The True Story Behind the Mysterious McDonald’s Gold Card

Updated: Jul. 16, 2021

The exclusive card offers amazing perks.

What would you do to get free McDonald’s for a year? How about free McDonald’s for your whole life? For some, that dream is a reality.

The mysterious “McGold Card” came into the spotlight when actor Rob Lowe flashed his on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2015. Lowe didn’t get his just for being famous, though—he also happens to be friends with David Peterson, who owns and operates six McDonald’s locations in California and whose dad invented the Egg McMuffin, according to Business Insider. With his card in hand, Lowe was entitled to unlimited free food at his friend’s franchises for a year. Hopefully, he stayed away from this one drink McDonald’s employees would never order.

Lowe isn’t the first person to receive a McDonald’s gold card from Peterson—and actually didn’t even get the best deal. The franchisee also gave one to local philanthropist Larry Crandell as a 90th birthday present, which Crandell tried to use at least once a month. That solid metal card earned him a lifetime of free meals until he passed away at 93.

Other locations—and sometimes even the whole company—have been known to give those valuable cards away too. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney revealed his dad was a proud owner of “a little pink card” that gave him free McDonald’s meals. George Romney had done training sessions with McDonald’s employees before the chain really took off, so Ray Kroc—who helped launch the fast-food chain into an international powerhouse—gave him a lifetime of “a hamburger, a shake, and French fries at McDonald’s,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The card didn’t go to waste either. Mitt Romney said his dad would go in almost every day for a hamburger or fish filet sandwich. Don’t miss these facts about McDonald’s Big Mac you never knew.

Warren Buffett revealed to CNBC that he has a card that gives him free McDonald’s in Omaha with no expiration. The billionaire also revealed Bill Gates has a McDonald’s gold card that gives him free food at any location around the world for the rest of his life.

Non-billionaires still have a shot at getting their hands on the coveted McGold Card, but you’d have to do something more than buddy up with a restaurant owner. In 2013, Cleveland local Charles Ramsey saved three women and a girl who had been kidnapped by his neighbor years before. In interviews, Ramsey kept mentioning he’d been holding a “half-eaten Big Mac” when he made his rescue, and thousands of Twitter users urged the company to reward him with a McDonald’s gold card. The fast-food chain listened and gave him free McDonald’s for a year, and 14 Ohio locations offered to keep giving him free burgers for the rest of his life, according to CNN Money. After the pandemic, McDonald’s has had to change a few things about their stores. Here are 8 things you won’t find in McDonald’s anymore.

In March of 2020, McDonald’s UK announced on their Twitter that they were bringing back the McDonald’s VIP Gold Card. The card entitles people to one free meal a week for a whole year through the McDonald’s app. The only way you can win is by playing McDonald’s Monopoly. The game works just like the classic Monopoly in that you have to collect as many street sets as possible. You do that by ordering McDonald’s food. Winners can collect other prizes besides the VIP Gold Card, including cash, cars, and game consoles. The game started on March 25 and it doesn’t look like the chain has announced the winners yet.

If McDonald’s isn’t your fast-food chain of choice, Burger King has its own version of the McGold: the “Burger King gold card,” which grants free meals for life. Jennifer Hudson earned one as a former BK employee, while George Lucas got a card to thank him for partnering with the brand during movie releases. Famously, Burger King sent one to Hugh Laurie after he claimed he had one in an interview—even though he didn’t. The card might be even more exclusive than the McDonald’s version. As of 2008, only 12 people were proud holders of the card, according to AdAge.

Alas, the rest of us might be stuck paying out of pocket for our burger cravings. Next, find out the 17 things McDonald’s employees won’t tell you.