Chase Freedom Visa Review: $200 Cash Back Bonus
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I have been a Chase Freedom credit card holder since 2007. I use the Chase Freedom card for my day-to-day spending and always pay it off in full each month. Based on these six years as a cardholder, here are my thoughts on the card — including The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Bottom Line. (See also: 5 More Ways to Earn Cashback Rewards)
Here’s what I like best about my Chase Freedom card.
Rewards Percentage Back
The Chase Freedom card offers 5% back in several categories every quarter and 1% on everything else. (Read about the rotation scheme below.)
- January - March 2012, the card offers 5% back at gas stations and on Amazon.com.
- April - June, you’ll get 5% back at movie theaters and grocery stores.
- July - September the 5% back is good at restaurants and gas stations.
- October - December (just in time for holiday shopping) 5% back at Best Buy and Kohls, and on hotels and airlines.
(Editor's note: Get 5% cash back at gas stations, movie theaters, and Starbucks stores from January through March 2014.)
5% back is a great percentage back that few credit cards can beat.
Cash Back Rewards
The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is truly one of the most flexible rewards programs that I’ve seen. I almost always use my points for cash back, in the form of a check or a statement credit. The ratio of points to cash is 1/1 (so for every $100 you spend on 5% category items, you get five points — which then you can use for $5 back.). The rewards programs also offers redemption for gift cards, travel, and products. And if you have multiple cards earning Chase Ultimate rewards points, you can combine the points from both cards together to redeem for a higher priced reward.
Visa Is Accepted Everywhere
Let’s face it — Visa truly is “everywhere you want to be.” Any place I’ve ever been that accepts credit cards takes Visa. It’s nice to carry a card and not have to worry that the cashier will say “Sorry, we don’t take that card.”
Occasional Bonuses and Coupons
Several times a quarter I receive coupons in the mail that I can use if I use my Chase Freedom card at a merchant. For example, in the past few months I’ve received coupons for $10 off of $50 at Old Navy and 10%-30% off at Barnes and Noble. While these aren’t places I frequently shop, occasionally the coupon will be for something I need at that time, and I will take advantage of it.
I’ve had bank accounts or credit cards with nine banking institutions in the past 10 years and do 95% of my banking online, so I have a good sense of what makes a good banking website. The Chase Freedom site is overall very easy to use. It’s simple to login, set up payments (automatic or regular), track your spending, and generally do anything that you need to do on your credit card’s website. I appreciate not having to click around to find what I’m looking for each time I sign on.
Great Sign-Up Bonus
You can almost always get a great sign up bonus when you sign up for a new Chase Freedom card. When I signed up, I got $250 and $200 (respectively) back. (Editor's Note: The current offer is $200 back.) That’s a nice chunk of change just for getting a new card.
Despite all the positive aspects to the Chase Freedom card, here are a few things that I’m less than happy with.
I am not a fan of the rotating rewards. While it’s nice to get rewarded for different categories of purchases, I would much rather have consistency in my rewards. I don’t do much “rewards hacking” — using a different card for different purchases in order to get the highest reward — so I would rather just know that I will always get a set percentage back no matter what month it is. I have enough else on my mind that I don’t want to try to remember which categories are worth more at that time. That said, I look forward to getting 5% back at Amazon, which I won’t get anywhere else.
Fewer Protections Than Other Cards
The Chase Freedom is a regular old Visa card. It doesn’t offer the high caliber of credit card perks that American Express cards or Visa Signature cards do. These perks include purchase protection if a recently purchased item gets stolen or damaged within a certain time frame after purchase and price protection if the price on a recent purchase drops. Because of this I always use my American Express Zync card (which offers these protections) when buying tangible things and not consumables like gas, meals at restaurants, or groceries. The Chase Freedom still offers some perks (like car insurance for rental cars) but I know that my other credit cards do better.
The “bad” items listed above are minor annoyances, but here are the two things I truly hate about the Chase Freedom card.
Opting In to the Rotating Rewards
Not only do the 5% rewards change every quarter, you must also re-opt in each time. If you don’t opt in, you don’t get the 5% in those categories. Granted, Chase makes it easy by sending you an email with a link that requires just one click, but still, I find it absolutely obnoxious that I have to re-opt in each quarter just to get the higher rewards. I’m guessing they do this because there’s a psychological/marketing principle that says that when you have to opt in or interact with something, you value it more and are more likely to use it. Regardless of the reason, I’m not a fan of the opt in rewards.
Changing the Game on Customers
I previously held a Chase Ultimate rewards card that paid 5% back at grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies — all of the time. Unfortunately, the Ultimate Rewards card was discontinued last year, and the account was transferred into the rotating Chase Freedom rewards. Similarly, the original Chase Freedom card that I have had since 2007 changed their rewards program for the worse last year. When I first signed up for the card, I always received 3% back on the highest categories of spending in any given month. So, for example, if my highest categories in a month were restaurants, utilities, and pets, I would get 3% back in those categories. If during the next month my highest categories of spending were restaurants, utilities, and clothing, I would get 3% back in those categories. Previously, I earned about $400-$500 a year in rewards. Unfortunately, the program was changed — now I get a higher percentage back (5%), but only in set categories. So, now in the past year I’ve only received about $175 in cash back rewards. I don’t appreciate having something changed on me after I’ve signed up and been a loyal customer. But, I guess that’s business.
The Bottom Line
Despite the shortcomings of the Chase Freedom credit card, I would still recommend it as a rewards cards for someone who is looking for an everyday cash back card. I use it as my everyday card for mundane purchases like gas and groceries. The Chase Freedom card is an excellent rewards card for the reasons I’ve previously listed, especially because:
- Visa is accepted everywhere
- The rewards redemption (including for cash) is excellent
- Even if you don’t shop in the 5% category, you are always guaranteed 1% back
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.