My Starbucks Rewards – why bother?

Agreed Starbucks is not an airline or a hotel chain. But they recently re-launched their Rewards program. So, it falls under the scope of my coverage of Loyalty Programs. Anyways, its my blog and I want to write (read rant) about this. Also, as a traveler, Starbucks has become a staple of my travel routine. They are ubiquitous and there are very few airports and even hotels out there that do not have a Starbucks in them. Washington National (DCA) is one of the few Starbucks-free airport I go thru.

Program Participation:

Participating in Starbucks program is pretty easy and straightforward. All you have to do is buy a Starbucks Gift card, any card, load it with some cash, register it online on Starbucks website and you are good to go. Everytime you swipe the card, you get a ‘Star’. Rewards, the measly ones you do get, are based on the number of stars you earn. You have to use that registered card to make purchases. There is no account number to give to get credit for the purchase if you pay cash. There is no way to get retroactive credit. You can register more than one card to your account.

You get one Star per swipe, irrespective of the amount you are charging. One Star for a single ‘Tall drip’ or five ‘Venti de-caf double half caf, with a twist of lemon‘ (Ok, that’s Steve Martin’s order in LA Story, but Starbucks now says I have have my order ‘My Way’). So, next time you are paying for multiple cups, have them charge you individually for each cup and get all the Stars. Re-charging the card can be done at any Starbucks store (even with cash) or can be done online with a credit or debit card.

Reward Levels:

There are three levels out there. Everyone starts at ‘Welcome’. Five Stars makes you a Green. 30 stars makes you Gold. Once you are a Gold, you need to earn another 30 stars to requalify Gold for another year. Pretty straightforward. Stars and levels expire every year.

The Rewards:

Here is where I was totally unimpressed. I mean, why bother. I get better rewards (a free cup of any coffee beverage after every 10 purchased) at the Deli down the street. They give everyone a card and they punch it everytime you buy any coffee beverage. Really, they need to hire some creative people up there in Seattle to come up with something that would make me want to strive to achieve. Here are the rewards at different levels.My Starbucks Rewards.gif

Welcome Level:

  • A Free Beverage on Your Birthday
  • Free Wi-Fi – Up to 2 Hours a Day

Green Level:

All the ones from Welcome level and:

  • Free Beverage Customization
  • Free Brewed Coffee or Tea Refills with Each Visit
  • Free Tall Beverage with Whole Bean Purchase
  • Free Trial Offers

Gold Level:

  • All the ones from Welcome and Green levels and:
  • Free Drink Every 15 Stars
  • Personalized Gold Card (got mine last week)
  • Personalized Offers and Coupons

Whoopee, I am 3 stars away from my next free Latte. I get another free one on my Birthday. Yawn! The only redeeming part is the free WiFi. But then again, other coffee shops like Panera Bread and even some McDonalds have free WiFi for any customer, irrespective of their ‘Elite’ level or how many cups of coffee they have purchased in the past. Furthermore, Starbucks just announced that all WiFi will be free in all cafes starting July 1st. So, that benefit is also not a benefit anymore either.

Starbucks really needs to ‘Venti-up’ their rewards program or do away with it all together.

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  1. Thanks, was wondering how this works (1 point per swipe). How does one qualify for the Gold level anyway (mrs. gleff has a gold card but no idea why!).

  2. I am a big loyalty junkie and recently when Starbucks merged their loyalty programs they actually took benefits AWAY. Also…they now require you to put money on their card…meaning they now get to benefit from those dollars vs. me keeping them in my bank account.

    I agree the program is very lame…I used to get 10% off and other cool benefits when I used the card…I paid to be part of the program initially but I thought it was worth the benefits and I was OK with them knowing who I was and mining my usage data to better understand their customers…but now…I don’t feel like I am getting any real benefit.

    What really takes the cake is that they did a POOR job communicating that you need to put money on the updated card that they sent out AND that you don’t get 10% off anymore…so when I went to use my card I was confused and the poor cashier had to try to explain to me the differences…meanwhile a whole line of people were wondering what was going on …how embarrassing…

    Well thanks Starbucks…I have cut up my card and will be choosing another coffee shop to go to whenever there is another option available…ugh!

  3. so how do i get “free flavor shots” in my drinks? do i just tell the cashier, “hey, don’t charge me bro. I’m green”

  4. When you use your card, they should know you are ‘green’. But most of the ‘Barrista’s’ I have dealt with seem clueless about the rules, so yes, you will need to ask.

  5. Gary, I bought a card back in college, setup an online account, load funds on it at the beginning of the semesters, & use to from time to time. I’m not an avid coffee drinker but after college, when I wasn’t getting free drinks from my college buds, I got a gold card in the mail and didn’t know what to do with it either. I wasn’t aware of the “rewards program” at that time. Needless to say, I got online to read up on it and enjoyed it since. Funny thing is, I didn’t know how the star thing worked until I looked but on my transaction history yesterday and noticed that the days I used to card more than once, I got more stars. I agree with unroadwarrior, Starbucks need to work on their program more. Especially training the staff how to properly charge someone based on their rewards level.

  6. The kicker is, if it is not a “participating store” you can not redeem your Rewards at all. Participating seems to mean only company owned store so as their franchise store numbers increase, the rewards program becomes less and less significant.

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