Chase Freedom Unlimited vs Citi Double Cash: Which is a better no-annual-fee cash back card?

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One of the simplest ways to learn the basics of rewards credit cards is to start with no annual fee credit card. There are lots of excellent cards with no annual fee that earn cash back. These cards are very easy to understand — and who doesn’t like earning a little bit of extra cash?!

Two great no-annual-fee cash back cards are the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Citi® Double Cash Card. While they’re similar in many ways, there are key differences between the cards for those looking to get the highest return on your spending.

Let’s take a closer look at the Citi Double Cash vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited.

No matter which card you choose, regular spending can quickly amount to hundreds. (Photo by i viewfinder/Shutterstock)

Chase Freedom Unlimited vs Citi Double Cash

Here are the important questions to ask when deciding between the Citi Double Cash and Chase Freedom Unlimited.

  • Do you have an annual fee Chase Ultimate Rewards card?
  • Are you under the Chase “5/24” rule?
  • Which card is better to keep long term?

Here are the important details of each card at a glance:

CardSign-up bonusEarn rate
Chase Freedom Unlimited®$200 bonus (20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening5% back at grocery stores (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year

5% cash back on travel purchased through the Chase Travel Portal- 3% cash back on dining, including takeout and delivery
3% cash back at drugstores

1.5% cash back on all other purchases
Citi® Double Cash CardCurrently doesn’t offer a sign-up bonus2% cash back on purchases

1% cash back when you buy plus another 1% cash back when you make payments, as long as you meet the minimum payment on your monthly statement

So what exactly does all of this mean to you? Here’s what to consider before you apply.

Earning rate (Winner: Chase Freedom Unlimited)

The Citi Double Cash has no bonus categories. It’s one of the most straightforward cash back cards on the market:

  • Earn 1% cash back when you make a purchase
  • Earn 1% cash back when you pay your bill

In other words, if you buy a $500 television, you’ll earn $5 when you swipe your card, and $5 when you pay off your $500 balance, effectively earning you 2% back.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited comes with a few handy bonus categories:

  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through the Chase Travel Portal
  • 3% cash back on dining, including takeout and delivery
  • 3% cash back at drugstores
  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases

For all non-bonus spending, the Citi Double Cash undeniably wins — it earns 33% more cash back. However, the Chase Freedom Unlimited makes enormous gains over the Citi Double Cash in very popular categories, such as dining and travel.

Welcome bonus (Winner: Chase Freedom Unlimited)

This category is not close. The Chase Freedom Unlimited blows the Citi Double Cash out of this galaxy.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited offers $200 cash back (20,000 Chase points) after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited also comes with 5% (5x Chase points) back at grocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 in spending for the first year you have the card. If you were to spend $12,000 in groceries the first year, you’d have a total of 60,000 Chase points. Add the initial welcome bonus of 20,000 Chase points, and that brings your grand total to a potential $800 (80,000 Chase points) the first year you have the card.

In comparison, the Citi Double Cash has NO welcome bonus. It earns 2% back on all purchases, though, so spending a similar $12,000 at grocery stores in the first year would net you $240. That’s $560 less than your potential earnings with the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Which card should you get?

Do you have an annual fee Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points earning card?

The Citi Double Cash earns cash back, which you can redeem for a check, statement credit, or gift cards.

If you’ve got one of the best Citi credit cards that earns Citi ThankYou points (such as the Citi Premier® Card), you can transfer your cashback to that card (1 cent = 1 Citi ThankYou point). And then, transfer those points to valuable Citi transfer partners like Flying Blue (the loyalty program of KLM and Air France) or Turkish Airlines (the best way to get to Hawaii).

Meanwhile, you can redeem the rewards you earn with the Chase Freedom Unlimited for 1 cent each for cash back, gift cards, or travel through the Chase Travel Portal. Like the Citi Double Cash, if you have a Chase Ultimate Rewards card with an annual fee, those rewards can be worth much more.

This is because you can move points from the Freedom Unlimited to the best Chase credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®. You’re then able to redeem your points with Chase transfer partners like Southwest, Hyatt, or United Airlines. Or, you can book travel through the Chase Travel Portal, which also increases your Chase points value over just redeeming for cashback.

You’ll have to decide which transfer partners are more meaningful to you. Check out our guide on Chase transfer partners and Citi transfer partners to make an informed decision.

Are you under the Chase “5/24” rule?

Chase has some strict application rules that make it challenging to open most of their cards if you have lots of new credit card accounts. If you’re just starting out, this isn’t an issue.

Chase won’t approve you for the Chase Freedom Unlimited if you’ve opened five or more credit cards (from any bank) in the past 24 months (not counting Chase business cards and most other business cards). This is referred to as the Chase “5/24” rule.

Best standalone card

If we had to choose one of these two credit cards to put in our wallet — with no other cards — it would be the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Overall, it has better benefits and provides you the opportunity to earn significantly more cash back each year than the Citi Double Cash could even dream of.

Plus, the Chase Freedom Unlimited comes with a $200 welcome bonus after meeting an easy spending requirement. We don’t make a habit of opening cards unless they have worthwhile intro offers. Welcome bonuses are the fastest way to achieve free travel, after all.

Read our Chase Freedom Unlimited review and our Citi Double Cash review for the full details of each card.

Bottom line

In a war between the Chase Freedom Unlimited vs Citi Double Cash, there’s a clear winner. They’re two top-rated no-annual-fee cash back cards, but in a fight to the death, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is the victor.

Plus, you can get significant value for the rewards you earn if you also have another eligible Chase Ultimate Rewards card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I also personally like Chase transfer partners better than Citi transfer partners.

Read our post on Chase Freedom Unlimited approval tips. And if you’re still unsure which card is best for your situation, please leave a comment below and I’ll help you figure it out. I have both.

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Meghan Hunter is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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