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Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited: Which Is Better?

Despite their similarities, these cards offer specific advantages.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Chase Freedom Flex℠* are no-annual-fee rewards credit cards that offer excellent cash-back rewards rates across a handful of spending categories. Their reward rates are comparable to more expensive, premium credit cards and cardholders don't need to worry about points, miles or complicated redemption processes.

The Chase Freedom Flex has a higher ceiling than the Freedom Unlimited, as it will net most people more rewards. But the Freedom Flex does require a little bit of work to activate the quarterly rewards categories and pay attention to what you're buying. On the other hand, the Freedom Unlimited has a higher floor with its 1.5% cash-back rate on non-bonus-category spending, and doesn't require manual intervention to maximize your rewards.

To determine which is best for you, we've laid out the main differences and advantages of each below.

Which card does it better?

Feature Winner
Annual fee Tie
Welcome bonus Flex
Rewards Unlimited
Ease of use Unlimited
Potential upside Flex

Chase Freedom Flex℠

9.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferEarn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
APR19.24% - 27.99% Variable
Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Recommended Credit Excellent, Good
Reward Rates
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Balance Transfer APR19.24% - 27.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign Transaction Fees 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
Penalty APR Up to 29.99%
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

8/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferIntro Offer: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!
APR19.24% - 27.99% Variable
Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more;
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • 1.5% on all other purchases
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Balance Transfer APR19.24% - 27.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign Transaction Fees 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
Penalty APR Up to 29.99%
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more;
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service
  • 1.5% on all other purchases

Annual fees

Winner: Tie

Neither card charges an annual fee, which makes every reward you earn added value. While cards with $95 - $500 annual fees offer more rewards and perks, they require a certain amount of spending to make them worth it. That can put consumers in a tricky spot if their spending habits or budgets change.

It's also worth noting many cards with no annual fee don't offer as high of rewards rates -- nor so many rewards categories. Both of these cards punch above their weight. 

Welcome bonuses

Winner: Chase Freedom Flex

The Chase Freedom Flex's welcome bonus is significantly easier to earn than the Freedom Unlimited's, though there's a tradeoff: The Unlimited's welcome bonus could be worth up to $100 more.

  • Chase Freedom Flex: Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy on up to $20,000 spent in the first year.

While $300 is significantly more than the Flex's $200, you'd need to spend $20,000 to earn it. For the Flex's $200, you only need to spend $500. That makes the return on investment much better with the Flex. Still, if you're planning on spending $20,000 annually on one card, the $300 simply gets paid out over time.

Rewards

Winner: Chase Freedom Unlimited

Comparing rewards

Chase Freedom Unlimited Chase Freedom Flex
5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
3% cash back on drugstore purchases 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
3% cash back on dining at restaurants 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
1.5% on all other purchases 3% cash back on dining at restaurants

1% cash back on all other purchases.

Some common 5% quarterly reward categories for the Chase Freedom Flex include Walmart and PayPal, gas stations, select streaming services and grocery stores. Any given year, you can reasonably expect each to appear for one quarter. Because of the spending cap, your rewards on the rotating category max out at $75 each quarter before the rewards rate drops back down to 1%. But you need to remember to activate the bonus category every quarter to ensure you're earning the 5% cash back. 

For some people, the the Chase Freedom Unlimited still may make sense: The extra half-percent of rewards on non-bonus-category spending is consistent and can really add up over time. It all depends on your spending habits.

Ease of use

Winner: Chase Freedom Unlimited

To take full advantage of the Chase Freedom Flex, you have to manually activate the quarterly rotating category from your account four times per year. You'll also want to pay attention to the bonus category as it changes. 

The Chase Freedom Unlimited doesn't require intervention, however. You still get the high travel, dining and drugstore rates, plus a no-nonsense 1.5% on non-category spending. You can use your card throughout the year knowing what you're earning.

Potential upside

Winner: Chase Freedom Flex

While the rotating quarterly bonus category requires some work and attention, it's often worth it. It offers an additional $75 per quarter of value over the Chase Freedom Unlimited, and $300 annually. This outshines the potential edge the Freedom Unlimited's welcome bonus offers, as well. It would require a lot of base-rate spending for the Chase Freedom Unlimited's extra half-percent of rewards to make up that difference.

The bottom line

Hard work pays off. If you don't mind keeping an eye on the quarterly calendar and being a little strategic with your spending, the Chase Freedom Flex is well worth it. If you're more of a "set it and forget it" type, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers very similar rewards without the hassle.

FAQs

How do you activate rotating categories?

Chase announces the upcoming quarter's categories 15 days before the start of the quarter. You need to manually activate the bonus category each quarter via your online account, email or the Chase mobile app. You can enroll anytime before the quarterly deadline (usually two weeks before the end of the quarter). If you forget to activate it until month three of the quarter, you'll still retroactively earn the 5% rewards on eligible purchases as long as you activate before the deadline. 

Are the Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited good travel cards?

If you're planning to travel abroad, the Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited are not ideal because they both charge foreign transaction fees. For each transaction you make outside of the US, Chase will charge you 3%. Most dedicated travel credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees.

What is Chase Ultimate Rewards?

Chase Ultimate Rewards is Chase's branded platform for redeeming your rewards. You can redeem rewards for travel, gift cards, cash back and more. A handful of Chase credit cards all work in tandem with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

*All information about the Chase Freedom Flex has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

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