Best fast-food rewards programs: Chick-fil-A One, Subway MyWay and more

With many of us wanting to spend less money in the new year, using our favorite restaurant’s app can help. These offerings give options for reward programs, surprise deals and freebies throughout the year.

In our busy lives, resorting to fast-food for a meal is something that happens. And we spend a lot of money doing it. In a year, one person spends around $1,200 on fast food, according to finance site Renolon. Spend a few minutes downloading apps for your most visited restaurants and save some money next time you hit the drive-thru.

Newsweek ranked the best loyalty programs in 2021 based on ease of use, benefits, customer support and satisfaction, trust and whether people would recommend it to others. None of the top five are nationwide restaurants, but the first ranked program with locations where I live (in the western United States) is Noodles & Co.

Noodles Rewards gives you a free small entrée after your first purchase and you start earning from there. It has three tiers, starting with Classic where each dollar you spend equals eight points. After earning 1,600 points, you move to Signature and receive 10 points for every dollar spent. Premier is the highest you’ll hit after earning 6,600 points, where each dollar gets you 12 points. Then you can redeem those points for free menu items. An extra add-on is 150 points, a free side of soup is 350 points and a free regular entrée is 1,500 points, for example. You may also get invited to participate in taste panels or try new menu items through sneak peek events. The program does have a quick turnaround time for using points, though, expiring seven months after you earn them.

The Chick-fil-A One program is the highest ranking nationwide restaurant on Newsweek’s list and a personal favorite. The more you spend in a year, the higher your membership status and the better the perks. Earn points with every purchase and the more points you have, the more free items are unlocked. You’ll start at Member status where each dollar spent equals 10 points. After earning 1,000 points, you gain Silver status and each dollar earns 11 points and you’ll be able to gift rewards to friends and family. Red status comes after earning 4,000 points and each dollar spent earns 12 points, and the highest tier is Signature which starts after 10,000 points and you’ll get 13 points for each dollar spent. Those freebies come quickly, too. Spending $30 gets you a free fountain drink or receive a free Spicy Chicken Sandwich after you’ve spent $50. Your local Chick-fil-A restaurants will send surprise rewards quite often, but know that membership status resets at the end of each year. One bonus is that if you forget to scan your app, you can still get credit by submitting information from your receipt online within 30 days of purchase.

Jimmy Johns Freaky Fast Rewards gives you a free 8” sandwich after you make your first order in the app. Frequent promotions pop up but know you must be logged in or give your phone number to get rewards. My favorite part of joining the program is that in a beautiful ‘one tap’ transaction, you are able to use Apple Pay or Google Pay along with the Freaky Fast Rewards Pass in your digital wallet to redeem.

Subway MyWay Rewards are simple. Each dollar spent earns you four tokens and once you earn 200 tokens, you’ll receive a $2 reward. Once that $2 is issued to you, you have 90 days to use it before it expires. But tokens themselves will never expire as long as you make one Subway purchase each year. Surprise rewards can happen anytime and the more you go to Subway, the more often you’ll be surprised with rewards.

My Sonic Rewards is a must download for one reason: half-off drinks all day long. It’s always happy hour when you order soft drinks, slushies, lemonades, limeades, iced teas and Ocean Water with the app. If that isn’t reason enough, you’ll also get monthly rewards exclusive to the app or online ordering. For instance, every Tuesday after 5 p.m., cheeseburgers are 1/2 off.

If you use a third party delivery partner for an order, it’s unlikely you’ll receive rewards from any of these programs. They want you ordering directly online from them or through their apps. All of them make up for it, though, by offering a special treat on your birthday.

Don’t let these free rebates and perks go unused. If you frequent any of these restaurants, download the app and join the loyalty program for a better, more affordable trip through the drive-thru.