you’re pairing your Chase Freedom Unlimited with a Chase Sapphire card, you won’t get the most out of it. For most people, Citi Double Cash offers the most generous rewards you’ll find without an annual fee.
- Best cash-back cards
- Best rewards credit cards
- How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- The ultimate guide to Citi ThankYou Rewards
- The power of the Chase Trifecta
Additional reporting by Juan Ruiz.
Featured photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy.
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