Two popular rewards cards on the market are the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited cards. This week, I’m pitting these two cards against each other in a head-to-head comparison to find out which one has the highest potential when it comes to earning points.
Both the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited are cash-back rewards cards, but as you may be aware, these cash-back cards can actually serve as points-earning cards in disguise. If you’re choosing between these two popular offerings from Chase and you want to make the best decision possible for your portfolio, this episode is for you.
Tune in this week to discover how to choose between the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited. I’m discussing why applying for both of these cards simultaneously may not be viable, and I’m sharing the factors and statistics you need to consider when deciding which of these two cards will be the most rewarding for you.
Welcome to Point Me to First Class, the only show for employed professionals, entrepreneurs, and business owners who are looking to optimize their higher-than-average expenses to travel the world. I'm your host, Devon Gimbel, and I believe that your expenses are your greatest untapped asset if you know how to leverage them. Ready to dive into the world of credit card points and miles so you can travel more, travel better, and travel often? Let's get started.
Hey everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today's episode is all about a faceoff between two popular Chase rewards cards. The Chase Freedom Flex card versus the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. I'm going to put these two cards in a head to head comparison to find out which one is better.
Technically, both of these cards are cash-back rewards cards. But if you follow the podcast and listen to episode number 25, you will know that these cash-back cards are actually points earning cards in disguise as long as you also hold one of the transferable points earning cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards Points ecosystem.
If you have not already listened to episode number 25, pause this episode, go back and check that one out, and then come back to finish today's episode. Because for the remainder of this episode today, I am going to talk about the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards as points earning credit cards.
Because the Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited cards can both earn Chase points and have the added benefit of having no annual fee, they are very attractive candidates for your rewards card portfolio. If you aren't already familiar with these two rewards cards, as you hear about their advantages and points earning structure, you may start to think that they're both pretty great sounding, and you would be right.
You might even start wondering, why not just apply for both the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards to add to your rewards card portfolio so that you can benefit from having each of them available to you?
Well, for most people, applying for both the Freedom Flex and the Freedom Unlimited cards, especially applying for both of them in a relatively short period of time like a few months, is actually not a great idea. That's because both of these rewards cards are credit cards offered by Chase.
All of us are subject to the infamous Chase 5/24 rule, which determines whether you're eligible to be approved for new Chase credit cards. You should all be very familiar with the Chase 5/24 rule because that's exactly what I discussed recently on podcast episode number 26.
But just as a quick reminder, Chase has a rule where you will not be approved for a new Chase credit card if you've opened five or more new personal credit card accounts in the preceding 24 months. So all of us in this game are essentially walking around at any time with only five open slots in our Chase 5/24 score. Once those slots have been filled, you just have to wait until 24 months passes from the time you opened up your oldest of those five personal credit card accounts until you're again eligible for a new Chase credit card.
So you should view those five slots in your Chase 5/24 score as very valuable real estate. Many of you will not want to allocate two of those five slots to getting both the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited cards. Because while both of these cards are good points earning cards in my opinion, they're not the absolute best ones in terms of the welcome bonus that they offer, or having really strong perks or benefits.
So I would argue that most people are not going to want to get both of these cards at least very early in their points journey or at the same time. So chances are you're going to have to choose which one you want most first. But which one is better? The answer might surprise you.
Spoiler alert, I don't actually think one card is better than the other in some definitive sense. But I do think that one card or the other could be better for you depending on a few factors. That's what we're going to dive into in today's episode. So that if you're thinking of applying for one of these cards, you can know which one is going to be more rewarding for you if you have to prioritize applying for one and then wait until you get the other Freedom card at a later time.
But before we look at what makes these two cards different from one another, let's talk about how they are similar. I already mentioned that both the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards are marketed as cash-back rewards cards, but they can actually earn points that can be transferred to any of Chase's airline or hotel transfer partners as long as you also hold a transferable points earning card in the Chase ecosystem.
So for the purposes of this episode, I'm going to assume that you already have one of the transferrable points earning Chase cards, or that you'll eventually get one so that either the Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited card will function as a points earning card for you.
As a reminder, the three transferrable points earning cards that Chase currently offers to new applicants are the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card as personal credit cards, and the Chase Inc Business Preferred card as a business credit card.
The second thing the Freedom Flex and the Freedom Unlimited cards have in common is that they are no annual fee rewards cards. This means that you are not charged any money by Chase to have either of these credit cards, and you can hold them year after year without being charged an annual fee. Which is fantastic because as your rewards card portfolio grows, you do want to be mindful of how much it's costing you to continue to keep your rewards card accounts open. Having no annual fee cards that actually earn points is a huge benefit for keeping your credit card portfolio costs low.
The third thing the Freedom Flex and the Freedom Unlimited cards have in common are some of the bonus categories and rates at which they earn points. Both cards offer five points per dollar spent on travel booked directly through the Chase portal, which I would argue you should basically never do. So I don't consider this to be a particularly compelling bonus category for either card.
Both cards also earn three points per dollar spent on dining, which sounds great, but is redundant since both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve cards also offer three points per dollar spent on dining. However, if the Chase Inc Business preferred card is the only transferable points earning card you have in the Chase points ecosystem, then both Freedom cards would allow you to earn three points per dollar spent in the dining and restaurant category, which could be beneficial for you.
Finally, both the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards earn three points per dollar spent at drugstores, which is a nice bonus category since this is fairly unique to these two cards with only the Citi Custom Cash card earning a higher rate of points for purchases at drugstores.
If you're like me and my husband and I and are self-employed and only have access to atrocious individual health insurance plans with high deductibles and ridiculous out of pocket costs for basically anything healthcare related, you will enjoy at least having a rewards card that earns three times points for your drugstore purchases because all of your prescription medications are going to cost a crapload of money.
So now that you know how the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards are the same, let's talk about how they are different. This comes down to the final bonus category that each card offers. Let's look at the Chase Freedom Flex card first, and then compare it to the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
In addition to the bonus categories I already mentioned, the Chase Freedom Flex card also earns five points per dollar spent on a bonus category that changes quarterly. To give you an idea of what the bonus categories can look like, here's what they have been so far this year for the Chase Freedom Flex card.
The first quarter of this year, the bonus category included purchases made at Target, grocery stores excluding Walmart, and fitness clubs and gym memberships. So if you used your Chase Freedom Flex card to make purchases at any of those places from January through March, you'd have earned five points per dollar spent.
The bonus category during the second quarter of this year included purchases made at Amazon and Lowe's. The bonus category for the current quarter this year includes purchases made at gas stations, electric vehicle charging, and select live entertainment. We won't know what the bonus category for the final quarter of this year will include until it's announced in October. But in the past, bonus categories have sometimes included things like PayPal, wholesale clubs and streaming services.
In order to earn five points per dollar spent on purchases and the quarterly bonus category with the Chase Freedom Flex card, you first have to remember to log onto your Chase account and click a button to activate the bonus category. Otherwise, you won't earn five times points for the purchase.
This is one of my least favorite aspects of this card because it requires an extra step that you have to make sure not to forget in order to get the benefit of the five points per dollar bonus for purchases made in the quarterly bonus category. Is it that hard to set a reminder four times per year to log into your Chase account and activate the bonus category for your card? Objectively no, but is it an unnecessary pain in the ass? Personally, I think so.
Here's the other thing you need to know about the Chase Freedom Flex card before you consider adding it to your rewards card portfolio. Because initially that five points per dollar spent sounds incredibly lucrative and enticing, especially for some bonus categories where you might spend a lot of money, like on Amazon purchases or grocery purchases.
That is the five points per dollar earned on quarterly bonus category purchases has a limit. Each quarter, you can only earn five points per dollar spent on purchases in the bonus category up to $1,500 spent. This is what I consider to be the biggest limitation of this card. Because even though keeping track of rotating quarterly bonus categories and having to remember to actually log on to your Chase account to activate the bonus categories every few months is annoying, it would definitely be worth it in order to earn five times points on an unlimited amount of spend per quarter, but that's not how this card works.
Once you spend $1,500 on purchases in the quarterly bonus category, you're done earning five points per dollar spent. Any additional purchases in the bonus category will only earn one point per dollar spent. Which, as you know, is not a great points earning rate. That means that the five times bonus points on the quarterly bonus categories on up to $1,500 in purchases quarterly will only allow you to earn a maximum of 7500 Chase points per quarter, or 30,000 Chase points per year. That is not an insignificant amount of points, but it's also not exactly an annual point windfall either.
So is this card more style than substance? Or does it deserve taking up one of your precious Chase 5/24 slots? I'm not sure we can answer that just yet. Because first we need to talk about the final bonus points earning category of the other Chase Freedom card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited does not offer rotating quarterly bonus categories like the Chase Freedom Flex card. Instead the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a flat increased rate of points earning on all non-category or non-bonus spend. Let me explain.
You heard me say earlier that both the Chase Freedom cards earn three points per dollar spent on dining and on purchases at drugstores. So restaurants and drugstores are a bonus category for these rewards cards. Other rewards credit cards have other bonus categories. For example, the Amex personal Gold Card earns four points per dollar spent at grocery stores, and the Citi Premier card earns three points per dollar spent at gas stations.
Whether you earn bonus points with a rewards credit card depends on how the merchant that you're making a purchase with is categorized with the credit card issuers. If a merchant is categorized as a gas station, and you use your Citi Premier card to make a purchase with that merchant, you'll earn three points per dollar spent since gas stations is a bonus category of the Citi Premier card.
Different rewards cards offer different bonus categories. But the main bonus categories that are offered by personal rewards cards are things like dining, groceries, travel, gas stations, streaming services, and fitness clubs. Business credit cards often have bonus categories that include typical areas of business expenses like internet, cable and phone services, shipping services, and social media advertising.
While these categories are certainly areas where a lot of us do tend to have significant expenses, especially when it comes to the bonus categories offered on personal rewards cards, you might notice that something important is missing. What's missing is basically everything else you spend money on?
Think about all your personal expenses over the last year, what percentage of your overall personal expenses are accounted for buy your grocery, dining, gas, and travel spend? Maybe not the majority of your expenses. Certainly not if you have out of pocket healthcare related expenses or if you pay tuition for yourself or child or multiple children. Or even if you add up all the little things that you spend money on that don't fall into a traditional bonus category offered by your rewards cards.
All of this “everything else spend” that doesn't fall into a traditional rewards credit card bonus category is often referred to as either non-category spend or non-bonus spend. But whatever you call it, it can be a significant portion of your expenses and add up to a lot of money spent over the course of a year.
Many points earning credit card adds, by default, will only earn one point per dollar spent for any purchase that does not fall into one of the bonus categories offered by that specific card. So if all you have are rewards cards that offer increased bonus points in a few defined bonus categories, you're actually going to be missing out on earning points at an increased rate for the significant component of your spend that falls into that non-category or non-bonus spend.
That is where a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited becomes invaluable. Because in addition to the defined bonus categories of travel booked through Chase and purchases made on dining and at drugstores, the Chase Freedom Unlimited has a final bonus category. It's a powerful one.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases with no limit on how many points you can earn annually, meaning that its final bonus category is actually all non-category spend. I know. Earning one and a half points per dollar on all non-category spend does not sound particularly sexy, but it is. Because for many of us, the majority of our spend over the course of a year doesn't fall into a traditional rewards card bonus category and is actually non-category spend.
So if you spend $50,000 a year on expenses that don't fall into a defined bonus category on one of your rewards cards, you most likely will only be earning one point for every one of those $50,000 spent earning you 50,000 points at the end of the year.
But if you have the Chase Freedom Unlimited and use that card for your non-category expenses, that $50,000 spent would earn you 75,000 Chase points, which is a big difference. That difference will grow the higher your non-category spend is. So not only does the Chase Freedom Unlimited card allow you to earn 1.5 points for every dollar spent on non-category purchases, but there's also no limit to how many points you can earn at that rate.
So if your non-category spend is high, say five figures annually or even six figures annually, you'll still be able to earn 1.5 points for all of that spend. So when it comes to comparing the points earning power of the two Chase Freedom cards and deciding which one is going to be better for you, you're going to have to estimate about how much non-category or non-bonused expenses you anticipate having over the course of a year.
Because remember that if you were to use the Chase Freedom Flex card to max out the five times points earning in the rotating quarterly bonus categories. The most points you could earn in a year with one of those cards is 7,500 points per quarter, or 30,000 Chase points annually. With a Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you would have to spend $20,000 in one year to earn those same 30,000 Chase points when you're earning them at a rate of one and a half points for every dollar spent.
So if you're someone who has $20,000 a year or more of non-category spend, I would argue that you would benefit more from having a Chase Freedom Unlimited card than by getting a Chase Freedom Flex card. If, however, you expect to have less than $20,000 a year in non-bonus spend then you might do better with the Chase Freedom Flex card.
Now, one assumption that I am making here in this comparison that I think it's important to verbalize is that I am assuming that you have high enough spend annually that you're not always allocating all of your spend toward earning welcome bonuses on new rewards cards. I am actually assuming that there are periods of time throughout the year where your spend is going on your foundational points earning credit cards instead of working to earn you a new welcome bonus.
In the case where you always have a new credit card and are focusing all of your spend on that card in order to earn the welcome bonus then honestly neither one of these cards is probably going to be a consideration for you. Which brings me to one final point of comparison between the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited cards.
That is that neither of these cards offers a particularly lucrative welcome bonus for new card members. The standard welcome bonus for both of the Chase Freedom cards is $200 cash-back when you spend $500 on purchases the first three months after getting approved for the card. Translated into points, that welcome bonus is worth 20,000 Chase points for either Chase Freedom credit card.
So generally, these are not cards that you get primarily for the welcome bonus. Rather, they can act as more foundational points earning cards in your rewards card portfolio that you use for ongoing spend year after a year.
So to recap the important considerations when you are comparing the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited cards. Number one, both of these cards can be great points earning credit cards as part of an overall Chase Card portfolio, but you most likely will not want to apply for both of them in order to preserve your Chase 5/24 slots for other Chase cards that offer higher welcome bonuses, have stronger bonus points earning in other categories of spend, or that have better perks and benefits. So you may need to choose one of the two Freedom cards to apply for preferentially over the other.
Number two, the Chase Freedom Flex card sounds like a better points earning card on the surface because it offers five points per dollar spent on rotating quarterly bonus categories. But its point earning potential is limited because each quarter, the bonus points are capped once you spend $1,500 in that bonus category.
Number three, in contrast, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5 points per dollar spent on all non-category or non-bonus spend with no limit on the number of points that you can earn. So if you spend more than $20,000 per year on non-category spend, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card can actually be a stronger points earning card than the Chase Freedom Flex card.
Number four, the utility of the bonus categories offered by the Chase Freedom Flex card to you will depend on what other rewards cards you hold and what type of bonus categories they offer. If you can already earn three points per dollar spent or four points per dollar spent on gas or dining or target spend or Amazon spend than the Freedom Flex card can actually be redundant for your card portfolio and not be as valuable for you.
Hopefully breaking down the bonus categories of the cards this way will help you more easily determine which of the two Chase Freedom cards will be a better point earner for you if you do not have enough open Chase 5/24 slots to apply for both of them. Or if you want to preserve your Chase 5/24 slots and pick just one to add in the short term.
Now I want to touch on a somewhat higher level of strategy involving these cards. That is first, how to add a Chase Freedom card to your portfolio without sacrificing one of your valuable 5/24 slots. Second, how to maximize points earning with these cards if you're part of a partnership where you're combining your points earning efforts with another person.
In this episode, you've heard me talk about how you might not want to apply for both of the Chase Freedom cards yourself because each one will take up a Chase 5/24 slot available to you. There can potentially be more valuable points earning cards that you want to use one of those slots for instead. You'll also remember that the standard welcome bonus offer for both Chase Freedom cards is not particularly lucrative when it's 20,000 points, as much better welcome offers exist both for other Chase cards as well as rewards cards outside of the Chase ecosystem.
But there's a way that you can get a Chase Freedom card without having to apply for it as a new account, which means that it will not burn up one of your Chase 5/24 slots. The way that you can get a Chase Freedom card without applying for it as a new account is to do something called a product change. A product change is essentially where you trade out a current credit card for a different credit card in the same points ecosystem.
In this case, you can product change a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card to either one of the Chase Freedom cards, or you can product change the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card to either one of the Chase Freedom cards. Product changing one credit card to another one has several advantages.
First, the account number stays the same. So the length of account history, your account number, and your credit line will all be preserved, and these are great things for the health of your credit score. Second product, changing one credit card to another does not count as opening a new personal credit card account. This is how you avoid your Chase 5/24 score from being affected when you exchange a Chase Sapphire card for a Chase Freedom credit card.
When you product change your credit card, one really important thing to understand is that you will not earn the welcome bonus on the card that your product is changing to since you are not opening it as a new account. But that is actually why I think it's ideal to product change to a Chase Freedom card within the Chase ecosystem.
Because if you're going to lose out on earning a welcome bonus for a card, it is far better to lose out on earning a small welcome bonus like the 20,000 points standard welcome bonus offer for the Freedom cards rather than losing out on a large welcome bonus that you can receive for other rewards cards. This is actually how I got my first Chase Freedom card years ago.
Back in 2016, Chase introduced the Chase Sapphire reserve card for the very first time, and they launched the card with a really high welcome bonus of 100,000 Chase points. I knew right away that I wanted to get a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but I already had a Chase Sapphire Preferred card that I had gotten about five years prior. I didn't want to use one of my Chase 5/24 slots to get the Chase Freedom Unlimited card as a new card, but I did want to use one to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
So first I product changed my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to a Chase Freedom Unlimited card. That allowed me to get the Freedom Unlimited so that I could earn one and a half points on all of my non-category spend. Then I applied for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and was able to earn the huge welcome bonus on that card. You can use the strategy as well.
If you have a Chase Sapphire card that has been open for at least one year, either the Preferred or the Reserve, and you no longer want that card, you can call Chase and request that we product change to a Chase Freedom card. When you do this, you actually have three options of which Chase Freedom card you can request.
Number one, you can product change to the Chase Freedom Flex card. Number two, you can product change to the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Or number three, you can product change to a third card that I have not gone into detail about yet. That is what's called the Original Chase Freedom card. The Original Chase Freedom card is no longer open to new applicants. So the only way to get it now is to product change it from another Chase credit card.
The Original Chase Freedom card functions like the current Chase Freedom Flex card with rotating quarterly bonus categories that offers five times points on up to $1,500 spent quarterly, but it's a Visa card unlike the current Chase Freedom Flex card, which is a MasterCard. If you product change from a Chase Sapphire card to a Chase Freedom card, you can then apply for a new Chase Sapphire card and earn the welcome bonus on that card as long as it has been at least 48 months since the last time you earned a welcome bonus on a Chase Sapphire card.
Now what about a strategy for getting Chase Freedom cards if you have a partner that you are teaming up with to earn points? When you're part of a two-player points team, you want to consider which rewards cards that it makes sense for both you and your partner to apply for individually and which rewards cards that really only one of you needs to have as an individual account holder because there's no added benefit for both of you to hold your own version of that card.
When it comes specifically to the Chase freedom credit cards. I would argue that most two-player teams probably only need one person to hold the Chase Freedom Unlimited card while it can be advantageous for both partners to individually apply for their own Chase Freedom Flex card. This all comes back to the math.
Remember that the Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5 points on all spend with no limit or cap to the number of points that you can earn at that rate. Because of that, your partner getting a Chase Freedom Unlimited doesn't really add anything to your combined points earning as a team if you already hold that card yourself.
The only thing that you lose out on as a partnership when only one of you hold the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is that only one of you will earn the welcome bonus on the card. But as I said before, that's actually not a huge loss because the standard welcome bonus offer for the card is usually only 20,000 points. I think it's a much more strategic move for one person in a two-player team to hold the Chase Freedom Unlimited and for both partners to use that one card for any non-bonused or non-category spend that you want to earn one and a half Chase points for.
But the math argues for a different approach with the Chase Freedom Flex card. Remember that the Chase Freedom Flex card has the ability to earn five times points each quarter on rotating bonus categories, but that five times points earning caps out at $1,500 spent per quarter.
It's precisely because of this cap that I think it could make sense for both partners in a two-player team to individually hold their own Chase Freedom Flex card. Because when you do that, you each have access to earning five times points on the quarterly bonus category. Meaning that as a pair you can potentially earn up to 15,000 Chase points per quarter if you're both maxing out the Chase Freedom Flex versus being able to earn just 7,500 Chase points per quarter if only one of you holds the Chase Freedom Flex card.
Just to be clear, each individual Chase Freedom Flex account is eligible for five times bonus points on up to $1,500 spent quarterly. So if you have a Chase Freedom Flex card, and you make your partner an authorized user on the card, that does not give you each the ability to earn 7,500 Chase points per quarter.
In order to do that, you each need your own separate Chase Freedom Flex card account so that you can both have access to earning the max number of points quarterly. That is where the Chase Freedom Flex has the advantage over the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Because the more Freedom Flex cards you have, the more Chase points you can earn.
One final point that I want to make about the Chase Freedom cards is that occasionally, Chase will offer new member promotions on these cards that can make applying for them as new accounts rather than product changing to them much more worthwhile. We have seen new member promotions on the Chase Freedom cards where in addition to earning the standard welcome bonus of 20,000 Chase points, you can also earn five times points on something like grocery spend for one year on up to a certain amount of money spent. Oftentimes it's $12,000 spent.
We've also seen the Chase Freedom Unlimited card offer special promotions for additional points earning. So, for example, sometimes the Chase Freedom Unlimited card runs a special promotion for new member welcome bonuses for an additional 1.5 times points on all spend but up to a certain amount, like $20,000 spent in the first year. Effectively allowing you to earn three times points on all spend for a given period of time, which is phenomenal.
When a special promotion is offered as part of the welcome bonus on the Chase Freedom cards, again, you have to apply for that card as a new account in order to get that additional bonus. So you would lose out on that if you got your Freedom card from product changing it instead of applying for it from scratch.
So the moral of this story is that it always pays to do the math when it comes to making decisions about which Chase Freedom card will be a higher points earner for you. And whether you can earn enough points by taking advantage of a special welcome bonus promotion to justify applying for either Chase Freedom card as a new account rather than product changing to them in order to preserve your Chase 5/24 slots.
I think that both the Chase Freedom Flex and the Chase Freedom Unlimited can be a great addition to your rewards card portfolio if you know how to compare them head to head, and I hope that this episode has helped you to do that. Have a great week everybody, and I will see you next time.
Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of Point Me to First Class. If you want more tips on turning your expenses into travel, visit pointmetofirstclass.com to learn more. See you next week.