Since FuelRod kiosks debuted at Walt Disney World, I’ve heard from guests singing their praises. I didn’t plan on writing a review initially, since I figured the “unlimited” FuelRod experiment would end and disappear quickly. (Updated November 1, 2019.)
However, FuelRods have now been in the Florida parks (as well as Disneyland) and have spread throughout Walt Disney World. As such, it’s probably time to address their cost v. convenience, and weigh the pros and cons. Note that this FuelRoad review is entirely our subjective assessment of how FuelRods work (or don’t) for us. You may disagree entirely, finding a lot of value in FuelRods–and that’s fine.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, FuelRods are portable chargers that can be purchased in Walt Disney World parks and used to (partially) recharge your iPhone or other device on the go. You can then swap for a new battery pack at FuelRod kiosks once you’ve exhausted one. In a nutshell, our view is that FuelRods are pretty great…for people who have never heard of Amazon.com…
The general concept of these portable chargers is great for Walt Disney World. Using just the My Disney Experience app alone is a big drain that people underestimate as is browsing brilliant Disney blogs to figure out where you should eat. Suffice to say, it’s easy for your battery to die early in the day. Rechargeable battery packs have existed for some time (so to that end FuelRod is hardly revolutionary), and are one of the recommended staples on our What to Pack for Disney List.
The ‘twist’ with FuelRods is that when you’re done using them, you can trade out your depleted FuelRod for a fully-charged one at the many kiosks throughout Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The appeal is thus the ‘unlimited’ charge the FuelRods offer by virtue of swapping them out. When put that way, it’s easy to see the appeal of FuelRods.
November 1, 2019 UPDATE: Contrary to what was previously stated on the FuelRod kiosks themselves, the unlimited free swaps of FuelRods at Walt Disney World or Disneyland has not ended–and doesn’t appear likely to end anytime soon. Last week, signs went up on FuelRod kiosks that swaps would cost $3 each as of November 1, 2019 at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland (the latter of which updated its site with the new fee–which is still listed as of this update).
However, in the week since those signs went up, there has been a ton of outrage among Disney fans and angry comments directed towards FuelRod via social media. Even more notably, a class action lawsuit filed against the parent company of FuelRod was filed in California alleging breach of contract, violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, a violation of the California Unfair Competition Law, false advertising, and other causes of action.
Since social media outrage rarely causes Disney to change course (if it did, literally every decision the company makes would be undone in short order!), we’re guessing this is a result of the class action lawsuit and not people grousing about the fees on Twitter or Facebook.
With that said, we have to give props to FuelRod here. As should be abundantly clear from the title of the post and the commentary that follows, we aren’t huge fans of the product nor do we recommend it (except as a last resort). However, FuelRod’s social media team has been diligent about offering refunds to disgruntled customers, and FuelRod has stated that they’ve been forced to implement a swap fee to “maintain standards customers expect & ensure viability of the company.”
If the swap fee is what FuelRod needs to remain viable (and we take them at their word that it is), this is an unfortunate development. FuelRod existing but charging a fee is better than the company going bankrupt and ceasing to exist at all. Somehow, we doubt that this is the last word in this ongoing saga.
We’ll keep you posted, but for now, the rest of our original FuelRod review…
Basically, the argument in favor of the FuelRod is the same as the Disney Dining Plan: convenience. However, like the argument in favor of the Disney Dining Plan, I’d counter that it’s the illusion of convenience, rather than actual convenience. And, like the Dining Plan, you’re paying extra for that illusion.
The problems with FuelRods are two-fold. First, the $30 price (some point out the ‘hack’ of buying them off-site to save $5) is very high for a battery pack of this capacity and quality. Second, the aforementioned capacity is poor by modern battery pack standards.
Essentially, FuelRod is creating a problem (selling battery packs with poor capacity) and then spinning the ‘solution’ to this problem they’ve created as something great and convenient. You know what’s actuallyamazing? Buying a battery pack with sufficient capacity to get you through an entire day in the parks, nothaving to find a kiosk and swap that battery pack out a few hours later, and paying less for that superior battery pack in the process. Now, that is a great idea!
Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of this great idea before?! Oh wait, every other company selling battery packs already has, and that’s the basic business plan of Anker, Aukey, and myriad other companies…
Let’s talk a bit more about FuelRod’s capacity relative to its competitors. Unlike virtually every other battery pack on the market, FuelRod does not indicate its charge capacity. (Which alone should set off red flags.) Scant information is available via the Google machine, but it looks like it can charge an iPhone about halfway, which would put its capacity at under 1,000 mAh.
Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and say the FuelRod has 2,000 mAh capacity. This Anker charger offers 5,200 mAh for $16. Over double the capacity in a similarly-sized charger for half the cost. For under $30, you can get this Anker charger that can charge two devices at once and has 10,000 mAh capacity–or roughly 5x that of the FuelRod.
To put this into perspective, Anker is one of the more expensivebrands of portable chargers. We have recommended alternatives on our packing list that offer larger capacity and lower cost. Some of these chargers will not only get you through an entire day in the parks–they’ll charge your entire family’s devices for the day.
To be fair to FuelRod, the argument could be made that there’s a certain convenience in never having to charge a battery pack–just being able to swap out the existing pack ad infinitum. Or that it can be a lifesaver if you forget your charger, cables, etc. True, it does offer appeal in both scenarios. There’s absolutely no arguing about FuelRod being useful if you’ve forgotten your charger/cables.
However, the case for general convenience in everyday scenarios is tougher to make. When I get back to the hotel at the end of a long day, I hate having to plug everything in before getting ready for bed. The thing is, I have to do that regardless with my camera, phone, etc. Plugging in one additional item is (literally) a <30 second commitment that hardly poses an insurmountable obstacle between me and a good night’s sleep.
Moreover, this argument is only even superficially plausible in a world where FuelRod kiosks are ubiquitous. Such a world does not exist, nor will it ever exist. FuelRod’s business model relies upon spontaneous purchases from consumers who either don’t do the research or don’t have a viable alternative. Outside of airports, theme parks, and similar ‘vacuums’, they will lose to competitors. (For the same reason that no one in their right mind would pay $12 for a cheeseburger at Cosmic Ray’s if it were located in their hometown.)
I’ve yet to see a FuelRod kiosk while hiking in Yosemite, much less while needing to power my iPhone to use Google Maps for navigating the transportation grid of [insert name of literally any major city, as I’ve never seen FuelRod kiosks dotting the streets of any of them]. So if you ever go anywhere that is not Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or the airport, you’re going to run into problems if you’re relying upon the low-capacity “solution” that FuelRod offers.
The onlypeople for whom I can see FuelRod holding appeal once they get past the initial illusion/gimmick of convenience is those who have never heard of rechargeable batteries before stumbling upon the FuelRod kiosk while in the parks. Yes, these people do exist. We see countless guests sitting in corners charging their phones in random outlets during the course of their vacations.
For those people (or people who simply forget to pack their portable chargers), the FuelRod presents a good spontaneous purchase, as the cost (in time) of sitting in a random corner everyday during a pricey Walt Disney World vacation far outweighs even the $30 cost of a FuelRod. However, now that you have read this post, you are not one of those people. 😉
What do you think of FuelRods? Will you continue to use FuelRods if they end free unlimited swaps and start charging for them? Do you agree or disagree with our FuelRod review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!