Wendy’s mobile app

Wendy's mobile app (Photo by rafapress on Shutterstock)

Fast food is already cheap and convenient, but if you’re a fan of saving even more money, it can’t hurt to join loyalty programs for the places you frequent often. Your favorite fast food haunt most likely has a rewards program that works in tandem with an app to help you stack savings and score free food. The best fast food rewards apps are worth the download to grab a quick bite on a budget.

Most people tend to eat fast food as a way to save time and money. If you’re in a rush, it can be convenient to have hot food that’s ready in minutes. However, a study finds that even “fast food” might not be fast enough for some. Nearly half of Americans would avoid going to a store that didn’t have a drive-thru option (47%). The survey of 2,000 U.S. adults found that twice as many people prefer the drive-thru to actually entering a store on foot (28% vs. 14%). A third of those who prefer drive-thrus claim they will “always” choose that option when it’s available (32%). Many fast food apps also have an option that allows customers to order ahead for pickup, saving even more time.

So, what’s in it for customers to download rewards apps? A recent study shows that reward and frequent flyer programs are designed to build loyalty, as they provide a form of rebate to regulars. They also are seen by consumers as a good way to save money, particularly when inflation is high. They are also meant to lock customers into a particular company or airline. In the case of Starbucks, the rewards program reduces the likelihood that its customers will buy coffee from competitors like Dunkin, Costa Coffee, Tim Hortons or Peet’s Coffee.

Looking to get your fast food fix? Check out our list of the best fast food rewards apps to see if the places you frequent have a program you can join! Don’t see your favorite on the list? Let us know which fast food restaurant is your favorite in the comments below.

The List: Best Fast Food Rewards Apps, According to Experts

1. McDonald’s

It’s not surprising that McDonald’s would be at the top of the list, as the largest fast food chain in the U.S. But the chain’s rewards program is actually one of the most generous ones that exist. “If you download the McDonald’s app, you will get a free large order of fries before you even spend a single cent,” says Lifehacker. “Thereafter, the McDonalds app works on a points system, where you get 100 points for every dollar you spend. Through the app, you will also be eligible for promotions like $0.99 for any size coffee and Free Fries Friday (with the purchase of any $1 minimum mobile order).”

McDonald's drive-thru worker holding bag of food
McDonald’s drive-thru window (© gargantiopa – stock.adobe.com)

Besides initial free offers, you can easily earn points on every purchase for more free food and order ahead for pickup or delivery right within the app. “The McDonald’s app is one of the best reward apps in the fast food industry,” writes The Tech Advocate. “It offers exclusive deals, discounts, and freebies to its users. You can get a free sandwich, fries, and soft drink with a purchase of $1, and other discounts on menu items. Additionally, the app allows you to order and pay for your food in advance, so you can skip the long lines.”

“There’s nothing quite like free food and deals on your favorites,” says Lifewire. “The McDonald’s app offers all of that and more through its mobile app. You can use your phone to pay and pick up your order once it’s complete, while also having access to exclusive deals for app users, advance notice of sweepstakes, and more! The McDonald’s app is free to download for iOS and Android devices.”

2. Panera Bread

Panera Bread isn’t your typical fast food restaurant, carrying a variety of pastries, soups, sandwiches, and other cafe food. “Panera Bread, fine purveyor of carbohydrates and cream cheese, has an instant freebie waiting inside their dining app,” advises MoneyUnder30. “Download the Panera Bread app and sign up for MyPanera rewards, and you’ll get a free ‘treat’ or bagel with your next purchase.”

Someone drinking a drink from Panera Bread
Someone drinking a coffee from Panera Bread (Photo by Pedro Forester Da Silva on Unsplash)

The app boasts freebies just for signing up, as well as daily deals and coupons. Redeem points you collect for free items. “It’s easy to rack up points in the Panera My Rewards program, but they also surprise with tons of freebies all the time!” raves Fun Cheap or Free. “Plus, you get a free pastry when you download the app. Oh, and they send you birthday freebies!”

“The app makes ordering easier than ever too,” says The Smart Wallet. “If you have an account, you can save your favorite meals and order ahead with just a few clicks. You can also see a map of every Panera location near you to simplify the process.”

3. Dunkin’ Donuts

If you like grabbing your coffee or breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts, you’re in luck. Grab a free beverage just for signing up, then easily collect rewards through purchases and a freebie on your birthday. “You can receive a free beverage upon signing up for Dunkin’ Donuts’ reward program,” writes Wallet Hacks. “The only catch is that you need to sign up with a gift card or load one for at least $2. On your birthday, you get a DD perk. You also get one for every 200 points.”

Chocolate frosted donut with rainbow sprinkles from Dunkin
Chocolate frosted donut with rainbow sprinkles from Dunkin’ (Photo by Lu Amaral on Unsplash)

It isn’t hard to earn rewards either – you can get your first free item by spending as little as $15. “Download the Dunkin’ app and you’ll earn 10 points for every $1 spent,” explains US News. “Rack up enough of those points, and you’ll be rewarded with a free doughnut or drink; after spending $15, you’ll be able to get your first free food item. When your birthday rolls around, you’ll also receive a special offer via the app.”

“Just like previously mentioned apps, every dollar spent on the Dunkin’ app rewards you with 10 points,” writes People. “Spending as little as $15 already gets you three Munchkin doughnuts or six hash brown bites and the freebies just get bigger as your points grow.”

4. Wendy’s

The Wendy’s app isn’t quite as generous with free items as McDonald’s, but the rewards still add up and pay off if you eat here regularly. “For every $1 you spend, you’ll get 10 points, and as you accrue points, you can redeem them for free food,” writes US News. “If you spend $15, you can get a small Frosty. Not surprisingly, the bigger the food, the more points you’ll need to collect. A Dave’s Single is 450 points. Want a free Baconator? You’ll have to accrue 700 points.

Wendy's
Wendy’s sign (Photo by Siyuan Lin on Unsplash)

Wendy’s also has renewable deals that rotate weekly or monthly. “There’s no free item upon signing up, but don’t let that discourage you,” says Lifehacker. “Wendy’s offers 10 points for every dollar spent, which can be redeemed for the items below. Additionally, Wendy’s has a rewards receipt submission form in case you made a purchase and forgot to scan your loyalty card. You will also get the occasional offer for a free item.”

“Download the Wendy’s Restaurant app and you’ll be treated to a rotating list of BOGOs, discounts, and the occasional freebie,” writes Money Under 30. “Some recent highlights have been $1 Dave’s Singles all month long and free Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers all week in celebration of Burger Day (May 28th). To emphasize that last point, most of Wendy’s best deals are renewable.”

5. Starbucks

Every serious Starbucks customer has the Starbucks app. It’s a no-brainer way to treat yourself to a few free drinks or food items if you visit Starbucks regularly. “A great reason to become a Starbucks rewards member is that you get free refills of drip coffee and tea in the store,” writes Hip2Save. “You’ll also get a FREE coffee or treat every single year on your birthday. Plus, reward members collect points called “Stars” with every single purchase. You’ll get 2 stars for every $1 spent, and sometimes Starbucks offers double point days! If you’re paying in-store by cash or credit card, you can still earn 1 star per $1 spent by scanning your app at checkout.”

Starbucks coffee drinks lined up in a row.
Starbucks drinks (© dontree – stock.adobe.com)

The app also makes it easy to order ahead at the branch of your choice, then simply walk in and grab your order. “Depending on how many stars you earn, you can get a free bakery item (50 stars), handcrafted drink (150 stars), lunch sandwich (200 stars), and more,” says Make Use Of. “For every dollar you spend, you earn one star. If you pay with a preloaded Starbucks card, you can earn two stars per $1. Then, there are random Bonus Star events where you can earn more.”

“The Starbucks Rewards app is sweeter than a vanilla latte. It’s also one of the most popular restaurant rewards programs of all time,” writes Millenial Money. “Download the Starbucks app and open an account to start collecting points, or Stars. You’ll receive one to three Stars for every dollar you spend at any Starbucks location. To maximize your Star earnings, pay with a Starbucks Card preloaded with your Starbucks Rewards Visa.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Elsa Lee

Elsa is a freelance journalist, copywriter, and marketer based out of the Los Angeles area. She has been writing for 7 years.

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