Most people have not heard of McDonald Gold Cards, because there are so few. The news story below tells some of the history of such “Gold Cards,” but not the whole story. Most McDonald’s customers are familiar with cards that can be purchased at any McDonald’s in various denominations, and then used as gifts or in any way to be redeemed for food and drink at McDonald’s of the same value. Others have heard of guest cards that might be used by charitable organizations, schools and such as fundraisers, also good for various amounts of food and beverages at McDonald’s.

But when I served as head of corporate communications at McDonald’s in the 80s and 90s, we did encounter at least one  occasion in which a “Gold Card” were authorized by top management. This was the card created for Warren Buffett, at the direction of McDonald’s CEO Mike Quinlan, as referenced below. At the time is was created and about to be presented to Mr. Buffett, we even worked with the regional office covering the Omaha area where Buffett lives and works, to be sure pictures of Mr. Buffett were sent to every area McDonald’s, in hopes that a McDonald’s window or counter person would not refuse the card because he did not know it had really been issued to Mr. Buffett.

One day I was invited by Mr. Buffett to attend an awards dinner at his office for local elementary teachers recognized for excellence, in the name of Buffett’s favorite aunt Alice, who herself had been such a teacher in Omaha. At the table over dinner, one of the award winners asked Buffett if he ever carried any money or credit cards with him. Buffett was amused and said he did, and mentioned an American Express card he carried. But then he interrupted himself and said his favorite credit card was one he never had yet used, and pulled the McDonald’s Gold Card from his wallet and passed it around the table. He said he was honored to have received it, and cherished it, but couldn’t bring himself to request free food at McDonald’s. Unbeknownst to that group, a few years before, Buffett had quietly acquired several million shares of McDonald’s stock, which was the reason behind the award of that card.

While I can’t substantiate it, as I doubt any records support it, I had heard that Jerry Lewis and a few others may have received such cards. McDonald’s was the first and largest charitable sponsor of the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy.

Story from ” Business Insider”:

The real story behind McDonald’s mysterious ‘Gold Card’ — the ticket to unlimited free food that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have in their wallets
by: Kate Taylor

Nov. 13, 2015, 11:15 AM 37,621 3

When Rob Lowe appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live with a golden McDonald’s card on Wednesday, one big question remained: How could the Average Joe get his own card that granted him access to unlimited McDonald’s?

Not easily, a little sleuthing revealed.

The first complication: Rob Lowe’s Gold Card was not issued by McDonald’s corporate office. Instead, it is from the owner of, and can only be used at, McDonald’s franchises in Santa Barbara or Goleta, California.

While Lowe says he received the Gold Card because his buddy’s dad created the McMuffin, McDonald’s confirmed to Business Insider that he in fact received the card from David Peterson — the buddy in question, who is now a McDonald’s franchisee himself.

Herb Peterson, who passed away in 2008, was a legendary force in the fast-food world. He debuted the first Egg McMuffin at the Santa Barbara McDonald’s he co-owned with David in 1972. Peterson started his work with McDonald’s as the vice president of the company’s advertising firm, D’Arcy Advertising, and went on to become a franchisee and operator of six McDonald’s locations.

Today, David Peterson has carried on his father’s legacy with the chain. Earlier this year, the franchises he runs in the Santa Barbara and Goleta areas became some of the first to launch “taste-crafted” sandwiches as part of the McDonald’s turnaround plan, reports local news station KEYT.

herb peterson, mcdonald’s, egg mcmuffinAP Images
Herb Peterson.

Peterson also wields the power to give out Gold Cards, granting the recipient free McDonald’s at the locations he owns and operates. While Lowe is quite likely the most high-profile person to be awarded the card, he is not the first — just the first to brag about it on late-night TV.

For example, Larry Crandell was awarded a Gold Card by Peterson on his 90th birthday, reports SantaBarbara.com. While the cards are nearly identical, unlike Lowe’s card, Crandell’s awards him free McDonald’s for life.

Crandell is a bit of a celebrity in Santa Barbara, having reportedly helped raise millions of dollars for the community as a volunteer and expert emcee.

Assuming you aren’t a famous actor who has a personal connection with David Peterson or a local legend in Santa Barbara, California, there are other ways to get free McDonald’s.

In fact, McDonald’s franchisees across the country appear to be more than happy to give local heroes free food with their own versions of the “Gold Card.”

Warren Buffett told CNBC he had a McDonald’s card that allowed him to order unlimited food for free in Omaha. Charles Ramsey, who ditched his half-eaten Big Mac to help rescue three kidnapped women in May 2013, was awarded free McDonald’s at all locations for a year and unlimited McDonald’s for the rest of his life at local Ohio restaurants. In March, Ottawa Senators goalie Andrew Hammond, nicknamed the Hamburglar, received a card that gave him free McDonald’s for life from an Ottawa franchisee who, coincidentally, was also the father of Hammond’s former coach.

However, there are only two major confirmed stories of people in possession of cards granting them free, unlimited McDonald’s anywhere in the country, or even the world.

While on the campaign trail in 2012, Mitt Romney told a story of how his father had a “little pink card” that awarded him free McDonald’s for life. McDonald’s confirmed that founder Ray Kroc had given Romney the card, but did not have any record of the reason for the gift. However, the chain noted that Kroc was known to informally gift these Lifetime “Be Our Guest” cards to various people throughout the years.

The other lucky recipient of a lifetime of free McDonald’s — not a little pink card, but a bona fide Gold Card, according to the company — is Bill Gates. According to Warren Buffett, Gates’ card works worldwide. Of course, it is unclear how often Gates stops by McDonald’s these days, after The Gates Foundation Asset Trust liquidated its position in the fast-food company in February.

Getting your hands on a McDonald’s Gold Card is no piece of cake. But, the legendary cards are real — and something that could end up in your own pocket, if you befriend the right McDonald’s franchisee.