Credit cards today are essential financial tools, offering convenience, rewards and credit-building benefits. However, not all credit cards are made equal. Among the plethora of credit card options available, two that are often highlighted and compared are the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Both the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred cards are key offerings in Chase’s credit card lineup and are widely discussed all over the internet. If you’re uncertain which card suits you best, this article provides a direct analysis and comparison. By the end, you’ll have more than enough knowledge to make an informed decision on whether the Freedom Unlimited or the Sapphire Preferred is the better fit for your wallet.

chase sapphire preferred vs freedom unlimited

Understanding Chase Credit Cards

Chase credit cards have gained immense popularity over the years, partly due to their diverse offerings. Chase considers a wide range of financial needs and lifestyles in designing their credit card products.

For instance, the Freedom family of cards tends to emphasize cash back and easy-to-understand rewards structures. Best of all, the Freedom cards come with no annual fees, making them extremely approachable.

The Sapphire family of cards tends to focus more on premium travel rewards and benefits. Although these cards come with annual fees, they also come with various additional travel perks, making them more suited for frequent travelers.

Chase does have other offerings as well, including the Ink Business cards and co-branded cards. However, we won’t be discussing them in this article.

Instead, we’ll focus on just the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, two of the best credit cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. This highly versatile rewards program allows Chase cardholders to earn points for everyday purchases.

Let’s compare and contrast how each card allows you to earn and redeem rewards in the Ultimate Rewards program.

Key Features of the Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card is a $0 annual fee card that earns cash back on everyday purchases. The cashback rates depend on the spending category:

  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠
  • 3% on dining and takeout
  • 3% at drugstores
  • 1.5% on all other purchases

The standout feature of this card is the 1.5% baseline earning rate on all purchases. For those that want the simplest credit card setup possible, this makes the Chase Freedom Unlimited viable as a one-card-only strategy.

In addition to cashback rewards, the Freedom Unlimited also offers purchase protection, extended warranty protection and trip cancellation protection, but this is the only travel-related benefit. Be mindful that this card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee.

The Freedom Unlimited has a few unique partnerships with businesses that cardmembers can take advantage of:

  • DoorDash: Get three months of complimentary access to DashPass (activate by December 31, 2024).
  • Instacart: Get three months of complimentary Instacart+, as well as $10 in statement credits issued every quarter (activate by July 31, 2024).
  • Lyft: Earn 5% back on Lyft rides (through March 2025).

In general, there isn’t too much to discuss with this card, and that’s precisely why it’s so popular. It’s a no-frills “workhorse” card that works with any type of spending habits, so it’s a good fit for just about any wallet.

Before going any further, note that Chase frequently markets the Freedom Unlimited as a cashback card. However, the card technically earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points instead of pure cash back, at a rate of 1 point per 1 cent in cash back.

In other words, you’ll actually earn 1.5X Ultimate Rewards points for all your purchases. If you were to cash out your rewards, this would be equivalent to earning 1.5% cash back. But as we’ll see later in this article, it’s possible to get more value than this from your Ultimate Rewards points.

Pros and Cons of the Chase Freedom Unlimited

Pros of the Chase Freedom Unlimited card include:

  • Simple rewards structure: The Freedom Unlimited offers a straightforward rewards structure with unlimited 1.5X Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases.
  • Great baseline earning rate: The 1.5X rate on all purchases is a really good rate, particularly for a card with no annual fee and a few other bonus categories as well.
  • No annual fee: This makes the Freedom Unlimited a cost-effective option to earn rewards.
  • Redemption flexibility: Cardholders can redeem their rewards for cash back or combine them with other Chase cards to get higher value redeeming for travel rewards.
  • Higher chance for approval: The Freedom Unlimited is considered an entry-level card, so you’re more likely to get approved even without a high credit score.

Some cons of the Chase Freedom Unlimited card to consider:

  • Limited bonus categories: The Freedom Unlimited doesn’t have many categories that earn above the 1.5X rate. There’s an opportunity cost to using this card in certain categories when you could be earning a better rate with another card.
  • Foreign transaction fees: Using the Freedom Unlimited overseas incurs a 3% foreign transaction fee.
  • Limited redemption value: The Chase Ultimate Rewards points that you earn with the Freedom Unlimited are worth 1 cent per point. You have to apply for other cards to increase that value.
  • No travel benefits: Apart from trip cancellation protection, there aren’t any other travel benefits on this card.
difference between chase freedom unlimited and sapphire preferred

Key Features of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a $95 annual fee card that’s typically targeted toward semi-frequent travelers. Here are the Ultimate Rewards-earning rates for the card:

  • 5X on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠
  • 3X on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
  • 2X on all other travel purchases
  • 1X on all other purchases

Overall, these earning categories are decent. But a much bigger value proposition with the Sapphire Preferred Card is its generous welcome bonus. Typically, Chase offers between 60,000 and 80,000 bonus points in exchange for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. At a 1 cent per point minimum, this bonus is worth $600 to $800. This alone makes the card more than worth it in the first year.

An additional benefit of the Sapphire Preferred is the boosted value you get with Ultimate Rewards points in the Chase Travel℠ portal. Your points get an instant 25% boost for portal redemptions, meaning that the $600 to $800 welcome bonus is worth at least $750 to $1,000 when redeemed through Chase Travel℠.

However, perhaps the biggest benefit available to the Sapphire Preferred cardmembers is the ability to transfer points at a 1:1 rate to one of Chase’s transfer partners. This unlocks the potential for you to book one of the many awesome “sweet spots” that are often talked about in award travel circles:

  • Business class from the East Coast to Spain on Iberia for 34,000 Chase points
  • Business class from the West Coast to Japan in All Nippon Airways for 52,500 Chase points (via Virgin Atlantic Flying Club)
  • Reward nights starting at just 3,500 Chase points per night with World of Hyatt

If you can take advantage of these outsized redemptions using your Sapphire Preferred card, your points would definitely be worth a lot more than the baseline value of 1 cent per point.

One final benefit regarding points: each account anniversary, you’ll also earn bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made in the previous year. For instance, if you spend $15,000 on purchases, you’ll get 1,500 bonus points.

Because the Sapphire Preferred is a mid-tier travel card, it features some valuable travel benefits. While there aren’t any premium luxury benefits, you get all the essentials, including primary auto rental collision damage waiver, trip delay reimbursement, baggage delay insurance and no foreign transaction fees.

You can also earn up to $50 in statement credits each account anniversary year for hotel stays booked through Chase Travel℠. If you’re able to use this credit each year, it reduces the effective annual fee of this card down to $45.

Finally, the Sapphire Preferred lets cardmembers take advantage of special partnerships with various businesses, which currently include the following:

  • DoorDash: Get one year of complimentary access to DashPass (activate by December 31, 2024).
  • Instacart: Get six months of complimentary Instacart+ as well as $15 in statement credits issued every quarter (activate by July 31, 2024).
  • Peloton: Earn 5X back on Peloton equipment for purchases over $150 (through March 2025).
  • Lyft: Earn 5X back on Lyft rides (through March 2025).

Overall, with decent earning rates and the ability to transfer points to partners, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great entry-level travel card. It’s perfect for consumers who want to get their foot in the door of travel rewards and travel occasionally, but also don’t want the burden of a high annual fee.

Pros and Cons of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Pros of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card include:

  • Welcome bonus: The Sapphire Preferred generally offers a lucrative bonus that can be worth at least $600 or more, depending on how you use the points.
  • Access to Chase travel partners: The Sapphire Preferred unlocks the ability for you to transfer Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 rate to Chase’s travel partners. This opens the door to many aspirational redemptions, allowing you to get outsized value for your rewards.
  • 25% more value in the Chase Travel℠ portal: If you don’t want to deal with transfer partners, your points have 25% more value when redeemed through Chase Travel℠.
  • Comprehensive travel benefits: The Sapphire Preferred gives cardholders peace of mind when traveling with benefits, such as primary car rental insurance, trip delay reimbursement and baggage delay insurance.
  • No foreign transaction fees: You can use your card as much as you want overseas with no additional cost.

Some cons of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to consider:

  • Annual fee: The Sapphire Preferred charges a $95 annual fee. While that’s low compared to other travel cards, it does mean you need to reevaluate and justify keeping the card after the first year.
  • Subpar earning rates: You’ll notice that the earning rates on the Sapphire Preferred are not a whole lot different compared to the Freedom Unlimited. The card does have a few strong multipliers, but in general they’re a little subpar.
  • Travel “requirement”: Since the Sapphire Preferred is a travel card, you likely need to travel to get the most value out of this card. If you don’t plan on taking any trips in the next year, we don’t recommend applying for this card at this time.
  • Higher credit requirement: Chase scrutinizes applications a bit more closely for the Sapphire Preferred compared to the Freedom cards. Individuals with lower credit scores may not qualify for this card.
difference between chase freedom unlimited and sapphire preferred

Comparing the Chase Freedom Unlimited vs Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison of the two cards.

CategoryChase Freedom UnlimitedChase Sapphire Preferred Card
Annual fee$0$95
Rewards structure• 5X on Chase Travel℠
• 3X on dining and takeout
• 3X at drugstores
• 1.5X on all other purchases
• 5X on Chase Travel℠
• 3X on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases
• 2X on other travel
• 1X on all other purchases
Welcome bonusOffers a small welcome bonus. Typically around $200 (20,000 Chase points) after spending $500 in the first three months.Offers a substantial welcome bonus. Typically around 60,000 to 80,000 Chase points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
Account anniversary bonusNoneEarn bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made in the previous year.
Access to Chase travel partnersNoYes
Value of points in Chase portal1 Chase point = 1 cent1 Chase point = 1.25 cents
Travel benefits• Trip cancellation protection• $50 annual credit for hotels booked through Chase Travel℠
• Trip cancellation protection
• Trip delay reimbursement
• Primary auto rental collision damage waiver
• Baggage delay insurance
Foreign transaction fees3%None
Chase partnership benefitsDoorDash: Get three months of DashPass.
Instacart: Get three months Instacart+, as well as $15 each quarter in statement credits.
Lyft: Earn 5X back on Lyft rides.
DoorDash: Get one year of DashPass.
Instacart: Get six months Instacart+, as well as $15 each quarter in statement credits.
Peloton: Earn 5X back on Peloton equipment for purchases over $150.
Lyft: Earn 5X back on Lyft rides.
Target audienceSuited for beginners and individuals who don’t travel often. Also suited for those who prioritize simplicity in their rewards earning.Suited for occasional and frequent travelers alike who don’t need the premium perks that come with higher annual fee travel cards.

When to Use the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card vs. the Freedom Unlimited

Choosing between the Sapphire Preferred and the Freedom Unlimited cards depends a lot on individual spending habits, travel plans and financial goals. For example, you’ll come out on top with the Chase Sapphire Preferred if you can satisfy the following criteria:

  • You can meet the minimum spending requirement for the welcome bonus. Earning the welcome bonus on the Sapphire Preferred on its own makes the card worth it in the first year. In fact, this itself pays for the annual fee multiple times over. Thus, it’s critical that you hit the minimum spending requirement.
  • You spend a lot in the travel category. This is a category that earns 2X on the Sapphire Preferred and isn’t featured on the Freedom Unlimited. It’s worth noting that “travel” covers a broad range of purchases when it comes to Chase cards and even includes things like parking, tolls and public transportation (i.e. buses and ferries).
  • You want to spend your rewards on travel. Having the Sapphire Preferred allows you to transfer your points to partners or redeem them at 1.25 cents apiece in the travel portal. This is an elevated value compared to the Freedom Unlimited and is part of the reason the card comes with a $95 annual fee.

On the other hand, choosing the Freedom Unlimited card is more advantageous if you identify the following:

  • You prefer simple earning. The Freedom Unlimited card earns at least 1.5X on all purchases, which is a decent rate. This makes it such that you never have to think about what card to use for what purchase—the Freedom Unlimited is viable as the only credit card in your wallet.
  • You prefer a cashback rewards structure and don’t plan to travel frequently. Your rewards with this card are typically treated as direct cash back. This makes it easy to understand the value you’re getting from the card. Travel redemptions with the Sapphire Preferred can vary more in value and can be a lot more complicated than just opting for cash back.
  • You don’t want annual fee cards. This is self-explanatory.
chase sapphire preferred vs freedom unlimited

Eligibility and Application Process

When it comes to eligibility criteria for the two cards, the first thing to note is the Chase 5/24 rule. This policy states that if you’ve opened five or more personal credit cards from any bank within the last 24 months, you’ll automatically be declined for a new Chase card.

That aside, Chase is looking at the same thing all banks consider with new credit applications: your credit score and credit history. For the Chase Freedom Unlimited, applications typically need a “good” credit score, generally 670 or higher. Applicants for the Sapphire Preferred generally need an “very good” credit score of 740 or higher. Having a strong credit history with a record of on-time payments and responsible credit usage can greatly improve your chances of approval.

Chase may also consider income as a secondary eligibility factor. While Chase doesn’t specify a minimum income requirement, applicants should have a steady income that demonstrates the ability to repay credit card debt. Higher income levels may improve the likelihood of approval for the Sapphire Preferred because of its higher spending limits.

If you’re eligible, you can begin the application process. This is usually divided into four main steps:

  • Gather necessary documentation. You’ll need your personal information (full name, date of birth and Social Security number) and financial information (employment status, annual income and monthly housing payment).
  • Complete an application. You can apply for either card online through Chase’s website. This is the fastest way to apply and also the most straightforward—it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes to complete. Alternatively, you can apply in person at a Chase branch.
  • Wait for application review, and follow up if necessary. Once submitted, your application undergoes an automated review process. It’s possible to get a decision immediately. In some cases, applications may require manual review by a Chase representative, which could involve a follow-up for additional information or documentation.
  • Get a final decision. If approved, your new credit card will arrive in the mail within seven to 10 business days. If denied, we recommend waiting at least six months before trying again. Use that time to continue to practice good credit habits and build a stronger credit history to increase your odds of approval in the future.

Combining the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred

If both of these cards appeal to you, why not get both? Holding the Freedom Unlimited and the Sapphire Preferred cards simultaneously can be a powerful strategy for maximizing your rewards. Here’s how they can complement each other and the potential benefits of using both cards strategically.

Maximizing Rewards

To maximize your rewards on everyday spending, use the card with the higher multiplier in the category you plan to spend in. For example, use the Sapphire Preferred for travel expenses to earn 2X in that category. You can use either card for dining (3X) and Chase Travel purchases (5X). Finally, use the Freedom Unlimited on all other general spending, such as grocery purchases and gas, to earn an elevated 1.5X on all purchases.

By getting both, you can also earn the respective welcome bonuses on each. Meeting the minimum spending requirements within the first few months can give you a big boost in Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Combining Points for Travel Redemptions

Both cards are part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. This means that points earned with the Freedom Unlimited can be transferred to the Sapphire Preferred, allowing you to pool your points for better travel redemptions.

If you plan to travel occasionally, this is always advantageous, since Ultimate Rewards points are worth 25% more with the Sapphire Preferred in the travel portal. Additionally, the Sapphire Preferred Card’s ability to transfer points to airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio can unlock even greater value.

In conclusion, the general strategy is simple. Use the cards in tandem to earn as many points as possible, then pool them together in the Sapphire Preferred to maximize their value.

Alternatives to Consider

Although the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card are excellent options, other cards on the market offer similar benefits. Here are some of the best credit cards that can make for good alternatives to the Freedom Unlimited:

  • Citi Double Cash® Card: This card earns 2% cash back on all purchases (2X Citi ThankYou Points) on all purchases. You earn 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill. This is a straightforward cashback system that beats the Freedom Unlimited card’s 1.5X rate on paper. It also has no annual fee.
  • Chase Freedom Flex®: In the previous section, we mentioned how it can be a good idea to get both the Freedom Unlimited and the Sapphire Preferred cards. However, the bonus categories on these cards are too similar. To avoid overlapping categories, you can consider the Chase Freedom Flex, which earns 5X points on rotating quarterly categories. These points can also be pooled together with the Sapphire Preferred. The Freedom Flex has no annual fee.
  • Discover it Cash Back: Similar to the Freedom Flex, the Discover it Cash Back card also earns 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories. However, this is purely cash back, and there’s no option to convert them to points. This is a good option for those who aren’t looking to travel, yet still want to maximize their cash back rewards.

Here are some of the best credit cards similar the Sapphire Preferred:

  • Citi Strata Premier℠ Card: The card most similar to the Sapphire Preferred is the Citi Strata Premier, Citi’s newest $95 annual fee card. In general, this card is a stronger earner than the Sapphire Preferred. It earns 10X Citi ThankYou Points on travel booked through the Citi travel portal and 3X points in many popular categories, including travel, restaurants, supermarkets, gas and EV charging stations. There’s also a $100 annual hotel credit, which is double that on the Sapphire Preferred (the stay must be booked through Citi Travel and cost more than $500). The card also has all the same travel protections as the Sapphire Preferred, so it’s definitely worth considering as an alternative pickup.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: The Capital One Venture is another $95 annual fee card with a simple rewards structure. Cardmembers earn 2X Capital One miles on every purchase, and these miles can be transferred to Capital One’s travel partners. This is a great choice for those who want a simple card for everyday spending without having to worry about bonus categories. The card also offers up to $100 TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit every four years.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: If you travel often, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve. While its earning categories are pretty similar to the Sapphire Preferred Card, this $550 annual fee travel card carries a lot more travel benefits, such as a $300 annual travel credit, up to $100 TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit every four years and complimentary Priority Pass Select membership. If you can make sufficient use of the additional credits and benefits, the Sapphire Reserve may be the better pick. Note that you can only hold one Sapphire card at a time.

Choosing the Right Card for You: Chase Freedom Unlimited vs Chase Sapphire Preferred

Now that you know enough about these cards, let’s help you decide between the Freedom Unlimited and the Sapphire Preferred. Below, we’ll walk through a couple of key factors you should consider.

Annual Fee

If you prefer not to pay an annual fee, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the clear choice. However, for enhanced rewards and travel benefits, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card can offer more than enough value to outweigh its $95 annual fee. This does mean that you’ll have to justify keeping the card beyond the first year.

Credit Card Habits

If you’re someone who doesn’t want to juggle multiple credit cards, the Freedom Unlimited is the simplest setup that still lets you maximize your rewards. If you don’t mind multiple cards and remembering what bonus categories apply to each card, consider both options.

Also, do you prefer cash back or travel rewards? The Freedom Unlimited lends itself better to a cashback setup, while the Sapphire Preferred is focused more on travel rewards.

Travel Frequency

The Sapphire Preferred’s travel benefits, including trip cancellation/interruption insurance, primary car rental insurance and no foreign transaction fees, make this a strong contender for those who travel more often. If you travel less frequently or not at all, the Freedom Unlimited would be a wiser pick.

Also, the Sapphire Preferred gives you access to Chase’s travel partners, which can really boost the value of your Ultimate Rewards points by a lot more than the standard 1 cent per point.

Welcome Offers

The Chase Freedom Preferred generally offers a much better welcome offer compared to the Freedom Unlimited. However, both cards sometimes have limited-time promotions that are better than their standard offers. If either card has a current promotion, it might be a good time to apply.

Best of Both Worlds

For those who want to earn and redeem points with the Chase Ultimate Rewards system, holding both can be a strategic move. Use them for your everyday spend, then combine your points on the Sapphire Preferred for enhanced redemption options.

Chase Freedom Unlimited vs Chase Sapphire Preferred

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are the main differences between the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred?

In terms of annual fee, the Freedom Unlimited has no annual fee, while the Sapphire Preferred costs $95 per year.

The earning categories on the cards are similar, but the Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5X on all purchases while the Sapphire Preferred earns 2X on travel.

The Sapphire Preferred unlocks access to Chase’s transfer partners and also gives your points 25% more value in the travel portal. The Sapphire Preferred provides many crucial travel benefits and insurances, which the Freedom Unlimited doesn’t offer.

Is the Chase Sapphire Preferred worth the annual fee?

It depends. The value of the card depends on your usage of the card’s benefits. If you travel occasionally, the extra value you get from the rewards and travel protections, as well as the $50 annual hotel credit, can help offset the annual fee.

Can I apply for both the Freedom Unlimited and the Sapphire Preferred?

Yes. In fact, doing so can be a great strategy to maximize your rewards. Just remember that you can hold only one Sapphire card at a time (so current Sapphire Reserve cardmembers cannot apply for the Preferred version of the card), and be mindful of Chase’s 5/24 rule.

Can I transfer points between the Freedom Unlimited and the Sapphire Preferred?

Yes, both cards are within the Chase Ultimate Rewards program and you can move points freely between accounts. If you hold both cards, we recommend transferring your points to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for enhanced redemption options.

Which card is better for someone who doesn’t travel often?

For those who don’t travel frequently, the Freedom Unlimited is likely the better choice because of its baseline 1.5X return on all purchases and $0 annual fee. It provides consistent rewards without the need for travel-related redemptions.

Can I redeem points for cash back with both cards?

Yes. Points from both the Freedom Unlimited and the Sapphire Preferred cards can be redeemed for cash back. However, points from the Sapphire Preferred are worth 25% more when redeemed through the Chase travel portal.

Conclusion

The Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card cater to different audiences. One may be better than the other for your wallet.

The main selling point of the Chase Freedom Unlimited is its straightforward 1.5% cash back on all purchases with a $0 annual fee, making it ideal for consumers who prefer simplicity.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, on the other hand, comes with a host of travel benefits and a 25% bonus on points redeemed through Chase Travel, making it perfect for avid travelers.

Ultimately, the right card for you depends on factors, such as spending habits, credit card preferences and travel frequency. Evaluate the annual fee, rewards structures and any promotional offers currently available. Whether you choose the Freedom Unlimited or the Sapphire Preferred, both can provide significant value and help you maximize your current spending.