Not that we need another reason to enjoy fast-food, but rewards programs definitely sweeten the pot when it comes to spending our hard-earned dollars on burgers and fries.
Customers who participate in these programs typically earn points by placing orders with fast-food chains, and then redeem those points for freebies after building up enough of the virtual currency. It's a win, win situation since brands can drive more business to their restaurants with the promise of a free drink or sandwich, and fans are rewarded for spending money.
But as restaurant chains raise their prices to combat elevated costs for food, labor, and other commodities, rewards programs haven't gone unscathed either. In the past year, some of the biggest fast-food names in the U.S. have implemented changes in their programs that left a bad taste in customers' mouths instead of making them feel more valued.
Some of these rewards programs now require fans to spend even more money in order to claim free items, while one brand outraged customers by taking away one of the most popular rewards options. The fan backlash isn't likely to spell doom for these companies, but it may result in them losing some formerly loyal fans.
Here are five fast-food chains that have made their rewards programs worse.
At face value, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly bad about the changes to Taco Bell's rewards tiers that will roll out on April 17.
Both the "Hot" and "Fire" tiers are actually adding some additional items that customers can claim after building up 250 points, including the Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes and Cheesy Bean & Rice Burrito. But fans were outraged to see that a popular offering in the higher "Fire" pillar, the Nachos BellGrande, was being cut from the lineup.
"Nachos BellGrande is a huge loss RIP. It was nice while it lasted," one fan commented on Reddit.
Some even speculated that the main reason Taco Bell changed the rewards program was to get rid of the Nachos BellGrande, and the addition of the new lower-cost items was meant to be a distraction.
Chick-fil-A freebies became a little less attainable for rewards members when the chain boosted the points customers would need to build up to claim certain freebies. The chain was upfront that "point values for some rewards will increase" when it announced the change to the Chick-fil-A One program last month, though it didn't say which rewards would require more points.
Since some customers are already starting to look at Chick-fil-A as overpriced, they did not appreciate the thought of having to shell out even more money in order to earn free food and perks as well.
"So, they're already spending more on every purchase due to rising material costs, and you're going to give them less credit for spending more?" one wrote.
In a bitter end to the year for Starbucks fans, the chain announced in late 2022 that it was significantly increasing the number of stars required to cash in on rewards.
For example, the rewards tier that offered customers a free brewed hot coffee, bakery item, or tea increased from 50 stars to 100 stars. The next tier, which rewards customers with a free handcrafted drink, breakfast sandwich, or oatmeal, increased from 150 to 200 stars.
Needless to say, Starbucks customers were not happy about the change.
"I literally stopped going to Starbucks because they've continued to dilute the reward program while raising prices considerably," a Reddit user commented on a post about the rewards changes.
Starbucks wasn't the only coffee chain to outrage customers by tweaking its rewards system.
Dunkin' overhauled its entire rewards system, DD Perks, and replaced it with a brand-new program called Dunkin' Rewards in October last year. While the new program awarded customers with more points for every dollar spent, it significantly increased the number of points required for freebies, CNBC reported.
There were some positive points to the new program, including giving customers the option to get certain food items for free for the first time. But the changes in the point requirements were so unforgivable to some customers that they vowed to never return.
One went so far as to say that Dunkin' Rewards "spits in the face of your loyal customers" in a Reddit post about the program switch.
Chipotle seems to be losing favor with customers over raising its regular menu prices, but fans also had a bone to pick over a change to the fast-casual chain's rewards system in October 2022.
Per Business Insider, Chipotle raised the points requirement for a free entree from 1,400 to 1,625. This meant that customers can still eventually get free bowls and burritos, but they'll have to make more Chipotle trips in order to do so.
The brand attributed the change to inflation, but most customers weren't able to muster up any sympathy for this reasoning.
"I've mostly stopped eating at Chipotle because their quality and service are waaaay down, their prices are way up, and they've now devalued the rewards program. The value proposition has deteriorated and there are other options in the marketplace," one customer tweeted in October.