FuelRod kiosks can be found at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, airports, and other locations. The service offers reusable, portable charging to fuel or charge your phone on the go, and then swap for a fresh battery. In this FuelRod review, we’ll cover whether the “unlimited” service is worth the money and effort. (Updated July 14, 2020.)
While the headline is pretty blunt, there is more nuance to the question of whether you should buy a FuelRod while visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland. As such, we’ll 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.
However, there’s now a colossal caveat–which we’ll cover in the update below…
July 14, 2020 UPDATE: Last fall, FuelRod planned to end the unlimited free swaps of FuelRods at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as signs went up on FuelRod kiosks that swaps would cost $3 each. In the week after those signs went up, there was 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. After several months of negotiation, that class action lawsuit has been resolved.
FuelRod has created a Founders status for people who has previously purchased FuelRods as early adopters. The FuelRod Founders status is available for people who purchased prior to the announced end to free unlimited swapping last October 26 and did not request & receive a refund. As a FuelRod Founder, early adopters can continue to enjoy free, unlimited swaps at any FuelRod kiosks. All existing FuelRod customers are encouraged to verify their eligibility by answering an official questionnaire here.
Once verified, Founders will use the FuelRod app in conjunction with the kiosks to obtain free swaps under the program. The app will generate a scannable QR code that will be input at the kiosk at the time of the swap. The kiosk will then allow FuelRod Founders to swap their existing FuelRods for free, even at kiosks that charge to swap.
We have to give big 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 customer service team has been diligent and conciliatory throughout this, 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.”
The FuelRod Founders status seems like a good middle ground solution that (hopefully) will allow FuelRod to remain viable while also generating recurring revenue via the swaps. While we are not huge advocates of the service, FuelRod existing but charging a fee is better than the company going bankrupt and ceasing to exist at all. As we’ve noted, FuelRod is a good option of last resort and we’re thus happy it’ll continue to exist at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
If you’re an existing FuelRod Founder, that’s great–you’ve already bought into the service and the rest of this review is probably unnecessary for you. However, if you’re planning on traveling and are wondering if FuelRod might be worth the money and convenience going forward in 2020 and beyond, we’ll take a look in the rest of this 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 is very high for a battery pack of this capacity and quality. Second, there’s inevitably going to be a $3 fee for recharging if you buy FuelRods going forward. Finally, the aforementioned capacity is poor by modern battery pack standards. (Although this has improved in the last year or so.)
Essentially, FuelRod is creating a problem (selling battery packs with low capacity) and then spinning the ‘solution’ to this problem they’ve created as something great and convenient. We would instead recommend a battery pack with sufficient capacity to get you through an entire day in the parks, not having 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.
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, 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 expensive brands 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.
As FuelRod begins charging newer customers $3 for a new unit, the capacity of their battery packs will almost certainly have to change. Accordingly, we’d expect FuelRod to upgrade its product to larger capacity batteries, as consumers will not tolerate being charged $3 for a half-refill. If the capacity of a FuelRod were 5,000 mAh, it might change our perspective on the service.
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 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.)
If you’re primarily concerned about using FuelRods at the airport, Walt Disney World, or Disneyland–that’s great. FuelRod probably has you covered. For Disney regulars or Annual Passholders, there definitely is value in FuelRod. That’s doubly true for those who have Founders status.
There are other locations to which the service could conceivably expand, albeit not many. Las Vegas casinos, train stations, and other popular tourist points of interest. Beyond that, it would be very difficult–if not impossible–for FuelRod to scale in a meaningful way that would make it ubiquitous. However, a lot of FuelRod customers don’t need or want that.
Ultimately, the only people 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, if you’re reading this FuelRod review in advance of a trip to the park and have the opportunity to order a higher capacity battery pack from Amazon, that’s your better option.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of FuelRods? Will you continue to use FuelRods if they end free unlimited swaps and start charging for them? Are you a FuelRod Founder? 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!