Travel Card Toolkit: Chase Freedom & Unlimited

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 9.02.07 AMToday we wanted to talk about the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. As we mentioned previously we don’t want to focus on credit cards too much, but this is a very strong area in our travel toolkit. After this card we’ll likely talk about one (or two) more cards, before getting into more of the planning and ultimately sharing our adventures. Think of this as the foreshadowing part, with great redemptions to come.

Let’s start with the good and the bad for the Chase Freedom Unlimited:

The Bad

  • $500 Spend Requirement / 3 Months
  • 3% Foreign Transaction Fee
  • Takes Up A 5/24 Slot

These are not huge negatives, but they should be mentioned. In order to get the bonus, there’s a $500 spend requirement for the first three months – easily lower than the majority of cards out there.

It’s not great for international travel, as there is a 3% foreign transaction fee. We might even leave this card in the states when we go abroad.

And adding this card also takes up one of your Chase slots. Chase has their “5/24 rule” that says if you have five new cards in the last 24 months you won’t be able to add another one. If you only have a card or two, this is no problem. If you’ve been applying for cards for travel this could come into play. And it should also be noted that simply being added as an authorized user can take up one of those slots.

That’s about it for the “bad.”

The Good

  • $150 Spend Bonus
  • $25 Authorized User Bonus
  • Unlimited 1.5% Back on Everything
  • $0 Annual Fee

The spend bonus says $150, but what they really mean is 15,000 Chase Ultimate reward points. The value of these points varies depending on how you use them.

You can elect to receive those points in cash (1 point = $0.01) or gift cards. In that case, the 15,000 bonus is indeed worth $150.

However, you can also combine points among other Chase cards. So as an example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer your points from the Freedom Unlimited. Now your points are a bit more valuable. You can redeem them through the Chase travel portal (at a 1.25x rate) making the 15,000 points worth at least $187.50.

Or you can transfer them to travel partners like Southwest, British Airways, IHG and so on. In this case, the points could be worth even more. The Points Guy values Chase Ultimate Rewards at $0.022 each, giving a value of ~$330 to the bonus. Indeed, we’ve seen redemptions that are even better.

If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can transfer your points here and earn 1.5x on travel (making the bonus worth at least $225) or transfer to the same partners as above.

So the value of the bonus depends on your current set up. If you just have the Freedom Unlimited, the bonus is worth $150. If you have the Preferred or Reserve, the bonus is worth either $187.50 to ~$330 or $225 to ~$330.

A second benefit is that you can add an authorized user and receive a 2,500-point bonus for doing so. It’s not a lot of points, but it’s a fine benefit if you want to use it.

A good draw for an everyday card is the unlimited 1.5% back on everything. The same valuation detailed above applies here as well.

With the Freedom Unlimited card only, that’s 1.5% cash back on all purchases. With the Preferred the points are worth 1.875% to 3.3%+. And with the Reserve, those points are worth 2.25% to 3.3%+.

We find pairing with the Chase Sapphire Reserve to be especially interesting. For purchases that do not meet any of the bonus categories, you’re still getting at least 2.25% worth of value by paying with the Freedom Unlimited and then transferring the points to the Reserve.

The final piece of “good” news is that the card comes with no annual fee.

In short, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is not exceptional when it comes to travel cards – the bonus is much lower comparatively and there’s a foreign transaction fee. However, it has a very low spend requirement and the unlimited 1.5% back can actually be quite good when paired with another card. It’s a nice complimentary card.

Incidentally, if you happen to be interested we can send you a referral link (you could send a private message on this site). You’ll get the benefits mentioned above, and we’ll get 10,000 bonus points if you get the card.

We also wanted to point out the regular Chase Freedom card, which is in the same league as the Freedom Unlimited, but has some slightly different features. We would not receive any referral bonus for this one, but it’s more about the education of the different cards. We’ll highlight the pros and cons just like above.

The Bad

  • $500 spend requirement / 3 months
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Takes up a 5/24 Slot

The same “bad” aspects show up here. In reality none of them are that abnormal or onerous but they are details that you should be aware of.

The Good

  • $150 Spend Bonus
  • $25 Authorized User Bonus
  • 5% Back in Rotating Categories
  • 1% Back on Everything Else
  • $0 Annual Fee

Three of these items – the spend bonus, authorized user bonus and no annual fee are the same. The only difference is how you earn points. The Freedom Unlimited is a simple 1.5% back on everything. The Freedom card has rotating categories where you can earn 5% back.

For instance, right now grocery stores (not including Wal-Mart & Target) and drug stores are in the Freedom’s 5% cash back category. For all other purchases you would earn 1% back.

Much like the Freedom Unlimited, the Freedom card is a nice complimentary tool. For everyday spending it’s not compelling. However, the 5% rotating categories can offer outsized value.

Here’s an example. Say you earn 5% back from $1,000 spend in a given category using the Freedom card. On its own, that would mean 5,000 in Ultimate Reward points. With the Freedom card only, that would equate to $50 – not bad at all.

However, if you can pair it with the Preferred or Reserve (or Ink Business cards) you can increase this value. With the Reserve, the points are worth 1.5x to ~2.2x+. So that means you could redeem those 5,000 Ultimate Reward points for $75 worth of travel or transfer them to a hotel or airline partner for perhaps ~$110 worth of travel. In this way, the cash back could ultimately be worth 7.5% to ~11%+.

We don’t currently carry the card, but you can certainly see the benefit. Indeed, in the future we could certainly look into “downgrading” one of the annual fee cards to the Freedom.

On their own the Freedom Unlimited and Freedom products are decent, everyday cards. However, we find that the most value is when you can pair the outsized everyday spending with valuable Chase Ultimate Reward points, its travel portal and travel partners.

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