The new Starbucks Rewards, the changes & how they affect you

a quick analysis of the changes to the Starbucks Rewards program scheduled to take effect in April 2016.

Did you hear the news?  The earth-shaking, world-rocking news that will change your life forever?  You know…that Starbucks is changing their beloved Rewards program.  And let me tell you, at first, I was extremely wary.  The rewards program has been very, very good to me.  Or, I have been very, very good to it.  Alright, it is a mutually beneficial relationship.  So, when I first heard the news I was a little beside myself, quickly looking up all I could to get the lowdown on how this would affect my life.  And since I know you are worried, too; I thought I would give you the lowdown on the changes to Starbucks Rewards program.

First up, for the uninitiated, make sure you check out my post about how to make the existing Starbucks Rewards program work for you until they switch it up soon.  Because seriously, if you EVER go to Starbucks, you should be getting rewarded for shelling out $5 for a cup of extremely tasty coffee, right?

Secondly, this change is not going to happen for a little while: sometime in April 2016.  So you have some time to weigh out the cost analysis of the old rewards system versus the new one.  And you have plenty of time to plan that nationwide boycott, and then cancel it the next time they have frappucino happy hour.  (Yes, they know our weaknesses, people).

So, here are the major changes happening with the program (as I see them) and my bottom line opinion of the change.

Stars just skyrocketed

Stars are no longer a one star per one purchase deal, with 12 stars entitling Gold members to a free drink or food item.  Now Gold members need 125 stars to get a free item, but the stars are given out 2 per dollar spent.

And my brain hurts.

But basically it is giving your purchasing power a little bit more lift.  Currently, if you purchase an item around $5 or (shame on you if you do this) a number of items in one transaction, you still get only one star for your purchase.  And if the Rewards member in line in front of you purchases a $2 cup of coffee, he gets the same amount of stars: 1.  But with the new system, you get 2 stars for every dollar you spend.  So, for your $5, you would get 10 stars.  And that guy in front of you gets: 4 stars.

My opinion: While I don’t like that the amount of stars needed to get a freebie looks to have skyrocketed (because…math), I actually like this because you get rewarded based on what you are actually purchasing, not just because you make a purchase.

There are no longer 3 levels of rewards membership; just 2.

Since there are now only 2 levels of rewards, you might think that you get to the rewards faster.  And you would be right. Instead of waiting until you qualify for Green status (after earning 5 stars, most likely from 5 separate purchases), you are automatically Green when you sign up for Starbucks Rewards.  Green gets you good FREE things like a birthday present from Starbucks and free refills on coffee and tea in store (both hot and iced).  You also get special offers (not the spammy kind) in your inbox.

And after you have been Green for a little while and you buy lots and more coffee stuffs (amounting to 300 stars), you will qualify for Gold status.  And theoretically (I was not a math whiz and numbers leave my head rather quickly), you will get to the Gold status faster with the new rewards program.  Gold is good because in addition to the Green benefits, you also get a free item of your choice for every 125 stars you earn.  And a NEW benefit: monthly double-star days (more on this awesomeness below).

My opinion:  It is pretty nice that you get the Green status immediately, but honestly doesn’t every body want to be gold?

Double-Star days are appointment worthy

My absolute favorite thing about the new Starbucks Rewards program is the innovative double-star days.  These are pretty much self-explanatory (even for my math weary brain): they are days when your purchases will net you twice the stars they would normally: 4 stars per dollar.  So pretty much Starbucks is ensuring they have a kick-butt day of sales each month and I will have a day when I KNOW I will be darkening the door of my favorite Starbucks (Jackson and I-10) to stock up!

Let me take you through the part I like the most about this glorious day: Verismo pod rewards!

My husband purchased me a Verismo system for Christmas a couple of years ago.  And it is seriously amazing (the shots are better than in store…seriously).  I even got myself the milk frother wonder machine they have to go with it (because, if there is one thing the Verismo system doesn’t have going for it, it is the milk pods – eww).  But I need to stock up on my Verismo pods pretty regularly.  And with the previous Starbucks Rewards program, when I went in store to purchase my pods, I only got 1 (measly) star for my purchase of almost $12.  Now, if I go purchase on Double-Star day (you know I will!), I will get about 48 stars per box of pods (well on my way to earning a free drink/food item).

My opinion:  Straight-up awesome.

The pennies count, too.

So you might be wondering what Starbucks is planning on doing with those purchases that involve change (i.e. $5.45 cents).  Do they round up or round down?  Or do I get something for my hard-earned pennies?

The new Starbucks Rewards program will keep track of it all (including the pennies) and all the money you spend accumulates toward your rewards.  So, that 45 cents is tracked and added in when you spend the rest of that dollar and you get 2 stars when it is all added in.  So, it is like they keep a virtual piggy bank for us and each time our piggy bank is full ($1.00), we get rewarded and the leftover pennies stay in the piggy bank.  They say they are keeping it simple by showing us whole number stars, while in the background tracking parts of stars.

My opinion: I like that, too!  Thanks, Starbucks for watching my pennies for me.  And thank you for not making me work in decimals any more often than I have to.

Stars die (at Starbucks)

When the changes to the Starbucks Rewards program go into effect, the clock starts ticking for stars.  And this is the part I don’t quite get.  Remember the 2 levels of rewards (Green and Gold)?  Well, if you remain a Green rewards member without leveling up to a Gold membership, your stars expire after 12 months.  If you are inactive completely, your stars go away and your balance is zeroed out.  But if you level up to Gold, your stars expire after 6 months.  This is obviously an encouragement to visit often to make sure you keep all those precious stars alive.  But I don’t quite understand the reason for the shorter expiration for the Gold members.

The word from Starbucks is that they will always use the oldest stars first when redeeming rewards, so you don’t have to worry about using up newly created stars before those old ones expire.

My opinion:  I kind of wish this wasn’t a part of our relationship, Starbucks.  But, I love you anyway.


I am in charge of rewarding myself

In the previous Rewards program, rewards (once earned) had an expiration date that occurred about a month from the day the reward was earned.  So, if you had a free food or drink item coming to you, you have a limited amount of time to redeem it.  The new Rewards program allows you to keep your stars in your bank and decide when you want to reward yourself.  So, if you are a Gold level member and you want to save up for a little while and take all your friends out for a coffee, you have 6 months from the date the first stars were earned to redeem your rewards (see the above note, “Stars die (at Starbucks)” for more details).

My opinion: I like that I get to be in charge of when I use my rewards within about a 6 month time frame.  Because honestly, I know I am going to be in my Starbucks often enough to use my stars.  This is a benefit that is obviously geared toward their more frequent customers (since only Gold level members get this benefit).

Home brews count, too

If you are a Starbucks enthusiast who prefers to drink at home, the new Starbucks Rewards program is really going to make you smile.  For those who purchase in grocery stores or online the benefits are much better than they used to be.  Previously, you would get ONE star on specially marked packages of Starbucks ground and whole bean coffees and VIA, no matter the size.  Now, they have various star benefits associated with their home-brew products:

a quick analysis of the changes to the Starbucks Rewards program scheduled to take effect in April 2016.

As of the time of this article, there is still not a program in place to get stars from purchasing K-cups, so that is something to watch for (Starbucks, can you hear me?).

My opinion:  This is really nice because we can’t go to Starbucks every day for our basic cups of coffee.  Well, we could, but most of us don’t.  So the nice people at Starbucks Rewards are still rewarding us for drinking their fine brew at home.

Small cups get short shrift

The big deal that may make some people upset about the new Starbucks Rewards program is the same thing that will make many more rejoice.  If you are a small spender at Starbucks, it will take you longer to get rewarded.  So if you are one of those who do go to Starbucks every morning to get your basic brewed coffee, spending around $2-$3, it will take you longer to reach Gold status than those who spend around $5 per latte.  I assume that Starbucks has done much research on this particular customer.  And it may not be a too far stretch to say that this is not the customer that typically signs up for the rewards program.  I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with this customer in line at Starbucks and they seem interested in the program, but never seem to sign up.

My opinion:  There are still rewards commensurate with purchasing power, so if this is you as a customer, think about the tortoise and the hare and be happy that stars still accumulate with your every purchase.


So there you have it – a quick analysis of the changes to the Starbucks Rewards program scheduled to take effect in April 2016.  What do you think?  Do you like the changes or are you getting ready for a boycott? Let me know in the comments what you like the most or what you would improve.  


Have a friend who is a Starbucks addict?  Be sure to share this with them!

a quick analysis of the new Starbucks Rewards program scheduled to take effect in April 2016.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Evonne Cordell

    Thanks for explaining the new system. I had wondered what it was all about and your explanation was very helpful!

    Thank you!

  2. Victoria

    I am a plain Jane coffee drinker for the most part so for me the old reward system (which is still current) worked better for me but…I do buy gifts on occasion for friends so I am glad to see those now count. What I couldn’t find is do we still get our free birthday drink? I hope so.

    1. ussleah

      Yes, Victoria, we will still get our free birthday drinks (no matter what level, Green or Gold)! Yea for FREE!

  3. LOVE THIS POST. We go to ‘Bucks about once a weekend or so for fancy pants drinks and end up spending about $10 a trip for two drinks. (I know. #worthit.) I could break up the order to get more stars but I’m too lazy, so I never do. So essentially a free drink costs me $120 (Oh man, why did I do that math!?!?) But now it’ll only cost us $75 IF we don’t use double star days – this is the first I’m hearing about them, as well. Very cool! So I’m actually benefiting from the program change. I think the only people who are upset about at the ones who get a small, black coffee 12 times and then get a giant crazy drink with the free one.

Leave a Reply