Is The Chase Freedom Card Becoming Less Valuable?

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Yesterday I wrote about why I think the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom® are worth applying for, and why they’re often overlooked.

For many people, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a no-brainer. The card offers 1.5x points per dollar spent, and in conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card, those points can be converted into Ultimate Rewards points (and then redeemed for 1.5 cents each, or they can be transferred to an airline or hotel partner). That’s why I consider those two cards to be the best credit card duo out there.

While I think the Freedom Unlimited has become more valuable over time, thanks to how robust Ultimate Rewards has become, I’d argue in some ways the Freedom has become less valuable, through no fault of its own.

Let me explain why, and share why I think the card is still worth it.

The Chase Freedom is great for 5x points categories

The Chase Freedom® offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 of spend per quarter. The categories change every year, so the 2017 categories were different than the 2018 categories, and you can expect the 2019 categories will be different as well.

The Chase Freedom 2018 5x points categories

This card is a great way to earn 30,000 points every year for $6,000 of spend, which is an excellent return, in particular since this is a no annual fee card.

Why the Chase Freedom is getting less valuable over time

Back in the day, being able to earn 5x points was an outstanding bonus, and worth maximizing. This card used to essentially offer an incremental 4x points compared to what you’d usually earn.

But the reality is that we’ve seen massive improvements when it comes to the bonus categories offered by many cards. So while back in the day you’d earn an incremental 4x points if maximizing these bonuses, nowadays you’re often looking at just 1-2x incremental points per dollar spent, which isn’t quite as exceptional. That’s thanks to some cards offering 2-4x points in all kinds of categories year-round.

For example, this year we’ve seen the Chase Freedom offer 5x points on gas stations, grocery stores, Lyft, internet/cable/phone services, and more:

These are just a few examples, but my point is that for a vast majority of the purchases I make with the Chase Freedom®, I’m not actually earning an incremental 4x points per dollar.

I’m earning a maximum of 3.5x incremental points per dollar, and in many cases am earning just 1-2x incremental points.

Why the Chase Freedom is still worth it, though

I would estimate that back in the day the Chase Freedom® earned me an additional 20,000 or so points per year, that I couldn’t have earned through other cards. I’d say now the card earns me an incremental 5,000-10,000 points per year.

That might not seem like all that much, though why do I still recommend this card?

  • It has no annual fee, so there’s no cost to holding onto it
  • The card does still earn me incremental points, and sometimes in categories that otherwise aren’t eligible for any major bonuses on other cards, like department stores, for example
  • Holding onto credit cards long term is great for your credit score, since it helps improve your average age of accounts, and it’s part of a balanced credit card strategy; there’s nothing better than holding onto a no annual fee card long term that also earns you a decent number of incremental points

Bottom line

The Chase Freedom® isn’t quite as lucrative as it used to be, and that’s simply because other cards have gotten so much better by comparison over the years. However, I still think this card is absolutely worth it, as just about anyone should still be able to earn quite a few bonus points with the card, and most importantly, holding onto a no annual fee card long term is a low cost way to improve your credit score.

So while I’d choose the Chase Freedom Unlimited® over the Chase Freedom® if I could choose just one, I do think they’re both still very much worth it.

Where do you stand on the Chase Freedom? Has the improving bonus categories on other cards shifted your impression of the card?

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  1. you also forgot that the categories are super MEH this year. Previous years had a quarter with 5x restaurant spend. That was always a big draw. Now it’s gas stations and Chase Pay, neither of which are remotely lucrative to a wide swathe of people — many people, myself included, do not own a car. Chase Pay doesn’t link to Apple Pay, so I find that mostly irrelevant. I don’t belong to a warehouse club (since I don’t have a car) and who shops at department stores anymore?

  2. I have yet to be enticed by the Freedom card. My problem with the card is that it’s worthwhile when you can reach (or get close to) the $1500 limit in every quarter. But the categories change every quarter and there is no guarantee that you will spend much on the blessed categories in a given quarter. For example while I do spend way more than $1500/quarter for groceries, it’s unlikely I will spend a single dollar on the Q4 categories. Then there is the effort involved in tracking expenditures to know when you have reached the $1500 limit.
    I tend to view this card as too much effort for too little payoff:-( . YMMV

  3. Lucky – we haven’t seen Restaurants as a 5x category in a while for the Freedom; however, that has been the only category where I have been easily able to earn the max amount of UR points. It seems like Chase offered it every year for one quarter prior to 2018. I personally feel that Chase has devalued the card by not offering that as a 5x category at all this year, but only those with similar spending habits (and cards) may feel that way. Do you either get the feeling or have any knowledge as to whether Chase is planning to offer that category again in the future?

  4. @ Ben — Ha! Funny you should ask — we were closing the FCQ’s Freedom card today to make room for a different Chase card!

  5. @Ben: Freedom is best to be paired with Amazon! Well, at least in the last few quarters, I maximized it by buying lots and lots of Amazon gift cards.

    That said, I switched to Unlimited a few months back. You are right. It’s just easier earning 1.5 everywhere.

  6. I’m not sure I follow. Arguing that 1-2 extra UR points is not worth a no-annual-fee card while at the same time promoting cards with hundreds of dollars annual fees for the same gain? That 5 UR points is not worth it but an extra .5 (on freedom unlimited) is in particular compared to 2% cashback cards? I mean sure, the freedom card was never gonna be a primary card for anyone but 5x UR points for no annual fee has to be a no-brainer for anyone trying to maximize their points earnings.

  7. overseas though the only card for all transactions remains CSR? Freedom charges foreign currency transaction fees. Amex has no bonus overseas.

  8. The last trip report we had was Oct. 5 (Villa Kennedy Hotel). This is the 15th credit card related post since then.

    Will we start seeing trip reports again soon?

  9. @ Ben — Kept the Freedom card and transferred credit from another card to open the BA card for the FCQ. WIll be nice to get the 10% BA discount again!

  10. Does chase allow an individual to hold both the freedom and the freedom unlimited at the same time? Wife and I have several freedoms which we do our best to max bonus categories on but would like to get unlimited cards for everyday spend. I thought I heard rumors about chase limiting customers to just one of the two a few months back.

  11. I don’t understand the logic. How is a $200k salary less lucrative because your alternative is now a job for $150k instead of $125k.

    The marginal benefit of having this card while having other cards is lower, but you have to have those other cards. The card itself isn’t worth any less by itself. And because it has no annual fee, there is no marginal cost, only benefit.

    If you want to do marginal benefit, also include marginal cost, which is significant on some of the cards you are saying make this one worth less.

  12. It really depends on your lifestyle and spending habit. To me I always find some way to take advantage of Chase Freedom 5% categories, at least up to now. To Costco members the Q4 5% is a huge benefit because you get 5% on everything you buy at costco, that’s 3% more than Costco Visa. If you have the CSR then the 5% can turn into 7.5% on travel. With Costco Executive Rewards the total cashback value can be as high as 9.5%! That would make it very easy to offset the increased Costco membership fee especially when buying for a family on a regular basis. It is nice that Chase Freedom is a Visa card because Costco only takes Visa in the warehouse. Now even has stopped accepting Amex though Discover still works.
    I would agree though the value of Chase Freedom by itself without CSR has been in decline.

  13. I’ve found there’s always a way to maximize the bonus, if you’re examining all of the possibilities. For Q4 2018, the best angle I’ve found is that WalMart takes Chase Pay, meaning you can max out your spend there either on your routine grocery shopping, or purchase a few big ticket items.

  14. Totally offtopic – Ben, I think KLM deserves an article, they signed an agreement with coffee manufacturer (Douwe Egberts) couple of days ago, with toiletries manufacturer (Rituals) yesterday, they announced first 787-10 routes (Toronto, Dubai, Dar es Salaam) and now it’s known that JAMCO seats will have world debut with their A350s.

    You guys are writing about some, let’s be fair, totally unimportant stuff – this seems like on target article.

  15. @ SR — You can indeed have both. Chase has added some limits to only being able to have the Sapphire or Sapphire Reserve, but that limitation doesn’t apply to the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited.

  16. tef0306 : if you use Amazon services, see if you can buy Amazon gift cards from best buy. I don’t have a freedom card but I was targeted for a chase pay/best buy promotion in September for my chase sapphire preferred card. I bought $200 in Amazon gift cards using chase pay and earned 6x points on my spend. I suggest buying a gift card with a small amount, waiting a few days for the transaction to post and seeing if you get bonus points before buying a higher amount of gift cards.

  17. @Marci Kiser , I totally agree! I normally get gas at Chevron or Mobil station but during Q4, I am getting my gas at Shell using Chase Pay. I hardly ever use Chase Pay but if we look for options, there are some we can always use. Also I am piggyback riding Q4 department store category using Freedom with United Shopping portal. UA shopping portal is offering extra bonus miles up to 1500miles until 10/15 with selected department store (starting holiday shopping a little earlier).

  18. @erie, you can get chevron, shell, mobil gift cards at bestbuy and pay with chase pay.

    Then, plenty of other business gift cards.

  19. I just realized that I should’ve paid for today’s Costco trip with the freedom not the freedom unlimited and therein lies the problem. My life is too busy to remember what this quarter’s bonus is and there is no way I’d get my husband on board with constantly shifting categories.

  20. @vdude83, no idea Bestbuy sells gift cards / part of Chase Pay! Thank you for the info, I’ll definitely check our local Best Buy.

  21. I second SashaAmsterdam, not specifically about KLM (although I live in the Netherlands hardly ever use them) but this site looks more and more like TPG, instead of trip and airline reports.

  22. I don’t make much use of the Freedom, but I downgraded my CSP to it in order to not lose my length of time open.

  23. I find little use for the Chase Freedom, and more use for the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Yes, the categories are “meh” this year, but personally, I’d rather just have a flat rate — 1.5x on everything and transferable as UR points is the bonus. (Which leads me to wonder why Citi hasn’t done something similar between the Double Cash card and the ThankYou Premier or Prestige card…)

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