Chase Freedom Flex vs. Freedom Unlimited: What’s the Difference?

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The Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited are top cash back credit card options.
Image Credit: Clark.com / Chase

If you are looking for an everyday cash back credit card, Chase has a couple of really nice options with its Freedom series.

The Chase Freedom Flex, which replaced the Chase Freedom in September 2020, is a cash back card that features a rotating 5% reward category that changes every three months.

Meanwhile, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers a more straightforward cash back approach with a minimum of 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Money expert Clark Howard supports the idea of choosing a reliable cash back rewards credit card over things like travel or store-related rewards. And both of these Chase cards rank among our top cash back credit cards.

So which one is best for you? That likely will depend on your spending habits, but it’s something I’ll try to help you determine with this comparison of the two popular Chase credit cards.

Table of Contents


Quick Card Comparison

Credit Card PerkChase Freedom FlexChase Freedom Unlimited
Annual Fee$0$0
Standard Cash Back1%1.5%
Cash Back Bonuses5% in quarterly rotating categories
5% on travel Chase Unlimited Rewards
3% on dining
3% on drug stores
5% on travel Chase Unlimited Rewards
3% on dining
3% on drug stores
Welcome Bonus$200 if you spend $500 or more within first three months$200 if you spend $500 or more within first three months
5% Cash Back on Groceries for One YearYesYes
Introductory 0% APR on New Purchases15 months15 months
Cell Phone ProtectionYesNo
Foreign Transaction Fee3%3%
Balance Transfer Fee$5 or 5%, whichever is greater$5 or 5%, whichever is greater

Card Overview: Chase Freedom Flex

The Freedom Flex is a jolt of new energy as a replacement for one of Chase’s most popular credit cards. While you can’t get a new Freedom card anymore, the rotating 5% cash back opportunities that made it a trendy pick for years live on through the Freedom Flex.

Each quarter, Chase highlights a different category of spending, and for that three-month period, cardholders earn 5% cash back rewards on spending in that category. They include things like groceries, gas stations or restaurant purchases. For example, the reward category for the fourth quarter of 2020 is for purchases you make at Walmart or with PayPal.

Cardholders must opt in to each new reward period to earn the 5% cash back. The reward is capped at $1,500 in purchases per quarter, so the maximum cash back for this kind of spending is $75 per quarter.

But there are ongoing cash back rewards and other perks with this card:

  • Bonus Categories Beyond Rotating 5%: In addition to the rotating 5% cash back categories, the Freedom Flex card offers 5% cash back on travel bought through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drug store purchases and a standard 1% on all other purchases.
  • Cell Phone Protection: Thanks to a partnership with Mastercard, the Freedom Flex offers free cell phone protection for customers who pay their wireless bill with the card. This allows for up to $800 of coverage for a cell phone that is damaged or stolen.
  • Two Welcome Bonus Offers: The Freedom Flex offers a $200 welcome bonus if you spend at least $500 with the card in the first three months of membership. It also offers 5% cash back on grocery store purchases for the first year of card membership, with rewards capped at $12,000 in spending.
  • Introductory 0% APR Period: This card carries at 15-month introductory period for 0% APR on new purchases.

For a deeper dive into the Chase Freedom Flex, check out Team Clark’s full review of the card here.

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Card Overview: Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card long has been known for its unlimited 1.5% cash back reward, but it recently added some new categories that make it a real contender in this card category.

In addition to the 1.5% unlimited cash back you’ll get on everyday purchases, here are the new categories that earn additional cash back bonuses:

  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% on dining (including takeout and delivery services)
  • 3% on drug store purchases

Here’s a quick look at some of the other perks to consider with this card:

  • $200 Welcome Bonus: The Freedom Unlimited card carries an easy-to-achieve welcome bonus. All you have to do is spend $500 or more with your card within the first three months of membership.
  • Grocery Store Welcome Offer: In addition to the $200 bonus, Chase also is offering a 5% cash back bonus for grocery store purchases made within the first year of card membership. This excludes Walmart and Target, and it’s capped at $12,000 in spending. But you still could earn up to $600 in cash back on those purchases at the increased cash back rate.
  • Introductory 0% APR Period: New cardholders get 15 months of 0% APR for new purchases. Clark cautions that using a 0% APR purchasing period could lead you to make purchases with money you don’t have. But it’s worth noting that this is one of the more generous periods available for cards in the cash back category.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards Program: As you earn cash back rewards with this card, you can use them with the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program for things like travel, gift cards and Apple products.

Key Differences Between the Cards

As you’ve probably noticed by this point, these sister cards are much more alike than they are different.

But there are differences, even if they’re subtle. Let’s take a look at a couple that you’ll have to consider as you make your decision:

Locked Cash Back Returns vs. Rotating Cash Back Categories

This is likely the decision point for most potential cardholders.

Since the Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited offer many of the same cash back perks— like 5% on groceries for the first year and 3% on dining and drug store purchases— you’re going to have to decide if you want to lock in the 1.5% cash back offered by the Freedom Unlimited or take advantage of the rotating 5% bonus categories featured by the Freedom Flex.

So how much would you have to spend in rotating categories with the Freedom Flex to make it worth downgrading from the 1.5% everyday cash back offered by the Freedom Unlimited to the Flex’s 1%?

Let’s take a quick look at how missing out on the half-percent from the Unlimited can impact your cash back rewards on everyday purchases:

Monthly "Everyday" SpendingChase Freedom Flex Cash Back (1%)Chase Freedom Unlimited Cash Back (1.5%)
$500$5$7.50
$1000$10$15
$2000$20$30
$3000$30$45

Now, let’s factor in the rotating 5% cash back categories offered by the Freedom Flex. If you spend the $1,500 max on a rotating category, you’ll earn $75 cash back for the three-month period: an average of $25 a month.

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That boost gives the Freedom Flex a chance to beat the 1.5% returns from the Freedom Unlimited for some people. The problem, of course, is that the 5% spending categories change and are hard to predict. If you end up with one or more categories within a year that doesn’t fit your personal spending patterns, you may find that the Freedom Flex doesn’t earn as many rewards for you.

If you’re the type of consumer who is comfortable tracking spending by category, it’s possible to use the Freedom Flex in tandem with other cash back cards to maximize returns.

Cell Phone Protection and Mastercard vs. Visa Functionality

One big change that was made when the Freedom Flex replaced the Freedom is that Chase switched the branding of the card from Visa to Mastercard. This gives the Freedom Flex cardholders access to the Mastercard World Elite Benefits program.

One of the main perks of this program is cell phone protection. If you pay for your wireless bill with the Freedom Flex, you’ll get up to $800 in cell phone protection that will cover your device if it’s damaged or stolen.

The Freedom Unlimited, which instead features the Visa logo, does not offer cell phone protection.


Final Thought

If you are the type of consumer who keeps a close watch on your spending habits, you may find that the new Freedom Flex is most useful to you because it offers you the opportunity to cash in on rotating 5% bonus opportunities. You may even be able to “double-dip” on 5% categories with the similarly-themed Discover it Cash Back card.

However, those bonus categories come at the expense of an extra half-percent on everyday purchases that the Freedom Unlimited offers.

So if you prefer to know that you’re going to get at least 1.5% cash back every time you swipe your card without giving it another thought, the Unlimited may be your card of choice. If this is your approach, you may also want to consider the unlimited 2% cash back offerings from the Citi Double Cash and PayPal Cashback Mastercard.

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