Posted By: Zeya Yang on August 16, 2011
About a year ago, I wrote a post analyzing all the meal plan options to help people choose meal plans optimally. When school started, I had quite a few 2014’s come up to me in person telling me it was helpful. During the Q&A at the Aug 13 QPREP session, someone asked for meal plan recommendations, so I thought I would refresh this post for the 2015s.
To start, for anyone who hasn’t viewed their meal plan options yet, you can see them all by going to http://housing.queensu.ca/hospitality_services/maincampusoptions.asp
If you just want the conclusion and don’t care about the explanations, scroll down, look at the table, and scroll down to the bottom paragraph.
Before we start to breakdown the value of each plan, let’s discuss what you can actually do with a meal plan. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be eating most of your meals in the caf. Fortunately, your meal plan allows you to buy food at the venues across campus with meal equivalencies and AMP dollars. These venues include any place found in Queen’s buildings like the Goodes Cafe, Lazy Scholar, Mac-Corry, and the basement of Botterell (I think the Timmies in the Biosci Complex is an exception, but as commerce students, you’ll probably never go there). Then in the new ARC, there’s Pizza Pizza, Teriyaki, Booster Juice, a Grill, and Timmies (substantiating the fact you’ll never go to the one in BioSci). There’s also a Quiznos and a shawarma shop in the JDUC. Assuming you won’t be eating all your meals at the caf, I’m not going to talk about the Freedom Plan.
The key is meal equivalencies. You can trade in one of the given meals on your plan for $8.75 at any of these locations, tax-exempt. That’ll get you whatever you want on the menu, and more than enough at Timmies. Furthermore, you can buy drinks and snacks with your meal equivalencies. In the 2009-2010 school year, they raised the number of meals that could be claimed as equivalencies to 200, essentially raising the cash value of these to $1750. At this point, the $290 AMP on the 320 should seem relatively insignificant.
Given this flexibility with meal equivalencies, the question is not how many meals you’re going to eat at the caf each week, but how many meals from your meal plan are you going to use each week? Assuming you eat regularly (if you need 6 full meals a day, there’s that Freedom Plan) you’ll use between 2-4 on the weekends and 8-15 on the weekdays. Side note: if you’re having 15 meals on weekdays, that means you’re eating breakfast at the cafs each morning, and I think there’s better alternatives. Buy simple stuff like cereal, milk, bread, waffles, etc (your residence has a kitchen). My Don bought us cinnamon buns and we made them for breakfast each week =).
So that’s anywhere between 10-19 meals used a week; with most people probably sitting around 13-16. The website linked above is nice in that they provide weekly and yearly frequencies that allow you to compare plans. Unfortunately, there aren’t 32 weeks in a school year for the typical student; assuming you stick around to near the end of both exam periods (likely for commerce students) and go home/away for Christmas and Reading week, there are 29 school weeks. This means the 320 is 11 meals/week and the 384 is 13 meals a week. So from a frequency perspective, Weekly 18 seems the best.
But, how much is each meal plan actually worth? I believe from your residence fees, about $4,000 is charged for the meal plan. Whether you actually get $4,000’s worth from your meal plan depends. Assuming someone tries to use their meal plan to the fullest extent, the chart below shows the maximum each plan can be worth. I assumed that for meals used at the cafs, 20% are for breakfast, 40% for brunch/lunch, and 40$ for dinner, which averages out to $9.35. I also assumed that those on 320/384 only end up using half the meals for equivalencies, as you still have to eat at the cafs time to time (this actually raises the values of the plans, though insignificantly).
So you can see the Weekly 18 is worth way more than the others, and the only one materially above $4,000. Even if you don’t end up using 18 meals every week, which you won’t since you’ll go home or be at conferences a few weekends, it’s still worth more than any other meal plan.
However, the 320/384 plans have more AMP…does this matter? The short answer is “No.” If you have the 320 and spend the extra $250 (The Weekly 18 still comes with $40) purely on meals, you can get around an extra 35 meals, which is a little more than 1 a week.
That being said, I think there are circumstances where the annual plans would be better suited. Much of the value derived from the Weekly plans comes from using up all the meal equivalencies to make sure you hit 16+ most weeks. If you can’t be bothered to do this or don’t really care because you’re going to have an endless supply of snacks/drinks anyways, then an annual plan might be more convenient (not more cost effective; convenient). If you are a coffee/tea fiend who regularly buys low-dollar items, using a meal equivalency isn’t worth it in those cases and the high AMP might be better suited (though you could just have a coffee maker in your room in that case). I think the most justifiable circumstance where you would go for an annual plan is if you live on West Campus. You won’t eat as many meals in the cafs, it might be inconvenient to use up your equivalencies on Sunday evening, and the 320+ plan comes with $525 AMP, which will easily cover whatever you’re going to buy when you don’t want to use an equivalency. If you’re going for an annual plan on main campus though, 384 is clearly better.
I didn’t really talk about the Weekly 15, but there really doesn’t seem to be a reason to take it instead of the Weekly 18; the extra $50 AMP is 6 equivalencies. My post also really seems against the 320 plan, but I honestly don’t see the point of getting it if you’re on main campus, since you can use equivalencies anywhere. I had many floormates and classmates who had the 320 run out of meals and AMP, and had to buy extra meals near the end of the year at ridiculous prices. Some realized in February that they were down to 6-8 meals/week for the rest of the year. Then again, there were also some people on the 320 who seemed to get along fine.
So in conclusion, meal equivalencies are very significant. The Weekly 18 provides the best value and ample flexibility. However, if you don’t really care about exploiting the Weekly 18, or your habits or circumstances just don’t align with the idea of the Weekly 18, then get the 384 if you’re on main campus and the 320+ if you’re on West.