Background The preferences of diabetes type 2 patients and cardiovascular disease patients for a financial incentive added to a specified combined lifestyle intervention were investigated. Methods A discrete choice experiment questionnaire was filled out by 290 diabetes type 2 patients (response rate 29.9%). Panel-mixed-logit models were used to estimate the preferences for a financial incentive. Potential uptake rates of different financial incentives and relative importance scores of the included attributes were estimated. Included attributes and levels were: form of the incentive (cash money and different types of vouchers), value of the incentive (ranging from 15 to 100 euros), moment the incentive is received (start, halfway, after finishing the intervention) and prerequisite for receiving the incentive (registration, attendance or results at group or individual level). Results Prerequisites for receiving the financial incentive were the most important attribute, according to the respondents. Potential uptake rates for different financial incentives ranged between 37.9% and 58.8%. The latter uptake rate was associated with a financial incentive consisting of cash money with a value of €100 that is handed out after completing the lifestyle program with the prerequisite that the participant attended at least 75% of the scheduled meetings. Conclusions The potential uptake of the different financial incentives varied between 37.9% and 58.8%. The value of the incentive does not significantly influence the potential uptake. However, the potential uptake and associated potential effect of the financial incentive is influenced by the type of financial incentive. The preferred type of incentive is €100 in cash money, awarded after completing the lifestyle program if the participant attended at least 75% of the scheduled meetings.