StudentPal 留学宝 Review – App for Discounted Dining at Chinese Restaurants
StudentPal (Android/iOS) is an app primarily for Chinese International Students but with no enforced eligibility to use the app. As a Credit Card and points earning nerd, I personally see the biggest benefit with this app being the opportunities it opens up to allow you to pay with card at many cheaper Chinese restaurants which often do not accept card, or surcharge card payments. In addition, many restaurants offer discount for paying through the app, often ranging from 5-20%. For this reason, it has been one of my most frequently used apps since I first discovered it.
The app works in a similar way to Wechat Pay and Alipay (both popular in China):
- Scan the merchant’s QR Code
- Type in payment amount
- Confirm Payment
- Merchant will receive a SMS confirming that a payment has been received
The app will require you to top up your virtual wallet with pre-set amounts (ranging from $2-1000) to be able to pay merchants and top ups can be made with either Visa or Mastercard.
Disadvantages of the app?
- No English version – a pretty large hindrance considering we live in Australia!
- Perceived unwillingness by staff at restaurants in sometimes accepting payments through the app, or in some cases simply denying that they accept the app
- Discrepancy between discount offered and the discount advised by a staff member in-store
Read on for a more in-depth breakdown!
I’ve known of StudentPal since late July, ironically after my first trip to China in 12 years. In fact, since my trip to China, I’ve been paying more attention to the Chinese apps in Australia of which there are now several (like HarkHark – I’ll leave that for another post).
The app works in a similar way to popular payment apps in China (WeChat Pay & Alipay) – scan a QR code, type in the amount you wish to pay via the app. Merchant will receive a SMS confirming the payment has been received which is almost instant.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, this app is almost 100% in Chinese, so if you can’t read Chinese, it’ll be extremely difficult to use this app. If you have a basic grasp of Chinese characters, you should be able to get by (this is my case!) Otherwise, you might need to get a friend/parent/partner to help you.
The only sections in English are the page to top up your Wallet and the filters to search for restaurants.
Here are the key benefits of the app:
- 5-20% off at many Chinese restaurants throughout major Australian capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide)
- $1 meal for first-time users
- A new user is a new phone number, so if you have a work number in addition to your personal number, that’s two $1 meals right there!
- You’ll need to top up your account before you can take advantage of the $1 meal. The minimum top up amount is $2, so you’ll have $1 remaining
- You can get additional $1 meals by referring a friend. In fact, once you refer a friend, you’ll get a FREE meal – redeemable at the same places that offer the $1 meal.
- Every week (since July) they’ve had a new list of restaurants that offer the $1 meal, but given you can only get one per number, it’s largely irrelevant.
- Many Chinese restaurants are “cash only” and do not accept any Credit Card payments, or accept them with a surcharge. By using StudentPal you can often avoid this surcharge and obtain an additional discount.
- Other places will give discount only above a certain threshold, e.g. 10% off if you spend above $30
- Random promotional events, such as $1 movies at certain venues and social events
- Other random promotional events, such as an event they are holding for the month of November 2017 – “Spin The Wheel” for a chance to win some red pocket money which can be used to pay for food! Also comes with the chance to win an iPhone X (one winner per day)
- Additional spins can be earned by completing some other activites, such as referring a friend, making a payment through the app, and completing safety forms, etc.
Their app has actually more than just dining (e.g. airport pick ups, accommodation, SOS calls), but I’m focusing on the dining benefits.
Keep in mind that this app is actually geared towards Chinese International students, hence the name “StudentPal”.
The app does not actually have many high profile restaurants (they don’t really need extra exposure, do they?). In fact, and ironically, the most well known places they have partnered with are non-Chinese restaurants (of which there are not many). Examples include selected Sumo Salads and Boost Juices, followed closely by selected Gong Chas and Chatimes. For this reason, I would say this is more suitable for those individuals who live in or often dine in Chinese-centric suburbs. Think Burwood, Rhodes, Wolli Creek, Eastwood, Chatswood in Sydney, or Box Hill in Melbourne. The CBDs of both Melbourne and Sydney also have a large number of participating restaurants due to a large concentration of Chinese restaurants.
Searching for Participating Merchants
On the home screen of the app, there is an orange circular logo of a drink with a burger which says “Panda is hungry” (熊猫饿了). Tap on this, and use the filters to filter for locations you wish to search for. Participating restaurants have a block of green text next to their name which says (literally) “co-operating store” (合作商户). Many of these restaurants also have a “Discount” (折) or “Promotion” (赠) tag in the bottom right corner of their listing.
The app costs nothing to use and there are no membership fees, so there’s no harm in having an account for the odd occasion when you might use it!
The biggest savings to be had are at the more expensive places, as the discount is often 5-10%. Your $500 seafood bill might end up costing you $450 through the app!
There are however times when it may actually be more worthwhile to pay with a different app. As an example, consider whether the merchant accepts Entertainment Book vouchers or Liven. It is likely that the promotional discounts do not stack, and if they are also participants of Liven, the Liven cashback you earn may be higher than the percentage discount given through StudentPal.
I had a recent experience where this was the case at Qing’s Kitchen (喜玲珑) in Eastwood. Qing’s Kitchen are actually on both Liven and StudentPal, but it made more sense to pay via Liven as they offer a 25% cashback through Liven as opposed to a 10% discount through StudentPal. In addition, Liven accept AMEX whereas StudentPal does not!
Disadvantages of Studentpal
- Lack of an English version of the app, which can be a little frustrating for me personally as I cannot read Chinese proficiently.
- However, this may be somewhat deliberate. After all, it’s geared towards Chinese International Students whose first language is not English.
- Unwillingness by merchants in accepting StudentPal
- Kreta Ayer (牛车水) in Eastwood are supposedly a participating merchant (as can be seen using the Eastwood filter in the Restaurants section, 熊猫饿了) and have a StudentPal logo on their main door, but staff just last night advised they are not a participating merchant yet
- Cang (五谷仓) in Mascot are listed as a participating restaurant, but insisted they are not and refused to accept payments through the app
- Discrepancies between stated discounts in the app and the discount ultimately passed on by the merchant
- The description of the Gong Cha Eastwood listing states you will be entitled to a $0.50 discount off any drink, but the staff have twice refused to pass this on
All in all, I’ve generally had more postiive experiences with using the app than negative, so I’m a pretty big fan of it! I particularly love now being able to effectively pay for even more things with a Credit Card and not miss out on earning points.. not to mention the extra discount I can get.
Questions, comments? Feel free to ask away!