Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Starbucks rewards are changing

photo(4)My most recent trip to a coffee shop was when I went to Starbucks on January 13th, and it may have been my last … because if you haven’t heard already, the Starbucks rewards program is changing.

With the current rewards program, you earn one star for each transaction – regardless of how much you spend. Once you reach 12 stars, you earn a free drink or food item of your choice. I’m a plain coffee drinker, so each trip to Starbucks only cost me $2 for a tall coffee. And after 12 trips, I’d typical spend my reward on a more expensive drink – like a latte or frappuccino – or even a breakfast sandwich when I wanted a little treat.

With the new changes, the amount of stars you earn is determined by how much money you spend – so for every $1 spent you’ll be getting 2 stars. And you will need to collect 125 stars to earn a free item.  That means it would cost about $62 to earn a free Starbucks reward that previously cost me $24. Not cool.

If you’re consistently spending $5 each time you go to Starbucks, then the changes don’t affect you much (because you were already spending $5 x 12 = $60). And if you were buying $7 sandwiches or anything else with a bigger price tag, then you’ll get your freebie even sooner than before.

Related: Would you tip your Starbucks barista?

I get that Starbucks rewards program will benefit people who spend a lot each time they go. But that’s not me. So now there’s really no incentive to go to there over another coffee shop anymore. And actually, it kind of makes my 2016 goal of not going to coffee shops (for anything other than socializing) a lot easier. So, see ya Starbucks. It was fun while it lasted.

What do you think of the changes to the rewards program?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. Pauline says:

    I was appalled when I first read about the Starbucks Reward changes. I’m exactly like you in that I buy a tall brewed coffee and use my reward points for a more expensive purchase to treat myself. But I’ve barely gone into a Starbucks with the influx of indie coffee shops in Toronto with cheaper and more delicious lattes. So, I’m glad it won’t affect me as much! Like you, it makes it easier to NOT go into a Starbucks.

  2. Looby says:

    Yup, I’m a tea drinker ($2 each time) often choosing to get a latte as a treat for my free drinks.
    I got the starbucks app before a trip to the states so that I could avoid carrying cash but still get tea easily. I will continue to use the app when we go to the states (but that is much less frequently now with our dollar) other than that if I do feel the need for tea when I’m out I’ll find anywhere other than starbucks.

  3. Kate says:

    Quite disappointed by this change. I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks coffee but I kept going back because every month or so I would get a free drink. Now it just makes no sense. There are a million other places I can get my drip coffee or tea–and at a better price. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise as I’ll end up saving money on my coffee consumption.

  4. Ellie says:

    I guess this change is to encourage the high spenders – they will get their reward sooner. I think Starbucks would not make much from customers like you, so this makes financial sense for them.

  5. Jen says:

    Disappointing I suppose. But in reality, spend more, get more benefit, that’s just good math for a business. They are rewarding better customers. That makes sense in business. Keep in mind your 24 dollar spend which resulted in say a five dollar “freebie” has to be funded somewhere. But tightening up the rewards, it should keep the reward cost inline with what people are spending.

  6. Jason says:

    The trick is not to buy coffee.

  7. KC says:

    This is similar to Subway where you got a ticket for every transaction regardless of price and you got a free sub after so many meals (I think it was 10?). Then they changed the rules where you get a free meal after spending so much $. It would have cost me $200 of lunches just to get one free sub and you had to use it within a certain timeframe which was quite short from what I remember.

    That was enough to turn me off and nice side effect is saving more money for other needs. I still have the the odd sub when I’m out and about but no incentive to go there on a regular basis anymore.

    The owner of that particular store lost a lot of lunch customers due to that silly rewards program (located within walking distance of a lot of business buildings).

  8. Charlie says:

    I don’t drink much coffee or shop at Starbucks so I didn’t even know about Starbucks rewards program. But one tip is to buy discounted Starbucks gift cards online and use it to pay for your coffee. You can easily find 10% off Starubucks gift card online, and 20% off ones are not that hard to find either.

  9. Joel says:

    Avoid Starbucks in favour of McDonalds this week. Buy 7 hot drinks and get a medium FREE ( at participating McDonalds restaurants in Canada. What makes the deal so much better is McCafé coffees are FREE from Feb. 29 to Mar. 6!

    I think McDonalds is trying to draw customers from the ever-popular “Roll-Up-the-Rim” promotion at Tim Hortons. I prefer a free hot drink than a “please try again” from Tim Hortons.

    Are you near to a McDonalds?

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