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Chipotle’s New Rewards Program Is Only for Diehard Burrito Bowl Devotees

Now available in three cities, it rolls out nationwide next year

Spread of Chipotle food offerings on a table Chipotle/Facebook

Chipotle’s latest attempt to lure back customers is a new rewards program. Launching today in three test cities — Kansas City, Phoenix, and Columbus, Ohio — the brand intends to roll it out nationwide in 2019. Chipotle Rewards members will earn 10 points for every dollar spent; 1,250 points equals a free entree.

The new loyalty program aligns with the chain’s recent emphasis on web and mobile ordering: Rather than an old-school paper punch card (remember Chiptopia from summer 2016?), customers must sign up via the brand’s app or website, and “for a limited time” they’ll earn 15 points per dollar for all orders placed online or via the app, rather than in person.

Earning 10 points for each dollar spent, customers would have to spend $125 (or around $83 if they’re taking advantage of the limited 15-points-per-dollar offer for digital orders) to amass the 1,250 points needed for a free burrito or bowl.

As a point of comparison, Starbucks’ rewards program awards two points for every dollar spent, with 125 points equaling a free food or drink item, meaning it costs $62.50 to earn a free item. Considering that the average Chipotle entree costs $7 to $8 and it’s pretty easy to order a fancy coffee or Frappuccino valued at that much thanks to various customizations (add whipped cream, alternative milks, extra espresso shots, etc.), Chipotle’s rewards program doesn’t seem to be present nearly as compelling a value as Starbucks.

Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A’s loyalty program gives users 10 points for each dollar spent (higher tiers can earn 11 or 12 points per dollar), with most entrees clocking in around 500 points, meaning it costs customers $50 to earn a free Chick-fil-A sandwich that’s typically priced around $3.50 depending on the region.

While its new loyalty program may appeal to diehard burrito bowl devotees, it seems unlikely that those who have been put off the chain by food safety concerns will be lured into visiting Chipotle several times over with the aim of eventually scoring a free entree. The company is still trying to climb out of the sales slump that began after a string of E. coli and norovirus outbreaks hit the chain in 2015, hiring former Taco Bell executive Brian Niccol as its new CEO in February. But the burrito chain continues to be plagued with food safety debacles: In August, more than 600 people got sick from an Ohio store, and shortly thereafter the company announced it would retrain its entire staff nationwide in an attempt to clamp down on such incidents.

It’s not the first time the chain has vowed to clean up its act — and yet, the foodborne illness outbreaks just seem to keep coming.

However, new Chipotle Rewards members in the three pilot cities will score a free order of chips and guac after their first purchase, an easier-to-snag reward that will probably see plenty of redemptions from more casual fans.

Chipotle Pilots New Customer Loyalty Program [Press Release]