Personal Finance 

My Journey: Handwriting 100 Letters for McDonald’s Monopoly Pieces (Part 3)

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lolThis series chronicles my journey to hand-write 100 letters to McDonald’s requesting Monopoly Game Pieces for their annual Monopoly Game sweepstakes. The game rules state that McDonald’s will mail back 2 game pieces if a participant sends a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) to McDonald’s. There is no mention of a limit on the number of requests a participant can send, so I’m sending in 100 letters to see if 1) I can make back the money I spent on stamps and envelopes (around $117), 2) to see if McDonald’s will live up to their claim and honor my 100 letters and 3) see if I win any cool stuff! For more details on how my journey began, read part 1 and Part 2.

For those of you keeping track, so far I’ve gathered my supplies and written/mailed off all 100 envelopes to McDonald’s — now it’s the hard part: waiting.

Step 11: Waiting

I was the kid carefully peeling off the tape on my Christmas presents in the closet in November, so this is going to be a nightmare.

Here’s a quick real-world timeline of events and time invested:

  • October 1 – Got supplies (1 hours)
  • October 3 – Began writing (3 hours)
  • October 4&5 – Wrote, stamped and shipped all 200 envelopes (6 hours)

So that’s about a week of real-world time and approx. 10 actual hours working on this so far. I actually picked a pretty bad time to ship anything. October 5th was a Friday, So my envelopes probably sat the whole weekend (6th and 7th). Monday the 8th was Columbus Day, which is a federal holiday, so again my envelopes weren’t going anywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still in Florida at this point. I had pretty much written off McDonald’s getting these anytime soon, let alone sending them back quickly, but then…

Monday, October 15th

mail box


Totally unexpected. They are post-dated October 11th. This means they must have received my request envelopes on Tuesday the 9th, inspected and stuffed my 100 SASE envelopes, then sent them on Wednesday the 10th. Wow. Props, McDonald’s AMOE/SASE team 🙂

So now it’s time to look at my bounty.

Step 12: Inspection


First thing I do is a head count, and it’s 98 out of 100. So 2 letters are sitting somewhere, sad and alone (of course my first thought is that one of the missing envelopes has my winning pieces :P)


I notice this handwritten “10” on an envelope. At first I thought it was just some form of internal tracking, but they all say “10”. So I’m guessing it represents October 10th, the day they must have shipped all of these. With that out of the way, the fun begins 🙂

Step 13: What’s in these things?


There are only 2 things in the envelopes:

  • 2 game pieces, for a total of 4 game stamps
  • McDonald Monopoly Game Piece Request info sheet (seems kind of odd to send this in response to a game piece request, but whatever, probably a legal obligation)

Here’s the other side of the info sheet

Alright, let’s go…

Step 14: Opening all the letters


Starting a little pile already. I’ve enlisted my girlfriend to help out so we can get through it quickly.


Nothing yet, but we started separating instant-win prizes from property pieces.


Almost done. Nothing! We’ve won a variety of instant-win prizes so far, ranging from My Coke Rewards to a bevy of medium Fries, but no “big ticket” instant win prizes, and no rare Monopoly pieces.


Done. Counted, peeled and collected all 392 pieces.

Step 15: Outcome…

pile5 Nothing. This was expected, but still a major bummer. But all is not lost. We still have to input all the game piece codes online as part of the McDonald’s Monopoly Online Game, so there’s still a chance at something. The online game has a 10-code per day limit, so in the meantime let’s take an inventory of everything we got thus far.

Step 16: Piece Inventory


Here’s a breakdown of all the properties and instant-win pieces:
Game Pieces We Won

    Instant-Win Prizes

  • Breakfast Sandwich – 5
  • Medium Fries – 22
  • Regular McFlurry – 1
  • Small Frappe/Smoothie – 5
  • Redbox – 4
  • My Coke Rewards – 2
  • Quarter Pounder w/ Cheese – 4
  • 2 Snapfish Prints – 2

St. James definitely seems to be the #1 “throwaway” piece out there, making up almost 8% of all the total pieces I received. It’s interesting that Park Place accounted for the lowest amount of pieces at just 3.8%. Perception would have you believe it to be the most common, as everyone seems to have multiple Park Places.

As for Instant-win, I almost have a full months worth of medium fries, accounting for about half of all 45 of the instant-win prizes I won. Overall, I was way off McDonald’s “1 in 4” prize claim. I ended up with a paltry 11% success rate, or around 1 in 10. Bummer. The “rarest” prize I won was the Snapfish prints which has a probability of 1 in 159 (woohoo!).


In the comments it was pointed out that the rules actually say “*Odds are based on Game Pieces (each has 2 Game Stamps),” which means I need to double my 11% output to 22-23% since I had 392 game stamps, which equals 196 game pieces. So I wasn’t that far off from the “1 in 4” claim after all. Kinda sneaky on McD’s part since one would assume the 1:4 claim applies to each stamp. But hey, did I really need 44 medium fries instead of 22? No. Not really. So I’m fine with the odds as is. Thanks for catching this, FreeBy50!

Step 17: Conclusion

When I started out my journey, I had a few questions I wanted answered:

Would McDonald’s live up to their claim and mail me back 100 SASE envelopes?
Answer: Yup, for the most part. I’m still missing two letters so we’ll see if they come in.

Would I make any money back?
Answer: Nope. Actually, I lost money. My total expenses (not counting man-hours) was $117. My total earnings in instant-win prizes only tallied up to $90.62. So I have an ROI of -$26.38. Yes. I made negative money. This was actually surprising. I figured that with the “1 in 4 wins!” claim, I’d easily match and probably offset all my expenses in food earnings. But even at a decent 22-23% success rate, I wasn’t able to break through.

Here are some more fun stats: If I divide my earnings by hours worked, I effectively made $6.47 an hour. That’s more than a dollar less than the minimum wage in Florida. If I tally up the total amount of calories for all the food prizes, I won a combined 15,340 calories! That’s more than a week’s worth of calories, and that’s not even taking into account the total fat, carbs, sodium and everything else in McDonald’s lineup.

Was mailing 100 letters actually cheaper than buying food?
Answer: Maybe? I spent $117 dollars, but I also invested around 14hrs of my life into this. Comparatively, I could have bought 200 hash browns at $209.88 (includes 6% FL sales tax) with little to no time investment, but I don’t know if my prizes would’ve offset my costs. But all that really matters is…

Was this a fun experiment to do?
Answer: Definitely. I’m still glad I completed this stunt. I learned plenty about the process of a sweepstakes, and the amount of time and attention required to participate. Though I didn’t win anything substantial, I’m still amazed by the outcome, and how the numbers worked out (or didn’t, technically :)).

Well, I hope you guys enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It was fun, and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about — Fiat or no Fiat.

{ 34 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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34 Responses to “My Journey: Handwriting 100 Letters for McDonald’s Monopoly Pieces (Part 3)”

  1. Strebkr says:

    Great experiment! I enjoyed reading and glad to see someone try this out. I would love to see more of these types of experiments out there! This reminds me of the “buy 100 scratch off tickets and see how you do” experiment.

  2. Anonymous says:

    How did the online game go?

  3. cubiclegeoff says:

    Isn’t there a time limit on redeeming the instant win prizes? And would you even go to get that much crap? If not, your ROI is even worse.

    • Brandon says:

      Cubicle Geoff,

      Yea, The cutoff date is 11/5/12 for the food prizes, and I’ll probably end up giving most of them away.

  4. michael says:

    I’m surprised they’re not more generous with the food prizes. It costs them next to nothing and people will almost always buy something alongside their free food on the return visit.

    Seems like a missed opportunity, though I’m sure they’ve done the math themselves and have a reason for doing it this way.

  5. Aaron says:

    Haha.. This is a very entertaining post! Enjoyed it.

  6. Wilma says:

    Love it. Great risk – reward experiment.

  7. Erica says:

    My son and I have been playing and noticed that in NO WAY is the 1 in 4 winning claim is accurate. We’ve purchased enough food for over 50 pieces and won a few redbox, one snap fish, tons of ff, a frap, and 3 breakfast sandwiches – that’s it. I’ve been entering the codes online and although I’ve entered in 40 codes, we’ve only won 2 redbox rentals.

  8. nickireland71 says:

    Hey, I kinda experimented with the 1 in 4 odds too…and I got the same results. Then I read the fine print…according to Mickey D’s, one game piece is actually equal to two peel off pieces…this obvious bait and switch maneuver made me think… if we all got together; and sued under a class action suit or something; maybe…just maybe…we might be able to win an extra barbecue sauce to go with our chicken nuggets…I don’t know…maybe…but then again, I’ve always been a dreamer.

  9. Christian L. says:

    This was a most entertaining, exciting personal finance series to follow. I’m glad you went through with it.

    I have to ask, do you have any other experiments like this on your horizon? I don’t keep up with these types of games, but I’d imagine there are more you can try?

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  10. freeby50 says:

    The official McDonalds rules says that

    “*Odds are based on Game Pieces (each has 2 Game Stamps)”

    You have 196 game pieces and 45 winners. Thats ~23% and pretty close to 1 in 4 wins per game piece.

    The 2 missing envelopes may be lost in the post office. You sent in 100 envelopes and got 98 back so thats 1% failure rate each way. Or they could be lost at Mcdonalds processing too of course.

  11. john says:

    i usually don’t comment on these boxes but LOL….

  12. Shirley says:

    I don’t participate in the Monopoly game myself so I usually skip over the comments about it. This 3-part series was fun to read!

  13. emma says:

    This was so much fun to read. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Martha says:

    Haha, are you going to eat all that food?

  15. Natalea says:

    I think this is cool, but you should have waiting to send half of them until towards the end if you wanted to win. They don’t start printing the winning game pieces until the end, obviously because you have zeros in all those spots. I think this is cool, and I wish I had the money to do it, but I would have sent them out around the 15th of October to increases chances of getting the winning pieces.

  16. wickidog says:

    Wow. This is impressive. You made national news on Huffington Post. Congratulations.

    This has been a fun read. Thank you for sharing it. I look forward to other experiments that you do.

    Just a few comments on the online contest.

    The official rules on the Game Board which you can get at any McDonald’s store says the online game ends 11/3/12 at 11:59:59p.m. ET. So you have a window to enter your codes.

    Also, the limit of 10 codes per day is PER E-MAIL. So if you use more than one e-mail, you can enter more codes.

    I am looking forward to your post about the online contest results. All in the name of science, of course.

    • Jim says:

      I’ve been entering codes (as has Brandon) and in the 60 codes I’ve entered, I’ve won one MCR 40 pt bundle and one Redbox code. I’ve been getting used to the spinner landing on Chance, Free Parking, and one of the yellow properties and seeing nothing happen.

      There’s always the $10,000 prize! 🙂

  17. I think there may be a future for you in creating a series of these types of stunts. I read every post start to finish.

  18. Long says:

    Wow. I wonder how many people out there are actually sending these requests in. Though the best part is imagining the reaction of the employee who got your letters and then proceed filling 100 envelopes…

  19. Seth says:

    While I enjoyed the write-up, I do think it is a big stretch to call the instant win pieces earnings. While they may be fun prizes, they are certainly not a true ROI. Even IF you intended to use them ALL, it’s still not “earning” $90.

    But, I did enjoy reading the series. These types of experiments are interesting, and you did a nice job chronicling each step.

  20. Tim says:

    “So my envelopes probably sat the whole weekend”
    No, mail moves 7 days a week. It is delivered six, but moves from place to place even on Sundays.
    From the blue drop box, it gets picked up gets trucked to a sort center (or maybe a post office and then sort center, depending on what route the pickup is on). From the sort center it gets loaded on to a plane (or two) before hitting another sort center, and then the local post office.
    First Class and Priority are generally treated the same; I’ve shipped many packages on a Saturday afternoon with the buyer on the opposite end of the country receiving them Monday morning.

  21. Alicia says:

    Not sure if you read the fine print for the online game, but it states that prizes are randomly generated based on traffic patterns. I took this to mean that you’re odds of winning an online prize would be greater if you staggered you’re code entries throughout the day. This seem to work for me. I entered approximately 40 codes and won 2 coke rewards and 5 redbox rentals.

  22. Pollyanna says:

    I had fun just reading your experiment! A few years back a friend of mine gave me $2 a week and asked me to buy her a lottery ticket on Saturday and Wednesday (NYS) and if she won she’d split it with me. We played the exact same numbers each week 2x for a year. Needless to say we never even won a free ticket – not even once. I convinced her then to stop playing the lottery. But let me tell you… I keep checking those numbers for awhile (even though they she wasn’t having me get them thinking as soon as I told her to stop her numbers would come out. So moral of our stories – Good Old Fashion Honest Work is the way to get ahead. Don’t rely on sweepstates lotteries etc.

  23. JM says:

    I did this about 10 years ago when they had the deal going where you got 2 game pieces and a Best Buy Buck. The lowest amount was $1.00. I requested 200 and got all $1.00 buck ($200 Best Buy Bucks total) but I only spent $162 in materials so I came out ahead and with tons of free food. When I tried to use the bucks they had a manger come out and I had to explain where they all came from. I bought a PS2.

  24. Dee says:

    I love fun experiments like this. I don’t believe the lack (or possibility of positive) profit really matters. The fact that you decided to do this, went through with it, and did a semi-scientific analyzation of the process and results is really the great part about this. Most people don’t have the patience or determination to conduct experiments like this. Thank you for publishing this. It was definitely a fun and enjoyable read.

  25. Sami says:

    I tried this actually for McDonald’s Monopoly for 2013. I’m actually pretty scared because i only Sent 9 envelopes out expecting 36 game pieces, HOWEVER i realized after I sent them i put the name as “2013 McDonald’s Monopoly Game Piece Request” realizing I worded the name differently, I’m not scared it might not have made it. And if it didn’t then I SHOULD have recieved them back with my return envelopes. But i still haven’t I guess it’s only been a week so far and is edging on 8 days, Hopefully i get them soon.

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