The Starbucks Rewards Program Is Changing and Some People Are NOT Happy About It

It might take some coffee drinkers longer to accrue freebies, while others may benefit from the change. How do you feel about the new rewards program?
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Starbucks is preparing to roll out some changes to its popular customer loyalty program, Starbucks Rewards. The coffee chain promises to make it more, well, rewarding, but we want to know: Are you excited about the new direction?

Currently, You Get a Free Item Every 12 Visits

Under the current rewards program, there are three levels: Welcome, Green, and Gold. Customers receive one star per transaction, regardless of how much they purchase. Meaning a $2 cup of coffee is worth the same as picking up $5 lattes for all your friends.

In order to redeem these stars for a free drink, you must first get to Gold level membership. To do so, you have to earn 30 stars, which can be done in 30 visits. After that, for every 12 stars you earn, you receive a free item. Sounds simple enough, right?

Since the current system rewards you based on how many transactions you make, regardless of what you spend, basic coffee drinkers come out ahead since they can spend the least and receive the same freebies as their latte-drinking brethren.

Coming Soon: Free Items Faster, Theoretically

Beginning in April, the new rewards program will change to two levels: Green and Gold. Every transaction will equate to 2 stars per dollar spent, regardless of what you buy. As a bonus, change on your order will go towards partial stars, which will accumulate to whole stars. This gives more rewards heft to the customers who spend more on pricier drinks, since they'll get more stars than drip coffee drinks.

But that means that it might take longer for some Starbucks fans to reach the Gold level and, as a result, those free drinks; in addition to changing the point system, the chain is also instituting changes to rewards redemption. In order to reach Gold membership status under the new program, you'll have to earn 300 stars. That comes out to roughly $150 to become a Gold member. If you were spending $5 per drink under the old system, then this still equates to about 30 visits. But it will take much longer for standard coffee drinkers to get to that level.

And to maintain that Gold status? Be prepared to rack up another 300 stars the next year. Plus, after that you won't receive a free item until you accrue another 125 stars, or spend another $63 (approximately). That's a lot of coffee, although Starbucks has said that Gold status members will be able to take advantage of "double star days."

Despite these changes to the program, Green and Gold status members can still receive free refills on coffee and tea!

Do You Participate in Starbucks Rewards?

We want to hear from you. Are the upcoming changes something you're looking forward to? Or will you find another coffee shop with a different loyalty plan?

Julie Ramhold
Senior Staff Writer/Consumer Analyst

Julie's work has been featured on CNBC, GoBankingRates, Kiplinger, Marketwatch, Money, The New York Times, Real Simple, US News, WaPo, WSJ, Yahoo!, and more. She's extolled the virtues of DealNews in interviews with Cheddar TV, GMA, various podcasts, and affiliates across the United States, plus one in Canada.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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For those curious about how this will affect them personally, a calculator is available online:
The new store design is cold and uninviting. Lots of open wasted space. And bench/planks that make you sit with your face planted against the (cold in the Midwest) windows.

Might as well just save time & energy and convert straight to the Checkers/Rally's drive-thru/walkup only franchise model.

Won't miss Starbucks one bit - or their silly anti-gun crusades or leftist politics. We prefer our food minus politics. Panera and Chipotle are you listening?
It's their company, so their choice. We'll vote with our wallet (feet).

We're basic coffee drinkers so they might not have been getting as rich off us as from the $5 drinkers.

But the existing program design did encourage us to visit more often then we otherwise would have. The new program will make us oblivious to Starbucks - only visiting when friends insist.

Now have to figure out how to use up our card balance... Good move for the competition.
Rocket Doc
The last time they made changes, a few years ago, I pointed out in their forums that for most customers it was effectively a price increase, and got massively voted down. They always focus on the new features that will benefit some, last time it was being able to earn reward points and use rewards on food instead of just drinks; this time it is the ability to earn reward points on purchases other than food or drinks, such as coffee beans and mugs (which people may well have asked for; they just didn't know what the trade-off consequences would be). I calculate that for my purchasing habits it will make minimal difference in the number and price of purchases to earn a reward compared to now, but I know for people with other habits it will be a significant change. I am curious how the weekly bonus point challenges will change under the new system; I frequently game those to earn rewards at a faster pace.
Can you say "Keurig"? I know you can. I bought my first cup of *$ coffee last week. Asked for small black coffee, got 20 questions. Didn't realize how bad they had screwed up coffee.
I feel sort of betrayed, i liked getting the one "on the arm" as often as was the practice. I guess I'll do without cause dunkin sucks ass.
All in all, Starbucks does not care all that much about it's customers--they care about the shareholders. They currently trade at near 60 bucks a share, I think they can afford to give out a free coffee a little more frequently. Truthfully we stopped going to Star*ucks a year or more ago....we shop at local stores or Dunn Bros. who roasts their own beans in store daily, bakes most of their bakery items fresh daily and has employees that actually care about the customers. Starbucks recently did a remodel on many of it's stores...I hear from a source that they wanted to make sure the furniture was less comfortable so that people would spend less time in the store therefore a larger turnover of customers buying a product. They don't care but still people like sheep line up at their counters for sub-par coffee that's been stored in a warehouse and roasted months prior to brewing. I'm so glad we burned our gold cards months ago!!!
Reminds me of how the airlines pilfered our mileage perks.
This new system is crap and Starbucks has the nerve to tell us in their announcement emails this is being done because we, the customers, requested this! This is to their benefit, NOT ours! I hope some kind of petition gets made to revert back to the old system. Shame on Starbucks!
I gave away the two stars I hadn't added to my account from store bought bags and will probably buy beans only if that. I'm glad to see the voting results confirm my anger for this policy change.
To paraphrase an old saying, "All free things must come to an end."
Now you won't be able to get credit/stars for buying coffee at grocery store. This program is terrible.
horrible rewards program. 12 visits to get free drink.
now spend $62 to get a $5 drink.
what r the customers drinking to go there for overpriced coffee which atmost cost 20cents to make