The Burger Churn: How a Fast Food Fanatic Scored >$200 in A&W Free Teen Burgers

In the era of fast food powered by mobile orders, door delivery service, food boxes, and the like, there are monotonically increasing levels of competition between these so-called restaurants. 

Second Cup vs. Starbucks vs. Tim Hortons, UberEats vs. Skip the Dishes, HelloFresh vs. GoodFood. The list goes on.  

With this increasing competition paired with implementations of new technology, come sweet sweet opportunities for gaming the system and scoring free shit (in this case, by ‘shit’ I really mean edible food).

One such opportunity happened very recently when A&W decided it was time to finally get into the mobile order game. Took them long enough… 

You would think being last to the party after so many other fast food joints, they would be able to get it right the first time. Unfortunately, an ambitious feature backfired on them initially, as can be seen by the app reviews on Google Play:

A&W app reviews on google play

Several problems I noticed myself including:

  • No full address listed for several restaurant locations
  • Doesn’t accept debit cards, must add credit card to place order (not a problem for most who read this blog, but for some a dealbreaker)
  • The app (tries to) coordinate the placing of the order with your arrival via GPS tracking. Unfortunately, what this looks like is: you get to the store, a record of your order is nowhere to be found, and you fiddle around in the app until it finally recognizes you’ve arrived. Meanwhile several people walk in front of you and order from the A&W employee who is conveniently standing around doing nothing.  

Anyhow, app issues aside, A&W had a generous marketing strategy to entice customers to download and use the app: a free teen burger

A&W app free teen burger promo
You may have received such a coupon in the mail, which included the codes FreeTeen56, OilersFreeTeen129, and others (for the city of Edmonton, other cities may be different). 
i can has teen burgerz cat

And this cute kitty from a very dated meme portrays my response when receiving the coupon in my mailbox.

In particular, one thing I noticed was the fact that this coupon was not personalized. Fair enough, A&W wants you to tell your friends so they download the app too. But, it also means they will have a much harder time tracking whether you as an individual have used the coupon already.

You do sometimes see non-personalized coupons like this, but typically in the context of a discount or some deal where the retailer still makes some money or gets your business otherwise.

Anyhow, you can see where this is going…

I quickly tried making a new account to redeem the code a second time. Enter a fake name, enter a fake email address, and a new credit card. No dice, the app can tell I already redeemed the code. 

With a little digging, I quickly learned exactly how A&W was detecting that you had already redeemed the coupon. Of course, it is not surprising that the redemption status would be registered to your account information: email, password, and maybe billing info. But on top of this, the app was installing a small piece of code to your phone that it could then be retrieved by the app (even if un- and re-installed) to determine you’d used the code. This is not unlike how a cookie works with web browsers.

Enter Android emulators. Android emulators are applications that do exactly what they sound like. They emulate or create a virtual instance of an android phone, on your computer. 

best android emulators for pc

I have experience with an Android emulator called Bluestacks

Once you install this on your desktop, you can run it and create what are called ‘Android instances’.  You can even create multiple instances, and delete them at will. 

bluestacks multi-instance manager interface

So from here, the process is straightforward and repeatable:

  1. Launch Bluestacks and create a new Android instance
  2. Download the A&W mobile app and create a new account with email and password. A&W doesn’t even make this difficult, as you don’t have to verify your email to place an order – so you can use a non-existence email each time. 
  3. Add a Teen burger to your order and enter your Promo code.
  4. Enter pickup location and payment details.  I used the same card for multiple orders, but it is generally a good practice to use a different one as much as possible. You could even try using prepaid cards with tiny balances, or cards like Stack or Revolut.
  5. Place your order. 
  6. Login to your newly created account on your phone, and head off to pick up your order 🙂 Remember, the app uses your location to know when to send the order to the kitchen.  

Several of these codes were active for a few months from December to February 2020. I was able to order over 35 of these burgers (sometimes two at a time) over this period. At $6 a burger, that’s over $210 worth of free food! 

Needless to say, I got quite sick of A&W and didn’t go back for some time after this…

So, why should care about this story if these promos are now over? Because who knows when A&W or other merchants may run similar promotions. By having poor identity resolution, such promotions offer opportunities. 

In fact, there is already another food company that is being absolutely skewered by a similar generous promotion, combined with poor identity verification/resolution. I’ll save that story for another time, but conclude with a hint: I already mentioned the company by name in this post 😉

Matt Astro

Matt Astro

Contributor at Frugal Flyer
Matt is a technophile and math nerd who discovered travel hacking in 2015. His favorite points-powered trip to date was visiting Estonia. Matt takes no shame in being far too frugal. In fact, he would probably go as far as calling himself cheap. Seriously, if there is a way to get something for free, Matt will find it and take advantage of it (and then maybe write about it here).


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