Starbucks Rewards program changes as of October 16, 2012

Back in June I wrote about the fact that I was going for elite status with a new program, Starbucks Rewards. In the meantime I’ve reached Starbucks Gold status and feel like an idiot for not signing up for their loyalty program earlier. For being a Gold member you get:

  • Free soy milk and syrup with drinks
  • Free tall beverage when you purchase whole beans
  • Free refills on coffee
  • A free drink on your birthday
  • After every 15 purchases you earn one free drink, for which a voucher is mailed to you

Well, it looks like they’re making some program changes as of October 16, and on the whole I’d say they’re a wash. Here’s an explanation of the changes:

So the good news is that now you get a reward after every 12 purchases, it’s loaded onto your card, and it can be redeemed for a drink or food. I don’t care so much about the fact that it can now be redeemed for food, since drinks are usually more expensive anyway. That being said, I love the fact that you now get a free drink after every 12 purchases, and it’s loaded onto your card as opposed to being mailed to you. Being mailed the free drink voucher sucked, especially for those of us constantly on the road. The main loss here is free syrup or soy milk, which usually retails for 60 cents at my local Starbucks.

So on the whole I actually like these changes, though I’m guessing for some this is at least a mild devaluation.



  1. Devaluation in the loss of free syrups, but revaluation in the lower award threshold.

    Is Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf doing status matches?

  2. They’ve cleverly spinned it so that it seems like the changes are actually an upgrade, but then in the corner they remove the syrups and soy. Huge devaluation of the entire rewards program in my opinion.

    But that might be because I’m lactose intolerant, and not having complimentary soy with my gold status is going to be hurtful. With the amount that I patron Starbucks (about 20 drinks a month), I’m estimating I’ll be paying an additional $144/year just for soy after the new changes roll in.

    There are petitions going around to keep soy and syrups free.

    I’m definitely NOT happy about these changes. And if you do modifiers to your drinks normally (either adding syrups or soy), you shouldn’t be happy about it either. Don’t let the marketing gimmick fool you; these changes are simply to scale back their rewards system and cut down the cost of what they give back to their loyal customers.

  3. Since Starbucks is the only coffee near my office, I’ve been thinking about loading up a card. The main thing holding me back is that I currently pay with the Sapphire Preferred, so I’m having a hard time giving up the 2 points/$ on Starbucks purchases.

    Question, does loading a Starbucks card qualify as a dining purchase for Chase?

  4. Purchase starbucks gift cards at a staples with an ink product and get 5 points per dollar. Then just load on gold card. Go through UR mall and potentially get more although you get frees that way.

  5. HUGE MASSIVE devaluation IF you get syrups or soy.

    I just did a 2 minute calc and got a 13.65% price increase, pre-tax.

    Givens: 3.89 for a grande iced coffee. hazelnut is 60 cents. I used 60 drinks since that’s how many drinks you hare to buy before you get that “extra” free drink.

    buying 60 drinks old plan gives you 64 drinks total @ 233.40, 3.65 each.

    buying 60 drinks new plan gives you 65 drinks total @ 269.40, 4.14 each.

    The percentage increase is the same, regardless of the quantity of drinks – you’ll be paying 14% more in this scenario. And if you could get multiple free shots, well… hope you still can because this change just hoovers.

    Having the cert delivered to the card is cheaper for them. Giving a tall beverage away with bean s was a loss-leader get you into the store and eyeballs on the merch so I wonder why they discontinued that.

  6. The reason they are getting rid of Soy is because there has been a huge increase in the cost of soy, and they will still be offering it at a low cost, but it hurt business to give so much soy away for free, they probably couldn’t break even with the idea of giving free soy to a large consumer base

  7. I would be happy with a free drink every 20 if that’s what it took to get rid of the #@#$ postcards. Big win for me. 🙂

  8. I would always lose the postcards and white chocolate is not a syrup, so this will be a win for me. I am sure there are some office errand runners who were charging colleagues for the soy and syrups while using their Gold card.
    Also, did you see recently that Sbux had a buy 3 get yours free promo to incentivize the person who would do the Sbux run?

  9. The only reason I joined was because of the soy “benefit”. Considering that ounce for ounce it costs no more for soy than milk, the extra $.60 is a complete rip off.

    Argo Tea in Chicago ironically makes better coffee and doesn’t charge extra for soy. My new coffee chain.

  10. Not happy to lose the soy. Their ideas Page, blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts are full of unhappy comments. I will definitely not go as often now.

  11. I get both soy milk and syrup, so that’s a savings of $1.10. Unfortunately I am allergic to milk, so I HAVE to have soy milk. I am so disappointed in Starbucks right now. Other than getting rid of the postcards, huge fan of that.

  12. @AK – read your post and I think I understand but damn if that isn’t complicated. I usually prefer the KISS method for many things, Furthermore, I call it a stretch to call California the greatest state in the union 😉

  13. @Richard Thanks for doing that math for me. I get a grande vanilla iced coffee most mornings, so I am bummed about this. More surprising though…where do you live that a grande iced coffee is $3.89?!? I’m in Washington DC and here it’s only(?) $2.70 ($2.59 with my reusable cup 🙂 )

  14. @Tracy T. It was for a venti – mistyped that. I just checked my account and it was actually 3.87. Can’t believe thy had a price that didn’t end in “.x9” cents.

    @Jimgotkp I averaged maybe 1 drink from starbucks a week this year, so $36 a year isn’t going to break me. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that – as a program change this isn’t a “mild devaluation”, it’s a 14% devaluation for what is arguably the most popular program amenity.

    @Denise Score! 🙂

  15. Could you always get a free tall coffee for returning an empty bag of beans? I noticed that on a recent package.

    If that’s new, then the loss of the bean benefit is a wash–it just comes at the tail end.

  16. It’s a win for me. I don’t do soy milk or syrups at Starbucks or buy whole bean coffee, and the greater reward frequency, rewards direct to card, and chance to use for food or drink are all pluses.

  17. This is great. No soy, syrup or whole bean for us, so getting rid of the postcard is a huge win against no personal loss for us.

  18. While I’m not pleased with the removal of soy/syrup I do have to give Starbucks big props when compared to certain airlines (Delta!). This change doesn’t happen for nearly a month. Nice to have some warning… *cough cough* Delta..

  19. Yawn. I own a coffee shop (two actually) and DO NOT carry soy milk at all. New customers are sometimes shocked but if you must add milk or milk-type products to your coffee it would be hard to make a worse choice than soy “milk”. People who plead “lactose intolerance” get no sympathy from me as generally the intolerance is self-induced and blaming real milk for their “ills” is simply a proxy for other personal issues such as extreme stress/idiocy. Soy “milk” manufacturers have done exceedingly well marketing and modifying a poor product to make it palatable.

    Similarly, the obsession with sweet things in a naturally bitter product is poorly tolerated at my establishments. I absolutely refuse to carry either Splenda or Equal. The sweet component of these products is unbelievable and completely ruins the taste of coffee. Reliance on “sweet” taste to consume a product says more to me about a persons failure to properly “taste” things and indicates a general dullness.

    Someone attempted to address the economics of this move and I have to say that everytime I read about the soy/syrup benefit I had to wonder how long Starbucks would keep it. It’s certainly not a cost issue (well now Soy possibly). But the lost revenue on syrup sales must have been eye watering. I’m certain that on a per ounce basis Starbucks makes more selling syrup shots than coffee. I’ve often quipped that Starbucks is a syrup shop that uses coffee as a delivery medium.

    LOL, now all that said, I’m incredibly grateful to Starbucks, McDonalds, whoever for expanding the coffee market as they grow the universe of coffee drinkers with their marketing dollars/rewards programs which can only help my bottom line.

  20. Not a coffee drinker, just fond of their green tea latte with soy instead of milk, and no syrup. Tastes great that way. Oh well, my waistline will benefit in the long run!

  21. I saw this email and its pretty bad for me…I get a vanilla soy latte and having the card saves me a lot on the soy+syrup deductions…without that I almost don’t see any value to being a gold card…almost.

  22. Further update at Starbucks. I went in today to order my usual regular coffee with 2 inches of soy mile. I asked when the charge for soy would be going into effect and was told it wouldn’t effect me. The soy charge is for latte type drinks but not when added to regular coffee.

  23. Just buy a coffee (espresso) machine…and drink coffee at your home or office.
    You can even sell the coffee to your colleagues (to get back the costs to buy the machine). Saves a lot of money…

  24. Fantastic change, thanks for sharing as Starbucks did not send me an announcement. Essentially my ROR has increased 25% (15->12) with no extra effort! The postcards are very annoying as the expiration dates kept getting shorter and it’s just one more thing I don’t need to carry. Could care less about soy and syrup, do people really pay for these things?

    The only other change I would like is for the auto-reload to code as restaurant for 2x points. Again I really don’t need the annoyance of having to constantly waste time reloading because Starbucks corporate decides to use the wrong merchant code.

  25. SOY AND SYRUPS ARE FREE IN ICED COFFEE PEOPLE. IF THEY AREN’T YOU NEED TO TALK TO YOUR BARISTA. I used to work for Starbucks. I know for a fact that they are NOT supposed to be charging you to put soy and syrups in an ICED coffee (in a hot coffee they do charge for syrups). I get a grande toffee not soy iced coffee almost everyday and they never charge me for soy or the toffee nut because the soy is under 3 oz. THIS IS ONLY AT REGULAR STARBUCKS STAND ALONE STORES. I don’t know about ones in kroger or target. I repeat, stand alone starbucks should NOT be charging you for soy or syrups in an ICED coffee. (In latte’s and frappacinos is a different story).

  26. I have to wonder if it is legal for them to have a printed offer on their bags of beans (free tall with recycle) and then not honor it? RUDE! I notice Peets is now available in my grocery store…

  27. The new rewards program is terrible. The cards were accepted at any Starbucks. Did not mater if company standalone or a market or airport location. Now only company only stores will accept the free rewards as the non company stores have no way to verify your free reward.

    Goodbye to Starbucks….

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