Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
& Kellie Jez
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It’s not difficult to find a premium rewards credit card with equally premium benefits, though you’ll likely pay a hefty annual fee for most top travel rewards cards. Many travelers do find sufficient value in these benefits and are happy to pay that fee to reap the rewards.
However, if you’re just looking for a simple everyday spending card — without any annual fee — and premium benefits are not important to you, you’ll want to take a look at these 2 cards. Today we’re going to be reviewing the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Citi Custom Cash® Card, both of which are solid contenders for a card that may never leave your wallet.
Stay with us as we look at the earning potential, redemption options, and additional benefits of each of these everyday spending cards.
Before we expand on the details of both the Freedom Unlimited card and the Citi Custom Cash card, it can be helpful to look at a brief overview of comparable benefits.
|Feature or Benefit||Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Citi Custom Cash® Card|
|Welcome Offer||SPECIAL OFFER: Unlimited Matched Cash Back. Chase will automatically match all the cash back you earned at the end of your first year! There is no limit to how much cash back you can earn.||Earn $200 cash-back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening.|
|Travel Protections and Benefits||
||World Elite Mastercard Luxury Hotels & Resorts Portfolio benefits|
|Shopping Protections and Benefits||
|Additional Benefits||0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 20.49% - 29.24%.||0% Intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months. After that, the variable APR will be 19.24% - 29.24%|
|Annual Fees and Authorized Users||
Upon approval, you’ll have the opportunity to begin earning a welcome offer with both the Freedom Unlimited card and the Citi Custom Cash card.
Welcome offers on our featured cards can come in the form of additional cash-back earnings on spending or a lump sum of cash-back after meeting minimum spending requirements. The value of the welcome offer for each card also varies, so be sure to review the most current offer before applying for any card.
Here are the most recent welcome offers and the value you can expect to receive with each one:
This all-purpose cash-back card offers great bonus categories, including bonus points for every purchase you make!
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is easily one of the best cash-back credit cards on the market. There aren’t many no-annual-fee credit cards that offer multiple great bonus categories like 5% back on travel purchased through Chase, 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% back on all other purchases.
When paired with other Chase cards in the Ultimate Rewards family, you can transfer that cash back into points if you wish – making it one of the most lucrative cards in your wallet.
Earn big on purchases in your top eligible spend category, up to the first $500 each billing cycle, with no annual fee!
The Citi Custom Cash® Card is inventive when it comes to cash-back credit cards. Instead of earning a set amount of cash-back on predetermined bonus categories, the Citi Custom Cash card earns 5% cash-back on your highest eligible spend category each billing cycle, without an annual fee.
Thanks to that unique perk, you’ll never need to worry about whether you’re using the right card for the right purchase, as your Citi Custom Cash card will always pay you 5% back on whichever category you end up spending the most on each month.
While the Freedom Unlimited card and Citi Custom Cash card are not considered pure travel rewards cards, the cards do earn bonus rewards on travel purchases and have travel redemption options, including the potential to transfer points to partners when paired with a premium travel card.
Even if you don’t spend a lot on travel, both of our featured cards have additional bonus-earning categories that can match up with your everyday spending.
Here’s how the cards compare when we look at earning potential.
|Earning Category||Freedom Unlimited Card||Citi Custom Cash Card|
||5% cash-back on 1 category each statement period when select travel*, transit**, restaurants, drugstores, gas stations, grocery stores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs, select streaming services***, or live entertainment is your top eligible spending category, up to $500 in purchases each statement period|
|Drugstores and Dining||3% cash-back|
|Home Improvement Stores, Fitness Clubs, Live Entertainment||1.5% cash-back|
|All Other Purchases||1.5% cash-back on all other purchases||1% cash-back on all other purchases|
* Citi Custom Cash card 5% cash-back travel categories include purchases such as those made with an airline, hotel, cruise line, or travel agency.
** Select 5% cash-back transit categories include car rentals, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis/limos, car services, tolls, parking, bus fares, and recreational vehicle rentals. Exclusions do apply.
*** Select 5% cash-back streaming services include Amazon Prime, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Paramont+, Disney+, DirectTV Stream, ESPN+, fuboTV, HBO Max, NBA League Pass, Netflix, Pandora, Showtime, Sling TV, Spotify, Stars, Sirius XM, Vudu, YouTube Red, YouTube TV, and TIDAL.
The Freedom Unlimited card is a great choice for drugstore and dining purchases, as well as for purchasing travel via the Chase travel portal. One key purchasing strength of the card is that you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on any purchase, making it perfect if you have large or frequent purchases in non-bonus categories.
If you need to pay tuition, home improvements, car repairs, doctor’s bills, or any other household expense, the Freedom Unlimited card allows you to earn 1.5% cash-back, even when your monthly spending mix is quite diverse.
The Citi Custom Cash card could be ideal for the person who doesn’t want to keep track of bonus-earning categories, as the highest-earning spending category automatically receives 5% cash-back.
This means, even if your spending categories change on a monthly basis, you can count on up to $25 each statement period in cash-back when your highest expense, within the select bonus categories, reaches $500. Plus, you’ll earn 1% cash-back on all other purchases.
While both the Freedom Unlimited card and Citi Custom Cash card are marketed as cash-back rewards cards, you’ll have the option of also being able to redeem rewards for travel.
This important feature sets the foundation for flexible redemption options beyond receiving cash-back.
Let’s look at your options at redemption time with both of our featured cards.
|Redemption Option||Freedom Unlimited Card||Citi Custom Cash Card|
|Additional Redemption Options||
For the Freedom Unlimited card, transferring points to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® allows you to redeem points for 1.25 to 1.5 cents each, respectively, for select travel via the Chase travel portal. You also have the option of transferring points to airline and hotel partners like Hyatt and United for even greater potential value.
Transferring Ultimate Rewards points to airline transfer partner Air Canada Aeroplan, for example, would allow you to fly one-way in business class to South America or select European cities for just 60,000 points!
Hot Tip: For more ideas on how to receive great value with Chase transfer partners, we’ve done the homework for you in our extensive guide on how to best use Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
For the Citi Custom Cash card, if you transfer points to the Citi Premier® Card or the Citi Prestige® Card, you will then be able to transfer points to airline and hotel partners to maximize the value of your points.
A strong Citi transfer partner is Choice Privileges Rewards. Points transfer at the ratio of 1:2, meaning 1 Citi ThankYou Point equals 2 Choice Rewards points. You can then transfer Choice Rewards points to Radisson Rewards America for even more value at the ratio of 1:2. This results in 1 Citi ThankYou Point equaling 4 Radisson Rewards points. You can enjoy the beachfront Park Inn by Radisson Mazatlan for just 15,000 points per night.
The Freedom Unlimited card allows you to redeem any amount of points you want with no minimum. The Citi Custom Cash card requires a minimum of $25 for redemption.
Additionally, once Ultimate Rewards points are earned on the Freedom Unlimited and transferred to premium Chase cards, the value of the points increases to up to 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel via the Chase travel portal. You will receive just 1 cent each for points earned on the Citi Custom Cash card when redeemed via the Citi travel portal.
This difference in redemption value, when redeeming rewards through the associated travel portal, translates into $1,500 worth of airline tickets costing just 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Freedom Unlimited card (when transferred to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card) versus 150,000 Citi ThankYou Points with the Citi Custom Cash card.
Travel protections can save you money and provide assistance when your trip is disrupted.
Here are the key features you’ll find on the Freedom Unlimited card and Citi Custom Cash card:
Shopping protections can provide coverage if an item you purchased with your card becomes damaged or, in some cases, stolen. Shopping benefits can save you money and provide convenient services.
Both the Freedom Unlimited card and Citi Custom Cash card have 1 unique shopping benefit in common:
Here are the additional shopping protections and benefits that are unique to each of our featured cards.
The Freedom Unlimited card and Citi Custom Cash card are easy additions to your wallet given their annual fee:
You’ll also be able to add trusted friends or family members to your card with no additional fee.
You will need a good to excellent credit score, generally considered 670 to 850, to be considered for either the Freedom Unlimited card or the Citi Custom Cash card.
If you have high credit card balances that you’re carrying month-to-month and wish to pay off those balances over time with no interest charges, the 0% APR for balance transfers could serve you well. Both the Freedom Unlimited card and Citi Custom Cash card offer this benefit for 15 months from the date of card approval.
It’s important to note that both the Freedom Unlimited card and Citi Custom Cash card charge foreign transaction fees of 3% of the total transaction. If you’re looking for a card to use abroad, check out our list of the best cards with no foreign transaction fees.
While the Citi Custom Cash card boasts 5% cash-back on your highest qualifying spending category each statement period, your earnings are limited to a $25 maximum in 5% categories each month. Beyond that, you’ll earn just 1% cash-back.
The Freedom Unlimited card comes with the advantage of unlimited earnings on its bonus categories which can open up the potential for far greater earnings.
At redemption time, points earned on either card are generally worth 1 cent each and both cards offer the option to transfer points to premium cards for greater potential value with airline and hotel partners. The Freedom Unlimited card offers 1 additional benefit for redeeming points (once transferred to premium Chase cards), and that is a greater value of up to 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel via the Chase travel portal.
If you already have a premium Chase card, the Freedom Unlimited card is a worthy addition to your wallet. Even if you don’t, the Freedom Unlimited card can be a good choice for unlimited earnings, especially if you have large expenses in non-bonus categories and can take advantage of the 1.5% cash-back on those purchases.
If you want to explore more of the best no-annual-fee cards, we’ve done the homework for you in our article on the topic.
The information for the Citi Prestige® Card has been collected independently by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The better card for you will depend on your spending mix, your redemption preferences, and whether you will use the benefits offered on your selected card.
If unlimited bonus earning is important to you, the Freedom Unlimited card has the edge. The Freedom Unlimited card also has more valuable redemption options if you have a premium Chase credit card.
If you don’t want to keep track of bonus categories, the Citi Custom Cash card provides a good system since it automatically gives you 5% cash-back on whatever you’re spending most on that month.
Rewards earned on the Citi Custom Cash card cannot be transferred directly to airline partners. Points earned on the card can be transferred to the Citi Premier card or the Citi Prestige card and then be transferred to airline or hotel partners and used to book award flights or free hotel nights.
Yes. The Freedom Unlimited card earns 5x points on travel purchases made via the Chase travel portal. Additionally, rewards earned on the card can be used to purchase travel via the Chase travel portal at a value of 1 cent per point.
If you have a Chase premium card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you can transfer points earned on the Freedom Unlimited card to either of those cards and then redeem them for travel for up to 1.5 cents per point or transfer to airline and hotel partners, also for greater potential value.
Yes, the Citi Custom Cash card charges a 3% fee on all foreign transactions.
Yes. Foreign transactions made with the Freedom Unlimited card will incur a 3% transaction fee.
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UP's Bonus Valuation
This bonus value is an estimated valuation calculated by UP after analyzing redemption options, transfer partners, award availability and how much UP would pay to buy these points.