Way back in 2014, my first ever credit card was a Chase Slate. I was still building my credit at the time and I started where I was familiar with – my bank, Chase. One year after opening the Slate, I decided to upgrade to the Chase Freedom because I was interested in earning Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points.
Because I was building my credit, Chase only gave me a $500 credit limit and a very high APR. Chase would not give me a credit limit increase for over two years, so I foolishly closed my Freedom. I regret closing this card because of how valuable UR points are. But the closure gives me an opportunity to open a new Freedom and get another sign-up bonus.
First introduced in 2006, the Chase Freedom is a veteran in Chase’s lineup of credit cards. Its rewards structure has stood the test of time and has even inspired a sibling in the Chase Freedom Unlimited in 2016.
The Chase Freedom currently has a sign-up bonus of 15,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points (or $150 cash back) after spending $500 in the first 3 months.
The Freedom has a different rewards structure than most other cards. It earns 5x UR points (or 5% cash back) per dollar spent on rotating quarterly categories. The bonus category spending limit per quarter is $1,500, which means you can earn up to 7,500 UR points per quarter. The only other cards that have a similar earning structure are the Discover It and the US Bank Cash +.
The Freedom’s potential can be maximized if you have multiple UR-earning cards. If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, or Ink Business Preferred, you can transfer the points from your Freedom account to any of those accounts. This feature is arguably the most powerful that Chase has to offer as it’s the lifeblood of many people’s earning strategies.
Chase normally releases their quarterly categories two weeks before the start of a new quarter. For 2018, the categories were as follows:
- 1st Quarter: Gas Stations, Internet/Phone/Cable Services, Chase Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay
- 2nd Quarter: Grocery Stores, Chase Pay, and PayPal
- 3rd Quarter: Gas Stations, Lyft, and Walgreens
- 4th Quarter: Department Stores, Wholesale Clubs, and Chase Pay
One risk with rotating category cards is their usefulness. Your mileage may vary, but Freedom might be used heavily during one quarter and sock-drawered for another.
Earning points is fantastic, but points earned are useless if you cannot redeem them for anything of value. Chase has multiple options for points redemption:
Cash Back & Gift Cards
If you have the Freedom by itself, cash back is one of just two redemption options. If you redeem for cash back, each UR point is worth 1 cent. By comparison, American Express Membership Reward (MR) points are worth 0.7 cents per point (CPP) if you redeem for cash back or a statement credit.
The other option is to redeem for gift cards. Chase also lets cardholders redeem their points for cash back and gift cards. Each point for these options is worth 1 CPP, which is the same value as cash. Sometimes, Chase discounts some of their gift card options, enabling cardholders to redeem for more than 1 CPP. Compared to travel partners and the portal, neither cash back or gift cards are recommended.
Transfer partners are by far Chase’s most valuable option, but they are only available if you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred.
Chase has just 13 travel partners (compared to American Express’ 21):
- World of Hyatt
- Aer Lingus
- Air France / KLM Flying Blue
- British Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
Rules & Regulations
The Chase Freedom is subject to the 5/24 Rule. This rule was enacted by Chase to prevent “churners” from scoring their sign-up bonuses too many times.
The 5/24 rule states that you will not be approved for any UR-earning card if you were approved for five or more new accounts in the last 24-months. Some Chase co-branded cards also fall under this rule as well.
If the Chase Freedom is not for you, read this section to find an alternative.
Despite the similar name, this card is much simpler than its 5x rotating “sibling”. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5x UR points on all purchases. It also comes with the same sign-up bonus as the Chase Freedom.
The Everyday Card has a different earning structure. It earns 2x Membership Rewards (MR) points per dollar at grocery stores and 1x on everything else. If you use your card at least 20 times per month, you will receive a 20% points bonus. With a little work, you can earn 2.4x points at grocery stores and 1.2x points on everything else.
This card has no-annual fee and a public sign-up bonus of 10,000 MR points. It can be earned after spending just $1,000 in the first 3 months.
Cash back lovers rejoice! The Discover It is one of my favorite cash back cards and a great alternative to the Chase Freedom. Like the Chase Freedom, the Discover It earns 5% cash back for purchases within a set of rotating categories.
Oftentimes, Discover’s categories are similar to Chase’s and have recently been weaker. While Freedom’s categories are better for me, your mileage may vary.
This card has no annual fee (and not many other fees to boot). After all, Discover is the pioneer of having as few fees as possible.
The Chase Freedom has been on the market since 2006. Both cash back lovers and travelers will benefit from this card and all that is has to offer. For both groups, I don’t recommend it as a primary card because of the rotating categories. It’s a nice alternative to the Chase Freedom Unlimited and can be a great complement to the Chase Sapphire cards and Chase Ink Business Preferred card.
The Freedom holds a special place in my heart as it was my first credit card. It let me start my credit history when I was still in college and it introduced me to points and miles. Even though I (foolishly) closed this card in 2017, I love that it can practically print UR points for the right purchases. In 2019, I want to reapply for this card and receive another 15,000-point sign-up bonus.