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Chase Freedom Unlimited review: A strong cash-back card with other perks

This cash-back credit card will help typical shoppers maximize their cash back across several categories.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is in a league of its own, combining a refreshingly straightforward approach to rewards with very competitive cash-back rates. The 1.5% flat cash-back rate on all purchases makes it one of the best credit cards without an annual fee. The Freedom Unlimited also offers 5% back on travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards -- the issuer's rewards platform -- as well as 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstore purchases.

As such, the Freedom Unlimited has also secured its spot among our top cash-back rewards cards and, for most people, will make a worthy alternative to a premium travel credit card, which usually carries a hefty annual fee. 

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Card Highlights
Intro BonusIntro 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!
APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable
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
Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months
Additional Details
Intro Balance Transfer APR0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Balance Transfer APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable
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

Related: Chase credit cards

Cash-back rewards with the Freedom Unlimited

While there are many different types of rewards credit cards -- including cash-back, gas and airline credit cards -- this card is a good fit if you prioritize simplicity. It doesn't require you to decipher rewards charts, book travel around available deals or strategically redeem or transfer points.

Among cash-back rewards credit cards, most don't offer more than 1% back as a flat rate. Generally speaking, cards usually specialize in a few categories and offer only 1% back on purchases outside those categories. Some exceptions include the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card* (2% cash rewards on purchases) and the Citi® Double Cash Card (1% cash back when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay for the purchase).

The Chase Freedom Unlimited stands alone as the only card with a good flat rate of 1.5% cash back plus three additional bonus categories: 5% back on travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards (including airline tickets, hotels, car rentals and cruises), 3% on dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery) and 3% on drugstore purchases. Through March 2022, cardholders can also earn 5% cash back on qualifying Lyft rides. Again, it's rare to find a card that has such high rates alongside so many rewards categories.

The welcome bonus is competitive as well, and doesn't require a meeting a minimum spending threshold to unlock. You'll earn an additional 1.5% cash back on up to $20,000 of spending in the first year -- netting you up to $300. Other top cards could require $1,000 or more spent on purchases to unlock the welcome bonus, which often comes in the less-convenient form of miles or points. 

Booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Getting 5% cash back on travel purchases is notable, since such a reward is usually only found with top travel rewards credit cards that charge annual fees. The catch, however, is that the 5% rewards rate is limited to travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards, which uses a third-party travel platform.

The advantage to using a third-party booking tool is that you can compare multiple airlines and seek out good deals. The tool is straightforward, easy to use and can be accessed from your card account on the Chase website. The disadvantage is that airlines and hotels can be difficult if any issues arise with your reservation, since you didn't book it directly with them. You also won't earn hotel points or credits, though you should earn frequent flyer miles on flights if you're signed up for the airline's program. 

Redeeming your Chase Freedom Unlimited Rewards

As mentioned above, one of the main advantages of cash-back rewards credit cards is simplicity. Rewards earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited can be redeemed at any amount (no minimum), and as a statement credit or direct deposit into most US checking and savings accounts. 

Chase also offers the ability to shop with points at Amazon and redeem rewards for gift cards. Though you can go this route, the rates are lower and the offerings are more limited. 

Another way you can redeem rewards is if you have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase's travel rewards and premium travel rewards cards. If you have one of these cards, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to either of them, simultaneously bumping their value of 1.25 cents apiece for Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders, and 1.5 cents apiece for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders when booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

This redemption option is a nice perk for those with multiple Chase credit cards, but don't sign up for another card just to increase the value of your Chase Freedom Unlimited. However, if you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, signing up for the Freedom Unlimited could be a good option.

Additional perks

The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers additional perks that are fairly standard but worth noting. When booking a car rental with the card, you'll get auto rental collision damage waiver, and trips booked with the card are eligible for cancellation insurance.

Chase also offers purchase protection through this credit card. This means that if the goods purchased on the card are stolen or damaged, Chase will repair, replace or reimburse up to $500 per claim, on up to $50,000 per account. 

Cardholders can also get three months of DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service, which allows you to get free delivery on eligible orders, followed by nine months of 50% off. This offer must be activated by Mar. 31, 2022. 

You can redeem your cash back on Amazon purchases by linking your credit card right to your Amazon account. When you go to make a purchase, if you select the Chase Freedom Unlimited as your payment method, a prompt will appear underneath giving you the option to apply your Chase rewards to the purchase.

Finally, the Freedom Unlimited offers 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months from opening your account (14.99% to 23.74% variable APR thereafter), which is a fairly distinct feature for a cash-back card. There is an intro balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening (after that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater). Remember that carrying a balance beyond that period could immediately erode potential cash-back rewards.

Comparable cards

There are two types of cards that are similar to the Chase Freedom Unlimited, though in different ways. Flat-rate cards like the Wells Fargo Active Cash and the Citi Double Cash also offer higher-than-average rewards for purchases, with 2% cash rewards on purchases (for Citi Double Cash: 1% cash back when you make a purchase and 1% when you pay it off). The 0.5% can add up over time and makes a significant difference for higher spenders. The Double Cash card doesn't offer a welcome bonus or any additional rewards categories, while with the Active Cash you can earn a $200 cash rewards welcome bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first three months.

The other cards that compare to the Freedom Unlimited are the The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. On one hand, it seems like a crazy comparison because these cards have $695 (see rates and fees) and $550 annual fees, respectively. On the other hand, it's apt given the 5% rewards rate on certain travel purchases. The Sapphire Reserve earns 5X points on air travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, while the Platinum Card from American Express earns 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year (terms apply). The value of those points will vary depending on the redemption method, but users can expect around 1 to 2 cents per point, according to The Points Guy.

These comparisons show how unique the Freedom Unlimited is. It's an easy-to-use, no-annual-fee rewards card that could stack up to expensive, premium category cards. If you spend a lot of money on travel and don't mind strategically redeeming points, consider one of the premium cards. If you want a simpler option, consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited or Wells Fargo Active Cash Card.


How do cash-back credit cards work?

Cash-back credit cards offer cardholders rewards on their spending in the form of statement credits or cash. A statement credit is a reduction in the amount due to the credit card company on your monthly bill. Note that rewards are not always available the month you earn them -- they are usually applied to your balance by credit card issuers after one or two billing cycles.

The redemption process for cash-back credit cards is either automatic or otherwise very simple. Some cards automatically apply cash rewards to your statement balance each month. Others require you to log in and redeem available rewards points for statement credits. Most points don't expire, but you will lose them if you close the account before redeeming them. 

What types of cash-back credit cards are there?

Cash-back credit cards generally fall into four primary categories: flat-rate, tiered, rotating or choose your own. Flat-rate cards offer the same rate for every purchase. Tiered cards offer a different rewards rate for different categories of spending. Rotating category cards offer different rewards each quarter, determined by the card issuer. Choose-your-own category cards allow you to choose your rewards category.

How do you choose a cash-back credit card?

To choose the best cash-back credit card for you, the most important thing is to have a clear idea of how you're already spending money each month. Once you identify the categories where you have the highest, most consistent spending, use the charts in our list to determine which card will net you the highest return. Consider other features of the cards, too, such as APR, sign-on bonuses and foreign transaction fees. Make sure you get something that fits with your lifestyle and spending habits.

Your credit card choice may also be affected by your credit score. Most of the cards we recommend require a good or excellent credit score, which is typically around 670 or higher. If you don't meet the credit criteria required, there are credit cards available that are specifically for those trying to rebuild credit, like secured credit cards. Alternatively, you can look into the best credit cards for no credit and the best credit cards for bad credit.

Are cash-back cards better than rewards cards that give points and miles?

Cash-back credit cards are usually more straightforward to understand than points and miles systems because they can be easily translated to cash value. While more complicated, points and miles could offer a better redemption value in many cases, as the issuer may have established relationships with purveyors of travel and goods. Ultimately, the better option depends on your spending and lifestyle preferences, and how willing you are to deal with the process of redeeming your rewards.

Our approach

We review the cards that are in the highest demand and offer the best benefits. We scour the fine print so there aren't any surprises when you open an account. We find the key factors that make a card stand out and compare them to other top cards. That way, readers can opt for a different card with similar features if our pick isn't right for them. Our reviews are regularly checked and updated to incorporate new recommendations, as well as to reflect changes in offers and the market. 

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, click here.

*All information about the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

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