15 Fast Food Loyalty Apps, Ranked Worst To Best

Fast food apps on phones
Fast food apps on phones - Static Media/Shutterstock

Everything has an app these days, and your favorite food outlet is likely no exception. The most-downloaded food apps in the U.S. probably won't surprise you, but the applications themselves vary greatly in quality. Some allow you to seamlessly order food, offer you exclusive deals, and give a little back when you use them regularly. Others provide very little in the way of incentives or have a less-than-friendly user interface. Some are even completely broken and will feed you pure frustration instead of a fast food treat.

Here at Tasting Table, we've decided to suffer through that frustration so you don't have to. We've also sampled apps that are an absolute pleasure to use. Here's what we've found after looking at some of the most popular ones. All of the apps we tested are available on Android's Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, so anyone with a smartphone can download them for free. They're ranked from worst to best, with the worst being something you should either avoid altogether or only bother with if you're a regular at the associated fast-food chain. Conversely, the better apps totally justify using a particular chain more often. The apps were judged on things like functionality, reliability, and how much value a customer gets from using them. Here's what we found.

Read more: 19 Popular Pizza Chains, Ranked From Worst To Best

Jimmy Johns

Jimmy John's app interface
Jimmy John's app interface - Jimmy John's

Jimmy Johns sandwiches taste fantastic, but its loyalty app is one of the worst on the market. The issue lies in how points are allocated. Instead of adopting a spend-based system Jimmy Johns instead allocates points based on the number of transactions you make. So if you're collecting the office order and slapping the points on your card as a form of compensation, prepare to be disappointed. To make matters worse, the reward you're redeeming is random. So you could potentially spend hundreds of dollars only to get something disappointing like a cookie or a free drink in return.

On the plus side, the app will sometimes randomly offer minor rewards like a bag of chips or a not-too-generous $1 off. You can claim a free small sandwich on your birthday, which is nice but not unique to Jimmy Johns. If you're a JJs regular, it's better than nothing -- but only just. The company has previously tried to improve the perception of its loyalty program through greater personalization -- but the rewards themselves need to improve more than anything.


Subway app interface
Subway app interface - Subway

While it's better in terms of redemptions than Jimmy Johns, the Subway app is truly awful. The offers it displays are usually pretty bad, and Subway's franchisees have a habit of not opting in to those offers anyway. So if you want to get one of the app's main benefits, you may have to travel to a store that's pretty far away. Acceptance of app-related discounts has been a major point of contention between Subway franchisees and corporate in recent times.

Then there's the points you get, you get around $2 worth of points with every $40 spent, which is around 5% back. While there are worse redemption rates on offer, this isn't particularly generous. A straight "buy 10 sandwiches, get one free" style deal like the sandwich chain originally had would offer double the value of Subway's current points system.

Finally, there's a massive reliability issue. The app will log you out and then not let you log back in. If you do get in, then it is slow, crashes often, and is generally unreliable. The user interface is also absolutely awful. In short, the paltry return isn't worth the frustration it causes.

Jersey Mike's

Jersey Mike's App
Jersey Mike's App - Jersey Mike's

Continuing with the theme of "sandwich stores have awful loyalty programs," it's time to pay Jersey Mike's a visit. Points seem to be somewhat tied to overall spending, though the number of transactions may play a part. You'll need to spend a lot to see any benefit. There are three rewards available, a small sandwich for 48 points, a regular sandwich for 72 points, and a "giant" sandwich for 144. The regular sandwich is the best value, though you'll not get them too often.

We spent around $82 at Jimmy Johns, including tax, and managed to net enough points for one "regular" sandwich with around six points left over. There's also an "offers" section, but we haven't received a single offer in several months. On the plus side, we had no reliability issues with the app, which puts it well ahead of Subway's offering. But its limited redemption options, lack of offers, and heavy spending requirements cement its place near the bottom of our order.


McDonalds App screenshots
McDonalds App screenshots - McDonald's

Apps should be optional and offer nice perks to the users who bother to download them. Unfortunately, the McDonald's app is pretty much compulsory unless you want to massively overspend on the fast food staple. Each deal on the app is daily, there's a good variation, and most of them represent a good discount on the menu price. However, in reality, all they do is allow you to purchase a McDonald's meal at the price a McDonald's meal should be sold for. A Big Mac, fries, and a drink will set you back $6, not the ridiculous $12 or so you'll be paying without the app.

The biggest issue with the McDonald's app, and it being de facto a compulsory download for McDonald's regulars, is its reliability. It's broken as often as the company's infamous ice cream machines. On the rare occasions it does work, the interface is absolutely awful. A company the size of McDonald's should be embarrassed by the state of its app. You should avoid it. And you should avoid McDonald's until it either fixes it or adjusts its in-store pricing to match its in-app offerings.


Domino's app features
Domino's app features - Domino's

If you're really into Domino's pizza, then the Domino's app is a great place to go for deals. Regular offers include combos, discounts, and bundle-style deals that could see you getting several pizzas for a reduced price. Unfortunately, even after the discounts are on offer you don't seem to be getting a ton of food for your money in most cases. Deals vary greatly from store to store, and pickup deals also seem to be better than delivery-based offers. You should also be aware that online ordering isn't always available in every location. If your local store isn't taking online orders, the app is completely useless.

Rewards are order-based and spending more than $5 gets you 10 points. You can redeem 60 points for a two-topping medium pizza, but those 60 points could have cost you anything from $30 to several hundred depending on your average spend. The two-topping pizza is as good as it gets when it comes to reward redemption, 60 points can also get you a sandwich, dessert, or pasta though that's a bit of a waste in comparison. Twenty points gets you a free dip or soft drink and 40 points will land you some bread twists. Occasionally, you'll get a special redemption offer that lets you grab a rewards item at a reduced point cost. On the whole, we'd say the loyalty system needs a rework, and the app needs a contingency so you can get its benefits even when a local store is "offline."

Papa John's

Papa John app screenshots
Papa John app screenshots - Papa John's

The Papa John's App is basically an extension of their website's ordering function. You can use it to put together a pizza for pickup or delivery. This includes selecting from the existing menu items on offer or customizing your own pie. There's also a pizza tracker you can keep an eye on, so you know when your meal has been assembled, made it through the oven, and when the delivery driver has set off with it. It's also a good place to start if you're looking for offers and coupons. Though those offers aren't all app-exclusive and if you want to stick to ordering online, or even in-store, you won't be missing out on a lot.

Criticisms of the app include the number of things it attempts to upsell, the way it aggressively forces tipping, and orders not matching what was entered into the app. The rewards scheme is somewhat underwhelming too. Every $75 you spend gets you a coupon for $10 off -- but the regular offers that the chain usually has available may match or even beat that discount.

Red Lobster

Red lobster rewards app
Red lobster rewards app - Red Lobster

The Red Lobster app is definitely worth a download, and the only reason it isn't higher up on the list is due to a bit of a technicality. Red Lobster isn't really a fast food chain — it's somewhere you'll probably eat very occasionally. So while the offers are pretty good, you may still be better off going to the likes of Burger King.

Red Lobster's reward system is tiered, and a few visits will see you go from "Red" to "Gold." A "Platinum" tier has also been added. Each tier includes things like increased point redemption, free gameplay on the restaurant's devices, and exclusive previews of new menu items. Points are awarded based on spend, and rewards are dished out once certain thresholds are met. Those rewards include things like free starters and desserts. The app is also a great way to keep on top of Red Lobster's seasonal promotions and specials. Even if you aren't a regular, Red Lobster bombards their members with non-point-based offers of free food often. So the loyalty scheme is definitely worth signing up for, even if you only visit once or twice per year.


Chipotle app interface
Chipotle app interface - Chipotle

Chipotle's app is a decent way to order from the chain's menu. You can have your meal delivered, or opt for pickup -- and in many locations, it will be waiting for you on a shelf at a set time. However, some users have repeatedly flagged issues with the app's reliability. In some cases, points can't be redeemed, while in others, mistakes are made on the order. Some users even report that the app rarely works at all.

Chipotle isn't particularly generous in terms of rewards either. Offers are few and far between, so you'll be paying full price for your food. And you'll need to spend a small fortune before you hit a low-tier reward like a free guac or some chips. The app's unreliability and lack of value have both condemned it to the lower part of our list. Given the extent of Chipotle's menu and the wiggle room the company's margins give, you would expect something more generous.

Taco Bell

Taco bell app
Taco bell app - Taco Bell

Taco Bell's app is functional and has a somewhat decent rewards system. Certain items, including some cravings boxes, are in-app (or online) only purchases. Points do two things, they up your overall tier which unlocks better overall rewards, and they unlock said rewards. The tiers are named after the chain's sauces, so you'll go from "Hot" to "Fire" if you collect 2,000 points overall, and so on. Then there's a different meter that unlocks a random reward every 250 points or so. These rewards appear in the "My Rewards" section. Challenges also crop up occasionally, which boosts the points you receive from a particular purchase. You may also see new menu items randomly appear in the rewards section.

In terms of downsides, the rewards do expire, which is annoying, and you may roll something that you don't want or enjoy. The Taco Bell app is one of the few that occasionally offers games and challenges that allow customers to win free food. With that being said, its infamous coin drop challenge is near impossible, and you're probably better off just paying a couple of dollars for a taco.


The Starbucks App
The Starbucks App - Starbucks

Starbucks is one of the most downloaded fast food loyalty apps, though this likely says more about the popularity of the chain itself than it does the app. In terms of positives, Starbucks' effort is easy to navigate and allows you to easily order your favorite snack or beverage for pickup at the counter or drive-thru.

In terms of rewards, the system is pretty standard. You collect points on every purchase which can be redeemed for free drinks or food. Unfortunately, the rewards scheme isn't exactly generous. You have to spend an awful lot to redeem anything notable. Lower-tier rewards involve things like syrup or espresso shots in your drink, with the next step up requiring four times the points and still only landing you an iced coffee. To make matters worse, some items won't earn you any Starbucks stars at all.

You may notice the free drinks and muffins piling up if you're a Starbucks regular, but if you only pop in occasionally, you may as well not bother with the app. The app has an offers section, but we've never seen an offer in it.


The Dunkin app
The Dunkin app - Dunkin'

Dunkin is one of the world's most popular coffee chains. Despite its success, the company hasn't skimped out on the rewards side of things and shows appreciation to its customers via the Dunkin' app. It is worth noting that the coffee chain has recently changed how reward allocation works. Purchases still get points as always, but instead of being allocated a set reward once certain point thresholds are met -- customers can now redeem specific rewards for a set number of points.

While this system is similar to most other loyalty apps on the market and does allow customers to get something they really want, it has proved controversial. Some customers have complained that the new rewards system is less generous than its predecessor, and the system now requires a heavy spend before customers can claim something back. Despite the divisive new system, Dunkin is still worthy of a spot in the top five.

Burger King

Burger King app screenshots
Burger King app screenshots - Burger King

Burger King may be the most broad-ranging fast food app available. The offer selection is good, often giving a reasonable discount over menu pricing, or bundling popular items together. Reliability is decent, and it rarely breaks. Its points system is also quite generous, and they've called those points "crowns" in an attempt to stay on theme.

But the BK app goes beyond food. They'll regularly give you "challenges" which are rewarded with bonus "crowns" or other offers. Occasionally, you'll be able to use those crowns to enter a sweepstake or something and win cold, hard, cash instead of just spending them on more food. Which is nice.

In terms of downsides, the crowns do expire after a year and the interface can sometimes make adjusting things like burger toppings or soft drink choices a chore. Despite the flaws, it's one of the better fast food apps and definitely worth a download, even if you only visit The King on occasion.

Panera Bread

Panera bread app promotional material
Panera bread app promotional material - Panera Bread

Functionality is the name of the game when it comes to soup and sandwich chain Panera Bread's app. You can seamlessly order your favorites for pick up or delivery, saving you time and streamlining your lunch run. Both Apple and Google Pay can also be used to fund the transaction, though you can also add a credit card to the app if neither of those is your thing.

The rewards system Panera offers is pretty good. Points stack up fairly quickly and it doesn't take long before you have enough to get something decent. At the time of writing, the company gives you a free pastry reward on signup to get you started. There are also games and challenges that crop up on occasion and give customers the chance to win points, menu items, or various other prizes. It's a must for Panera fans and even has its benefits for those who only visit the chain on occasion. Panera's app isn't just paying off for its customers — the chain actually relies heavily on its app orders. So expect to see it further improving as time goes on.


Wendy's app screenshots
Wendy's app screenshots - Wendy's

Wendy's App makes it to second place on our list for one reason alone. The tremendous value it offers. If you pick the right combination of offers and reward redemptions, it's sometimes possible to net borderline obscene amounts of food for under $10. Points are easy to come by, and lower-end redemption options are great. You can grab something like a small Frosty for just 250 points, which basically translates to a free frozen treat on every second or so trip to Wendy's. Offers are routinely updated, and you'll likely receive a push notification if you've enabled those and there is a good one on the table. Said offers can range from cash discounts to two-for-one deals, to free menu items like fries or chicken sandwiches.

Online ordering is also fairly seamless. You can browse the menu, which changes depending on the time of day, connect a card, and place an order in minutes. That order can then be collected at the counter, drive-thru, or curbside at some locations.


Chick-fil-A app screenshots
Chick-fil-A app screenshots - Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A offers more than just great chicken sandwiches and nuggets. Its loyalty app ticks all of the boxes when it comes to a fast food rewards system. You get a good number of points with each purchase, those points are based on total spend, and the rewards get better the more you use the app. Though it may require a bit of spending to unlock a full meal, the tiered redemption options are fair when it comes to point cost.

Where the Chick-fil-A app really stands out is with its airline-like status system. In addition to the standard membership that comes with the app, there are three additional tiers: silver, red, and signature. The higher tiers offer better rewards, point bonuses, and unique perks like the ability to request a tour of Chick-fil-A's Atlanta headquarters.

Beyond rewards, the app has other features such as a streamlined payment system, exclusive offers, and multiple ways of ordering. This includes the ability to skip the line, take a seat, and order straight to your table. The features, functionality, and redemption options mean Chick-fil-A is our top pick.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.