Chase Freedom Flex℠ vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited® vs. Discover it® Cash Back

Young man at a festive dinner with friends, smiling because he finally settled the Chase Freedom vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited vs. Discover it debateImage: Young man at a festive dinner with friends, smiling because he finally settled the Chase Freedom vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited vs. Discover it debate

In a Nutshell

Three cash back cards, and only one can be crowned the winner. If you're willing to put in a little extra work, Discover it® Cash Back beats two strong entries from Chase.
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Three cash back cards — Chase Freedom Flex℠, Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Discover it® Cash Back card — are likely to pop up on your radar as you’re sorting through credit card choices.

But how to decide which one is best for you? We did the homework for you and discovered that Discover it® Cash Back outdoes the two Chase® cards in several key areas, including sign-up bonus, annual percentage rate and foreign transaction fee.

All three cards are worthy of being in your wallet, but if you’re willing to work a little harder for your rewards, Discover it® Cash Back can yield the most cash back, in part due to its dollar-for-dollar match for cash back earned during the first 12 months you own the card.

But it you prefer a simple cash back card, Chase Freedom Unlimited® might be the smartest option. We’ll dive into the details below.



Best for sign-up bonus

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited® both offer a $200 sign-up bonus for spending $500 in the first 3 months of account opening.

By contrast, the Discover it® Cash Back card matches cash back rewards earned during the first 12 months.

The cash back match for the Discover it® Cash Back card could exceed the $200 bonuses offered by the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited®, depending on your spending activity. That’s because you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating bonus categories, each quarter that you activate. You’ll earn 1% back on all other purchases.

You’ll double the cash back you earn for the entire first year as long as your account is not closed and you’re still in the cash back rewards program at the time Discover calculates your potential award.

Best for rewards

If you’re willing to keep on top of the rotating rewards categories for Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Discover it® Cash Back, these cards beat Chase Freedom Unlimited® in the rewards department.

Both the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Discover it® Cash Back cards offer 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories that rotate every quarter (you earn 1% back after that cap).

Here’s the catch: If you want to take advantage of the rewards category in any given quarter, you must activate that rewards category through your account. Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers an online dashboard for activating a quarterly rewards category, while Discover it® Cash Back has a special page for that task.

From our partner

Chase Freedom Flex℠

4.2 out of 5

From cardholders in the last year

With Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Discover it® Cash Back, if you don’t activate the quarterly 5% offer for cash back before that card’s deadline, then you’ll earn just 1% in the rotating categories and the standard 1% for other purchases.

Chase Freedom Flex℠ also offers 5% back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 5% back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent during your first year, 3% back on restaurant and drugstore purchases, and 1% on all other purchases.

On the other hand, Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers a rate of 1.5% cash back, in addition to a few bonus categories: 5% back on travel purchased through Chase, 5% on grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent during your first year, 3% on restaurants and 3% on drugstores.

Both Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠ track their cash back rewards as points, with each point worth 1 cent when redeemed for cash back. For instance, for each $1 spent with Chase Freedom Unlimited® after your first year, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back, or the equivalent of 1.5 cents.

You can convert Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited® points into cash through a statement credit or an electronic deposit into an eligible checking or savings account. Other redemption options include gift cards, travel and merchandise.

From our partner

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

4.4 out of 5

From cardholders in the last year

The rewards component of the Discover it® Cash Back card works differently. You can redeem your cash back as a statement credit, an electronic deposit into a designated account, a donation to a charity. You can also convert your cash back into a gift card or e-gift card from dozens of partners.

Best for card benefits

If you’re an international traveler, one of the outstanding benefits of the Discover it® Cash Back card is the lack of a foreign transaction fee. Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited® both charge a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Keep in mind, though, that Discover® isn’t as widely accepted by overseas merchants as Visa® and Mastercard®.

Also, Discover it® Cash Back doesn’t charge a penalty fee on your first late payment. After multiple late payments though, you’ll be charged up to $40. Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited® both assess late payment fees of up to $39, but they won’t forgive your first mistake.

What to consider when applying for a cash back card

A cautionary note: The APRs for cash back cards are typically higher than the average APR across all credit cards. With that in mind, this kind of card is great for someone who always pays the balance in full every month. Otherwise, any cash back the cardholder receives could be wiped out by monthly interest charges.

What is the average APR on a credit card?

Another key piece of advice: Choose a cash back card that matches your spending habits. If you spend a lot in one category, like grocery stores, make sure you pick a card that offers more cash back in that category.

Also, give some thought to whether you’ll earn enough cash back to offset any annual fee that the card imposes. If a card carries an annual fee of $95 but you figure you’re likely to accrue less than $95 in annual rewards, then the value of the cash back is diminished. Fortunately, none of the cards in this review charges an annual fee.

Of course, you’ll also want to pay attention to how generous a card’s sign-up bonus is, as well as how easy or difficult it is to redeem cash back rewards.

Which card is right for you?

Discover it® Cash Back card offers a few distinct advantages over Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

You must consider the upfront benefits of each card’s sign-up bonus, says Roman Shteyn, co-founder and CEO of RewardExpert, a service that helps people maximize travel points and miles. Between the two rotating-category cards, Discover it® Cash Back offers the higher potential return, at least in the short term, he says.

The Discover it® Cash Back card’s dollar-for-dollar match will give new card members the chance to earn more in the first year than Chase Freedom Unlimited®’s and Chase Freedom Flex℠’s $200 sign-up bonuses.

And let’s not overlook the ability to boost the value of the Discover it® Cash Back card’s cash back by converting rewards into gift cards. At the very minimum, you may gain an extra $5 by redeeming for $20 on a gift card from one of Discover’s partners.

In the end, you have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to go the extra mile to reap even more cash rewards. The Discover it® Cash Back card offers higher cash back but requires a bit more work to earn it. Also, note that the Discover benefit requires delayed gratification — you won’t get Discover’s dollar-for-dollar match until after your first year of having the card.

If you’re able to stay on top of the quarterly categories, rotating-category cards like Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Discover it® Cash Back are a good choice, says Shteyn. But, he adds, “if you don’t want the fuss of having to activate your bonuses every three months, then Chase Freedom Unlimited® card is a solid choice.”


About the author: John Egan is a blogger, content marketer and freelance writer in Austin, Texas. He is former editor in chief at Austin-based startup LawnStarter, and he previously worked at the Austin Business Journal, Bankrate and S… Read more.