My wife and I have been opening several new cards this year to take advantage of limited-time offers, but once we hit those spending requirements we always return to an old favorite. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® credit card is a great way to earn extra points on everyday spend but only if you pair it with another card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred cards.
This pairing strategy is one of the great lessons in how to maximize the value of your frequent flyer miles and can sometimes be applied to other programs, too. I advise you to learn from example even if you don’t think the situation applies just yet.
Card Benefits and Fee
The Freedom Unlimited card has no annual fee and earns 1.5 points per dollar on every purchase. The utter simplicity makes it appealing for those situations when it isn’t clear which card offers the best bonus. My wife can’t keep track of more than two cards. Even I hate carrying more than four.
By itself, the Ultimate Rewards points you earn with this card aren’t that valuable. Each point can be redeemed for 1 cent as a statement credit. That means you’re essentially earning 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Certainly not bad for a no-annual fee card, but there are better options if that’s all you want. I mention some competing cards later in this post.
Maximizing Value with More than One Card
We get more utility from our Freedom Unlimited card because we also earn and redeem Ultimate Rewards points through a variety of other means. Critically, you can transfer and combine Ultimate Rewards points between accounts to earn at a higher rate with one card while getting access to more redemption options with another card.
When you redeem points with one of these two Sapphire credit cards, you can get a statement credit the same as always, but you can also transfer them to different airline and hotel loyalty programs or even use them to pay for travel directly without worrying about award availability.
The Sapphire Reserve card that we have right now, for example, lets us redeem points for travel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point. That’s 50% better than if we had just asked for a statement credit on our Freedom Unlimited card. We can earn 1.5 points on everything, transfer them to our Sapphire Reserve, and effectively earn 2.25% cash back.
We can also transfer points to airline and hotel loyalty programs such as United Airlines and Hyatt. Why settle for earning 1 mile per dollar on everyday purchases that don’t fall within a bonus category? You can earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar with the Freedom Unlimited card, transfer them to your Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve, and then transfer them to United. The two-step process gets you 50% more miles on everything!
Caveats and Competing Cards
Clearly there are some downsides. First, you have to pay the annual fee for the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve card to access their extra benefits. That means this “no annual fee” card isn’t quite so free. On the other hand, the rewards are more valuable than you’ll get with typical airline and hotel rewards cards on non-bonused spend.
Second, it’s more complicated because it requires maintaining multiple cards. But if you make the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve your primary cards for travel and dining, then maybe you have them already.
If these are too much for you then you might consider some other cash back cards. For example, there is the standard Chase Freedom card (not “Unlimited”) that earns 1 point per dollar on everything and then 5 points per dollar on select bonus categories that rotate every three months.
There is also the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature card from Chase that earns 1% cash back in the form of Amazon.com credit. Purchases on Amazon.com get 3% cash back, making it a good deal for regular online shoppers.
I personally would lean toward the Citi Double Cash Card or the Barclaycard Arrival+ World Elite MasterCard. Both offer 2% cash back, although they have their own twists.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited remains a must-have card if you can meet these requirements. As a no-fee card it’s easy to keep it for years and years, improving your credit score by raising your average account age. I do have other credit cards that I value more, but I only use them when I earn a bonus for something like dining out, purchasing flights, or filling up my gas tank. The Freedom Unlimited is for everything that doesn’t get a bonus.
I would only cancel the card if Chase decided to stop allowing customers to transfer and consolidate points (something that has been rumored in the past). For now, the Chase’s great transfer partners and the flexibility of redeeming points for nearly any other travel by using the Ultimate Rewards portal keeps it at the top of my wallet.