While restaurants and fast food chains have been offering exclusive deals through their mobile apps for a long time, a relatively new practice is for chain restaurants to push paid subscription services. Taco Bell’s short-lived $10 taco subscription netted you a free taco per day for 30 days, which essentially paid for itself if you visited Taco Bell three to four times within that time period. (If you went every day, you’d have gotten over $70 worth of food for the initial $10 investment.) Panera’s Unlimited Sip Club costs $11 per month and offers unlimited free beverages of any size, every two hours. Now, Chinese-American chain P.F. Chang’s has announced a new paid tier to its loyalty program—but this subscription service might just be the opposite of a good deal.
If you sign up for what P.F. Chang’s is calling its Platinum Rewards program, you pay an upfront subscription fee of $6.99 per month. For every dollar you spend on food and drink, you earn 15 points. Once you accumulate 2,000 points, you’ll be given a credit of $15. So far, so good. But then once you crunch some numbers, you’ll find that this rewards service isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be.
For one thing, it’s worth noting that P.F. Chang’s already has a free membership program, Gold Rewards, which earns you 10 points per every dollar spent. The reward structure is the same: 2,000 points nets you a $15 credit. So while Platinum earns you 1.5 times as many rewards points, you’re also investing $6.99 upfront, or 47% of your eventual $15 reward, just to get there a little faster.
In order to earn 2,000 points at the Platinum Rewards tier, you’d have to spend about $133.33 at P.F. Chang’s in one month to earn that $15 credit. Subtracting the $6.99 subscription fee, that’s a net $8.01 in monetary value. That amount doesn’t go far at P.F. Chang’s—it’s one of the pricier chain restaurants of its kind. Some of the more modestly priced items on the menu are the lunch bowls, which cost between $12-$15.50 at our nearest location in the Chicago area. Most entrees hover around the $20 mark, give or take a few bucks depending on the item.
Getting $15 back for spending about $140 (the cost of 2,000 points’ worth of food plus the subscription fee) comes out to a 10.7% cash back value—that percentage just doesn’t seem enticing enough to spend $6.99 for the privilege. If you don’t hit the 2,000-point mark within one month, you’ll have to pay another $7 in the next month’s subscription fee, which means you will net virtually no benefit if you hit the 2,000-point mark the second time around. This is so needlessly convoluted my head is spinning.
This deal is also highly dependent on how many visits you plan to make to P.F. Chang’s in a month, or how high your bill total is projected to be. If you’re using this rewards system primarily to buy meals for yourself, that would be around nine lunch bowls’ worth of food to get one for free, if you manage to squeeze it all in before one month’s over. If you work in the same office park as a P.F. Chang’s and you hate bringing your lunch each day, maybe Platinum Rewards suit you.
Or, hey, maybe you like treating your large family to P.F. Chang’s approximately once a month; that would likely add up to $133 pretty quick. But if you have a large, busy family, you probably don’t have always have the open slot on the calendar to coordinate a big monthly meal at P.F. Chang’s—any parent can tell you that a month goes by fast. The Platinum Rewards seem to sit on a knife’s edge of decent discount potential, above an abyss of wasted money. Factoring in the complimentary birthday appetizer does little to change this calculus.
There are added benefits beyond rewards points, the relative value of which will vary by customer. You get free delivery through the P.F. Chang’s app or website, priority reservations, and access to a mysterious VIP concierge service that promises to be “exclusively available to help Platinum Rewards members with questions or comments.” (You know, like the host at any restaurant is. For free.) You also get to participate in insider surveys, which sounds like work to me, and you get the aforementioned free birthday month dessert or appetizer. Factor in all those perks as you will.
Oh, and if you sign up for the rewards program by October 31 this year, you’ll be entered in a sweepstakes to win a trip to... a P.F. Chang’s location in New York, Las Vegas, or Honolulu! There’s almost no chance you’ll win, but if you do, that boosts the value of your Platinum Rewards subscription quite a bit. Too bad you will only find out you’ve lost after you’ve already paid the fee.
Sorry, P.F. Chang’s, but this subscription service frankly sucks. Even the press release announcing it sort of says the quiet part loud: that it’s a program intended to separate the haves and the have-nots.
“The new subscription-based program is a continuation of our goal to create differentiated experiences for P.F. Chang’s customers,” said CEO Damola Adamolekun in the press release, “and we believe P.F. Chang’s Platinum Rewards does that at the highest level.”
For your value’s worth, you’re better off going to an independently owned Chinese carryout place. Hell, if you have that extra $7 to burn, just get yourself an extra order of crab rangoons or something. Might as well treat yourself for skipping out on a confusing, crappy deal.