$140 to Earn a Free Chipotle Burrito: Are Restaurant Loyalty Programs Worth It?

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  • Restaurant loyalty programs reward frequent customers for their purchases.
  • Sometimes you have to spend a lot to earn a freebie from your favorite eatery.
  • Get more value out of a loyalty program by researching the rules and looking for extra promotions.

Would you spend $140 to earn a free burrito?

Many restaurants and fast-casual eateries promote loyalty programs to encourage customers to visit more frequently. To get more people to join, brands usually offer ways for loyalty program members to earn freebies and score member-exclusive deals. You may be wondering if these programs are worthwhile.

Where do I spend most of my money on takeout? I'm a big Chipotle fan. If my local Chipotle were closer to my home, I'd probably order from there multiple times a week. Even though it's not right down the road, I still end up there frequently.

A couple of years ago, I joined the Chipotle Rewards program with the promise of free burritos and free guac. The program rewards members who scan their loyalty cards in-store or order through the app. You earn 10 points for every $1 that you spend at Chipotle.

Typically, I don't pay too much attention to the total points in my Chipotle Rewards account. Recently, though, I was scrolling through the app and realized how long it took for me to accumulate enough points to earn a free burrito.

It turned out I needed a lot of points -- which meant more paid visits.

Should you spend $140 to earn a free burrito?

Chipotle allows loyalty members to redeem their rewards for various freebies -- like free chips, free guac, a free drink, or a free entree -- all with a set amount of redemption points for each freebie.

How much will a free burrito or burrito bowl cost you? 1400 points. That means you'll need to spend $140 to earn enough points.

So is it worth it? To me, it is because a free meal means free food. I would have spent the $140 regardless, so I might as well occasionally earn a free burrito for being a regular customer.

Do this before joining a restaurant loyalty program

Are you trying to decide if your favorite restaurant loyalty program is worth it? Before joining, I'd recommend doing the following:

  • Consider how often you dine there. If you're not a regular customer, accumulating enough points to earn a freebie might take a long time.
  • Check to see how rewards are earned. Ensure you understand how the loyalty program works and how rewards are earned so you have realistic expectations.
  • Research the program rules. Each brand's program has different rules. Some loyalty programs state that their points can expire after a certain period. If you don't know the rules, you could miss out on points if you accidentally let them expire.

How to get more out of restaurant loyalty programs

If you're strategic, you can get more out of your favorite restaurant loyalty program. The following pointers may help you get more value out of your favorite program.

  • Don't ignore special promotions. Some loyalty programs offer special promotions to members. For example, Chipotle will occasionally gift free guac or queso to its rewards members when they place an order in the app on a set date. With bonus promotions, you can save your earned points for future redemption and still score a freebie.
  • Don't forget to use the program. Make sure you scan your loyalty card number at checkout or use the eatery's app so you don't miss out on the chance to earn points.
  • Redeem your rewards as soon as you can. When you're able to redeem your earned rewards, do so! Some programs change the terms, and rewards may lose value over time. For example, when I first joined Chipotle Rewards, it only cost 1,250 points ($125) to earn a free entree. If I had let my points sit around, they would have lost value.

I won't give up on restaurant loyalty programs anytime soon

So far this year, I've spent over $240 and earned two free burritos at Chipotle.

If my spending habits continue, I'll probably spend $420 and earn myself three free entrees during 2022. I usually get the veggie burrito, which includes guac (for free), so I'll score about $25 worth of free food by being a rewards member.

Sure, it's not a lot. But it's still worth it to me because it's my favorite fast-casual eatery and by being a rewards member, I'll have an extra $25 sitting in my checking account.

Another way I earn rewards is by using a rewards credit card to pay for my orders. Using a card that earns dining rewards is a good idea if you order from restaurants or eateries. You can earn cash back or other rewards by spending money on what you enjoy.

Check out these personal finance resources if you're looking for ways to stretch your money further.

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