I got a free lunch from Subway today.
Well, sort of -- if you can call $2.15 "free."
A lower Manhattan location of the popular sandwich franchise is one of my favorite weekday lunch spots, and as a result, I started taking advantage of the Sub Club stamps they hand out. Eight six-inch subs will earn you a free sandwich of the same size. So I collect them and then I hand over the finished card. Now I usually buy the meal deal, which comes to $5.50, but you don't get a whole free "meal" with the Sub Club. Just a sub. So if you want a drink and chips or cookies on your ninth visit -- as I did -- it isn't an entirely free lunch.
It got me thinking: How much of a deal is this? If I add up what I would've spent otherwise and divide the free portion by the total, it comes out to be about a 6.7% discount in the long run, except I had to spend nearly $50 on sandwiches before I got there. But even this rather puny discount is slated to disappear, as I remember reading that Subway franchises nationwide are being told to phase out their Sub Club participation by year's end -- in part to stem supposed Sub Club fraud by those who sell their completed cards (authentic or otherwise) on eBay. But I'm not sure if or when that's going to happen at my local shop.
Speaking of loyalty programs, as they're called in the industry, another recent addition to the frequent-shopper gimmicks is Duane Reade's bar-coded club card. Supposedly, I'm going to get a $5 gift certificate after I've attained 100 points, which is basically $100 of spending (excluding certain big-ticket items). So what's the long-run discount there? About 4.7%. It might actually be a little bit better, since I have a feeling -- from looking at my receipts -- that sometimes they round up to a point, although I'm not sure.
Even so, it appears that Subway is the better deal.