Meal Deals: Secrets for Better, Cheaper Meals at Your Favorite Chains

McDonald's burger and fries

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McDonald's burger and fries
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Fast Breaks

We all stop at fast-food restaurants now and again, especially if we're in a hurry. But the money you're spending on all those trips to the drive-thru can add up quickly, even if you don't feel like you're spending much on each meal. There are always ways to save money and enhance your meals at chain restaurants; you just have to know how to game the system and find the secret menu hacks. Here are tons of tips and tricks for saving money and having better meals at some of America's top chain restaurants, including a super-simple McDonald's hack that has gone viral.

Related: The Best Fast Food Deals to Grab This Month

McDonald's Fries
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McDonald's: Cup of Fries

Always good for killing time and often surprisingly useful, TikTok is a trove of handy fast-food hacks. User @hellthyjunkfood has a convenient trick for eating a McDonald's fry on the go: Order it in the corresponding size beverage cup instead of the usual container — that way it fits right in the cup holder (and you may get a few extra fries).

Related: Why McDonald's Fries Used to Taste Better

Chipotle Burrito Meal
Nikki H. / Yelp

Chipotle: $2 Burrito

TikTok user Hannah Hutson, who goes by @hannahhuts on the app, shared a video that's helping other users fill their bellies at Chipotle without emptying their pockets — especially now that the chain has made inflation-related price hikes. The hack: Ask for a pinto bean and cheese burrito with extra beans. You should be charged only for two sides, landing you a filling lunch for just under $2.

Related: 15 Food Hacks From TikTok That Live Up to the Hype

McDonald's Mcdouble

McDonald's: Mini Big Mac

Known as the poor man's Big Mac, this order turns a cheaper cheeseburger into a sandwich that tastes just like the Big Mac: Ask for a McDouble with no ketchup or mustard, and add lettuce and Big Mac sauce. You'll be missing the middle bun, but depending on location, you'll save around $2.

Related: The Best Value Meal Deals at 28 Chains Across the Country

Starbucks: Make Your Own Iced Latte
Elena K. / Yelp

Starbucks: DIY Iced Latte

You can make your own lattes on the cheap at Starbucks. Order a double or triple espresso and get it on ice in a larger cup. Then just add milk and any flavorings over top at the condiment area. You'll typically save about $2 and end up with roughly the same beverage.

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McDonald's deal
Manny M. / Yelp

McDonald's: Twofer Deals

Pay close attention to the buy-two promotions at your local McDonald's. For instance, in one area, a Big Mac is $3.99, but if you buy two of them, it's only $5. In other words, it's only a dollar more to buy two than to buy one.

payphoto / istockphoto

Starbucks: Venti for 2

A venti drink at Starbucks is 24 ounces, while a tall is half that, at 12 ounces. Got a friend who drinks the same thing? Order a venti along with two tall cups. It'll undoubtedly be less money than ordering two talls separately.

Woman drinking Soda
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Everywhere: Small Fountain Soda

If you're eating somewhere that has self-service fountain drinks or offers free refills, then always order the smallest (read: cheapest) size. You can get as much soda as you want, just in a smaller cup.

Grilled Burrito Taco Bell
Rodney W. / Yelp

Taco Bell: Grilled Burrito

At Taco Bell, you can ask for any of the burritos to be grilled at no cost. It gives them a nice, golden, crunchy crust on two sides, just like the Crunchwraps, which cost more.

Chicken McNuggets
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McDonald’s: More McNuggets

It doesn't make financial sense to order McNuggets in small quantities anymore. A 10-piece is usually around $4.89, while a 40-piece is only $12 almost everywhere. You get quadruple the McNuggets.

Related: Fast Food Deals to Feed the Whole Family

Chipotle burrito bowl
Tarik J. / Yelp

Chipotle: Extra Freebies

You can always ask for extra burrito fillings because most are free. Extra rice, beans, salsa, cheese, and lettuce are all free, so if you're looking to make two (or more!) meals out of one Chipotle bowl, ask for more of whatever freebies you want.

Tim C./Yelp

Qdoba: Everything on the Side

Everything at Qdoba — even guacamole and queso — is included in the price of a burrito. You can also get tortillas or chips on the side of a burrito bowl, so order the queso and guacamole that would normally go in the bowl on the side. They'll put it in little cups, and you can dip the chips or tortillas like an appetizer.

Arby's slider
Jenny B. / Yelp

Arby's: Sliders

Instead of the classic roast beef sandwich, order two roast beef sliders. The sliders are only $1.99, while the classic roast beef is around $4.59. You get more food and more calories in two sliders than you would with a classic roast beef, for half as much money.

Subway footlong
David B. / Yelp

Subway: Footlong for 2

Got a friend who wants to eat with you? You can order one footlong sub and customize the toppings on each half. So as long as you're happy to eat the same meats and cheeses, you can take advantage of this trick.

ImagePixel / istockphoto

Chipotle and Qdoba: Double Wrap

Ordering a burrito? Ask for a double-tortilla wrap. The people preparing the food layer on an extra tortilla sometimes anyway, if a burrito is especially unwieldy or has sprung a leak, so you might as well get the extra tortilla regardless.

Chipotle bowl

Chipotle: Half and Half

It may not work all the time, but you can sometimes get more meat by asking for, say, half steak and half barbacoa. It's harder to portion out a half serving of meat, so usually you get a bit more than you would have if you had ordered just one type of meat. The same goes for beans and rice.

App Rewards
Google Play Store

Everywhere: App Rewards

Most restaurant chains have apps now, and there's usually a reward just for downloading them. Some restaurant, like McDonald's, have coupons and deals everyday. Many give you something for free just for downloading their app. It's always a good idea to check the app before you go to a restaurant.

Check Your Receipt
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Everywhere: Receipt Offers

Make sure you get a receipt at every restaurant you go to — not because they might screw things up, but because often there's an offer on the bottom for free or discounted items on a later visit. Panda Express, for example, often gives you a free individual entree on your next visit if you take an online survey.

Jimmy John’s
Cesar S. / Yelp

Jimmy John’s: 'LBI'

If you order a sub at Jimmy John's, you'll notice that they scrape out most of the bread inside to make room for the fillings. But to a carb lover, that's practically a sin. Order your sandwich "LBI," meaning "leave bread in," and you get all the baguette.

Bagel and Cream Cheese
LauriPatterson / istockphoto

Panera: Tub Instead of Spread

When you order a bagel, skip the cream cheese spread. Instead, buy an 8-ounce tub of cream cheese for $3.9. That's not much more than the bagel and schmear would have cost, and now you have the whole rest of the tub to leave in the work fridge for next time.

Panera mac and cheese
Katrina C. / Yelp

Panera: Mac and Cheese Bread Bowl

If you're looking to really carbo load, you can get Panera's mac and cheese in a bread bowl. It costs only about a dollar more, and you're adding tons more calories for the money.

Dairy Queen blizzards
Kev H. / Yelp

Dairy Queen: Customized Blizzard

If Dairy Queen has the ingredients, chances are employees will be willing to put it in a Blizzard for you. Just ask for whatever you like — within reason, of course. Some popular secret menu Blizzards include banana split and chocolate cherry.

Fresh Fries
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Everywhere: Unsalted Fries

Some people need to order their fries unsalted for health reasons, but anyone who orders them unsalted will get a fresh batch. Grab a packet of salt from the condiment area and salt those babies yourself.

Fresh burgers
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Everywhere: Special Order

Most fast food places have sandwiches premade and ready to go. So if you want to ensure that you're getting one that hasn't been sitting there for too long, order it any way besides the way it's served by default. That usually means adding or removing a topping to get a freshly made sandwich.

Fries and onion rings
GoodLifeStudio / istockphoto

Burger King: Rings and Fries Together

Can't decide between fries and onion rings? Just ask for half and half; employees are usually happy to do it. They're the same price, so you shouldn't be charged extra.

English Muffin Breakfast Sandwich
MikeyGen73 / istockphoto

McDonald’s: Round Egg

Most breakfast sandwiches at McDonald's come with a folded, omelet-like egg. But if you want a fresh egg cracked onto the griddle, order your sandwich with a "round egg" instead. It's the same thing that comes in Egg McMuffins.

Sonic drink

Sonic: Purple Sprite

It goes by a few different names, but one of the most popular off-menu drinks at Sonic is Sprite mixed with Powerade, cranberry juice, and lemonade. It's supposedly quite refreshing during summer.

Chipotle Bowl
Alice H. / Yelp

Chipotle: Free Guacamole

Yes, you really can get free guacamole at Chipotle, but you'll have to make a sacrifice to do it. If you skip a protein altogether, you can get your guac for free. You'll pay the same amount for your veggie burrito as you would for chicken or sofritas. 

Wendy's Frosty
Casey D. / Yelp

Wendy's: Free Frostys

Did you know you can get free Frostys at Wendy's not once, but as often as you like for an entire year? All it takes is buying a Frosty Key Tag when they go on sale at the end of the year. They you just flash your tag anytime you make a purchase during the next calendar year and you get a free Frosty. If that's somehow not enticing enough, most of the proceeds of the tags go to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. 

dominos gift card
Sam's Club

Everywhere: Gift Card Deals at Sam's Club and Costco

If you go to the same fast food restaurants regularly and also have a membership at Sam's Club or Costco, it's wise to take advantage of the gift card deals. Both warehouse stores sell multipacks of fast food restaurant gift cards, and usually at a discount of 5% to 25% off. Though they're probably meant for gifting, there's no reason you can't buy them for yourself and your family to score an extra percentage off every time you hit the drive-thru.

Discover more fast food hacks and deals right here.