What's The Deal With Panera's Rewards Program? Customers Are Weighing In

Panera Bread was my first job ever. Specifically, a Panera Bread at a travel plaza, where I worked the closing shift behind the register three days a week after school. The word "glamorous" comes to mind, as do noxious ideations surrounding the sempiternal grind of the capitalist machine and the age-old Sisyphian question, "What is free will?" But, beyond that, during my tenure slinging Cinnamon Crunch Bagels and Med Veg sammies (hold the peppadew peppers), one insatiable beast with which I found myself face-to-face daily was the Panera Rewards Card.

As a general rule, Panera rewards vary based on how often you visit and how much you spend per visit. But, if you've noticed a decline in how "good" those rewards are over the past few years, you aren't alone. One thread on the subreddit r/Panera, damningly titled "Panera Rewards are Bottom of the Barrel," posted a screenshot of the rewards redemption page on the Panera mobile app, and the offered "prizes" included $1 off a beverage, breakfast sandwich, or bowl of mac and cheese. Thanks for the crumb! We appreciate your business, valued loyal customer. 

One commenter lamented, "When I was teenager, you'd get a free half soup/half sandwich sooo regularly wtfff." Another thread on r/Panera similarly vents, "I just noticed instead of getting a free soup from the occasional app rewards I get a free bagel. And instead of 2 dollars off for a soup I get 1 dollar off a soup now."

Unless you can somehow work the system, keep your expectations low

Panera rewards vary and seem to be random. Sometimes you'll get a free cookie and other times it'll be a free soup, and which food is "better" is a pretty subjective value judgment. Unicorn prizes like a free bagel every day for an entire month still do happen. Even so, many customers are disappointed when they see a reward like "free oatmeal" crop up. (Woof.) All the rewards also have expiration dates, BTW.

One Redditor writes, "I spend a lot of money there. A $1 or $2 'coupon' after about 8 visits, makes me think about discontinuing my Sip Club. I love the food but the 'rewards' have become a slap in the face." Other commenters speculate that the less often you go to Panera, the more generous the algorithm becomes, offering better reward items to entice you back. As one apparent employee notes, "The BEST rewards are reserved for those who never redeem them. Have a few regulars who just do breakfast who always have mad UP2 discounts." In another of a long chain of systemic disappointments for weary consumers in 2024, Panera Rewards aren't what they used to be. Your dollar doesn't stretch as far to get you the groceries you need, and your Panera points don't stretch as far, either.

The Sip Club might be the only promo that's still worth it

This trend might be symptomatic of an overall decline in quality for the chain. Recently, Panera instituted a company-wide change in its baker position. Now, instead of the bakers working overnight shifts and putting out fresh pastries first thing in the morning, the baked goods for the next day are prepared during a 2-10 pm shift the previous day (yikes). In a 2021 announcement, Panera called it "bakery theater," reasoning that customers can enjoy the wafting aromas as they sit in the dining room. But, in addition to lowering the quality of the baked goods for the sake of performative freshness, the transition also makes the shift a lot tougher and more dangerous for employees, who now have to navigate hot trays in a congested shared space with daytime employees during the dinner rush. Many employees have already taken to social media, asking "Will the overnight baker position ever come back?"

Still, for all its weak spots, Panera nailed it with the Sip Club. At $11.99 per month, it pays for itself in two or three visits, and it's an especially great promotion for folks on the go who travel a lot and swing by various Panera locations for fill-ups — a routine I witnessed constantly during my time working at the travel plaza. As for Panera's regular rewards program, unless you happen to get lucky with a random good prize, it'll leave you thirsty.