Is Starbucks Reward Card Worth It? The Starbucks Gold Card

Starbucks Gold Rewards

We, as consumers, love to be rewarded for what we do best, consuming. Rewards are given everywhere, from our points cards at Sephora to our Bank of America Cash Points Cards. Wherever we go, we spend our money and expect to get some little bit in return, because this, in our opinion, makes splurging on that Prada clutch or that Channel lipstick so much more worth it. So of course, on learning about the Starbucks rewards card, I, as a consumer myself, was intrigued.

Starbucks advertised this card as a kind of competition. You start out at the welcome level. Five drinks later, you’re at the Green level, and then in fifteen short purchases, you were now at the ever illustrious, ever gorgeous, ever glamorous Gold level. Who wants to be at the Welcome or Green, clearly, the only respectable position that a Starbucks lover could be was Gold, Gold, Gold.

Every time I walked past a Starbucks, all I could think was that I was so close, so close to getting to the beautiful, shiny Gold Starbucks card. Only one more drink, only one more cake pop, one more five dollar bill consumed by the ravenous Starbucks register and I would be getting a sparkling new 14 karat piece of plastic in the mail. I would get all the benefits that a Gold member would get, free soy milk, free syrups, Birthday drinks, free drinks every 15 beverages, and of course, exclusive emails about upcoming promotions and coupons. Plus, I would get my name, my very own name, printed on the gorgeous piece of plastic. Every time I went to Starbucks, I would get a look of admiration and respect from the green clad barista behind the ever-hungry register, maybe, there was even a secret hand shake, or a discreet head nod that the baristas were secretly instructed to carry out once they saw one of their golden brothers and sisters picking up a latté.

And finally, it was here, my Gold Starbucks rewards card, goodbye crappy gift card, hello beautiful ticket to coffee bean heaven. I imagined this is what Charlie Bucket felt like when he found that golden ticket, except that he hadn’t paid eighty bucks for it.

New Rewards Program

Well, then the Starbucks rewards program changed. No more free soy milk, no more free syrups, but to make up for it, a free drink every 12 drinks.

I started going to Starbucks all the time and casually whipping out my gleaming treasure to pay for that frap.

I got the free soy milk, YES, saved sixty cents a pop, go me! I got free syrups, thank you very much, a fee extra 200 calories without the fifty cent charge. And of course, I got the ground-breaking email coupons. This was the life, this was like an exclusive club, and I was a part of it.

But was it really all it was cracked up to be?

1. Well, first of all, let me start with the soy milk. I don’t drink real milk due to a vegan tendency that I have had for about ten years now. Therefore, not having to pay extra for every drink on the old Gold program was very useful! Unfortunately, this is no longer a feature, and I have to pay an extra 60 cents on every drink, which may not seem like much but really adds up.

2. The name on my card was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. My name was printed on a luxurious bed of gold that the card was plastered in. It was beautiful, it was glorious, it was an ego boost with every gleam and glint and sparkle, but it quickly lost its appeal. The card became quickly scratched and ratty looking, despite the fact that it had the first slot in my wallet, where I carefully placed it, just so that the hint of gold would peek out over the pink nylon of my wallet. I thought I had taken good care of the card, but it still looked old, within the first week of my receiving it. Not only this, but the baristas still asked me for my name every time I went, even though it was printed right there, which kind of bothered me since I thought that was the whole point of the name on the card.

3. Free syrups also got taken away, so even if you just want to switch out one pump of a certain syrup for a pump of another, you have to pay an extra dollar. This is extremely annoying, especially if you are just switching out flavors instead of adding more. This was a cool feature of the old gold rewards program, but like the free soy milk has been taken away.

4. The email list was, I thought, a sure way of getting exclusive deals. But boy, was I wrong. I got emails all the time about charity work Starbucks was doing, about flavors I should try, about logo changes, and so on, yet the only coupons and deals I got were the same ones that every one who signed up for the FREE email list got. They were definitely not worth the few minutes it took to read them. Yes I did get alerts of free drinks they were handing out, but those promotions were loudly advertised in Starbuckses themselves

5. One positive change for the new gold is that you now get a free drink every 12 drinks instead of every 15 drinks. This was supposedly supposed to make up for the taking away of free soy milk. Well, now instead of getting $5 for every $85 you spend, you get $5 for every $60. Having free soy milk for these 12 drinks would amount to a savings of $7:20. Instead, I get a free drink, every 12 which is $5.41. Clearly Starbucks knows that the people who benefited from the free soy milk and free syrups from their previous rewards program would save less money, i.e. make more money Starbucks with the free drink every 12 stars.

6. Free refills on coffee and tea are offered to gold members. Coffee and tea are around $2, and certainly, not popular drinks at Starbucks. Although the people that get plain coffee and tea at Starbucks can benefit from this, for most people who don't, it doesn't really make a difference. Although one feature that I thought was a nice touch is that you can get a free "refill" i.e. coffee or tea regardless of what your original drink was. So that is, you could have gotten a Frappuccino but get a tea "refill." If you like plain coffee or tea, this is great!

7. Free drink on your birthday, enough said.


8. Finally, the final catch for both rewards programs is the upkeep of the card. I did not realize this when I was on my mission to get the Gold status, but to maintain the Gold card, you needed to buy 30 drinks within the year, or your “benefits” died out faster than you could say “tall chai please”. The website aptly puts it that if you buy a drink a week, you would fulfill your requirement in a little over six months. However, it would actually take around seven and a half months, IF, and only if, you bought one every week. What if I decided to go on a break from Starbukcs? What if I didn’t feel like going each week? I of course, did go every week without fail, most of the time more than three times a week, but the fact that Starbucks was making me pay them to upkeep the card which literally showed my loyalty to them, this fact just made the card seem like a gleaming golden cage, not a reward.

The Starbucks App

One part of the rewards program that is new is the Starbucks App which has made getting the rewards a lot easier. In the app you can:

  • Pay with your phone
  • See how many stars you've earned
  • Find the nearest Starbucks to you
  • View your purchase history
  • See all your registered cards and their balances
  • Receive free electronic downloads, such as apps, books, and songs, each week as part of the "Pick of the Week" feature

I think this pap is a great addition to the rewards program and makes it mcuh easire to keep track of your rewards.

Conclusion

So, clearly, my Gold experience wasn’t exactly all it was cracked up to be. I don’t know if it’s really worth it to spend all that money for such a minuscule rewards program. I don't even save on soy milk or syrups anymore, and the faster free drink policy is really a loss of money. The other perks aren't really perks, at least for me,just pretty little words that are meant to reel in the doh. This is a brilliant marketing strategy on the park of Starbucks Public Relations staff everywhere, but honestly, the gold experience clearly referred to the cheap gold spray paint that is used to make cheap things look even cheaper, not the gorgeous element that is present in Tiffany and Co.

Please leave a comment below with your opinions, is it worth it to get the Starbucks Rewards Card, is it not?

Do you have one, how was your experience at Starbucks?

However, some do benefit from the Starbucks rewards program. Below is a video of someone explaining how the rewards program can be very profitable for the consumer.

The easiest way to benefit from rewards is to:

  • Get plain coffees such as Americanos because they are around $2.
  • Separate purchases to get more stars.
  • Use your refills on plain coffee and tea.
  • Spend your free drink on an expensive drink like a Frappuccino.

How to Benefit From Starbucks Rewards

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58 comments

Davesworld profile image

Davesworld 4 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

On the other hand, it works great for me and my wife. Retired, I wander into Starbucks five (sometimes six) mornings a week. I get a tall cup ($1.77 w/tax). I get a refill (free with the gold card). Every three weeks or so a freebie comes in the mail. My wife grabs that and gets a grande skinny mocha (price unknown to me but more than my morning cups).

So I get two cups a day and my wife gets a bigger one 16-17 times a year for nothing. Cuts the average cost per cup down quite nicely and both of us are satisfied.


hubsy profile image

hubsy 4 years ago Author

Thanks for the comment! That's a great point! Unfortunately, the drinks I get are always around four to five dollars, and I don't have the money or ability to spend five dollars every day, plus it would be about four million extra calories a day. Anyway, sounds really great. Have you checked out the other hub I wrote about Starbucks to see some new drinks you or your wife might fry?


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

I don't usually participate in incentive programs for all the reasons you've outlined above! We just got back from Cusco and we really enjoyed a few coffee drinks while we were there. But when we lived in the States, we enjoyed coffee at home and cut down on our spending at coffee shops such as Starbucks. Nice hub!


Jenn Connally 4 years ago

There is a huge misconception about purchasing 15 (now 12) "drinks" and get one on the house. It's not based on number of drinks, I quickly learned it was based on number of transactions! One transaction earns you one "star, " when you get 15 stars you get a drink. I was buying everyone and their brother coffee thinking I would get a free one soon. Nope.

But, is the card worth it. For me, yeah, it still is.


rondmrn profile image

rondmrn 3 years ago from Orange County, CA

It actually pays off for me as I'm a coffee and iced tea drinker. Free refills for those. I'd keep my gold card for the refills and the occasional free drinks. Just imagine if I didn't have a gold card and I'd have to pay 50 cents for each refill. Well, it just made my insomnia worse though!

Voted up!


Kiko 3 years ago

You're right about the gold card being cheaply spray painted, my gift card was more sturdy than this! My card was scratched by the cashier when he was swiping it... right in the middle of the cup and going down...

As for perks, I'm not a heavy coffee drinker (so the benefits don't really apply to me), but I do stop by for their scones or banana loaves for a quick breakfast before work. However, their recent Mocha Cookie Crumble? drink has won me over during Happy Hour deals. But I won't go out of my way to earn stars to remain gold...


hubsy profile image

hubsy 3 years ago Author

Thanks Kiko. I have a scratch on my gold card in the middle too! It's so annoying and is just a blemish and the supposedly exclusive gold card... I'm glad you found a drink you like.

LOVE THE BANANA LOAF BY THE WAY!


Assiqtaq profile image

Assiqtaq 3 years ago from Los Angeles

Update: The soy is no longer free with the gold card. I know, I hate that too since I drink soy milk instead of regular.

On the cost of drink side, have you tried asking a barista what else you might try that could become your regular drink and not cost as much? Most baristas are willing to help you find something to love without making you unable to pay rent that month. Also you earn stars by reloading your card also, and really for any purchase, not drink purchase alone. And it doesn't count two drinks as two stars, it is per purchase. There are quite a few ways to make earning stars a bit easier.


Cam 2 years ago

I did not understand the terms of the gold card, so I called Starbucks, they said, you have a Gold Card, on the green level. In order to get to the gold level I need to purchase 15 cups of coffee. Then I need to purchase another 12 cups to get the freebie. In the big picture that's 27 purchases in order to get one cup of coffee. Do the math.


tami 2 years ago

7 more stars till I hit gold. Love reading your article. I agree with everything you wrote.


Mel 2 years ago

Since I go to Starbucks frequently already it is worth it for me. Might as well get something back every once in a while.. I started just getting plain coffee until I get my free drink and then treating myself with something special. The free refills are also always a plus. So for someone who already shops at Starbucks a lot it would totally be worth it, but if you only shop there to get the rewards then I would agree that it's not really worth it


Phil 2 years ago

I don't get it. I have a Starbucks whenever I can but that's really only every couple of weeks or so. I buy my wife one at the same time but only get a star for each transaction not each cup. Hey presto after 30 cups I get a free one but all that time I have to keep topping my card up so that Starbucks have the cash in advance. Cafe Nero simply give me a card and stamp it for EACH drink and give me a free one after 9, plus I don't need to pay in advance.


hubsy profile image

hubsy 2 years ago Author

Thanks for the comment Phil. I totally agree! You should get a star per drink not per transaction...so unfair especially since drinks are so expensive!!!


Jels 2 years ago

You can just separate the transactions! that's what I do!


hubsy profile image

hubsy 2 years ago Author

Thanks Jels, great tip!!!


Chloe 2 years ago

I'm waiting for my gold card after reading the posted comments above I feel I'm going to get ripped off


Peggy 2 years ago

I have 3 cards registered to my account. My husband has one and he will get coffee now and then when we're traveling. I use the second card as a gift card. If I want to pay for one of my daughters or a guest I hand them the card and let them order. The third is my gold card which I use. This works for me since stars are per transaction.


clovis 2 years ago

BEWARE once you create a Starbucks account - it is IMPOSSIBLE to delete it. They say, "For record keeping purposes, we are unable to completely delete an account." - you cannot delete your email or birthday once they have it.


Mary 2 years ago

I love my Starbucks Gold card I use it almost everyday :) I separate my purchases to get more stars of course I buy a cookie, my coffee & tea (3stars per day) so in 4 days I get my free drink and I add double everything including calories to my free drink lol it works for me :)


Hanma 2 years ago

So how does the rewards program work? What if I had empty registered gift card do I still swipe it to count it towards the program?


Monsoon 2 years ago

How long did it take once you earned the card for it to come in the mail?


starbucksnut 23 months ago

I work right next to a Starbucks and I have a gold card so I get free refills at least 3-4 times a day and I just purchase the least expensive thing there which is a container of cream cheese which will get u 1 star on your app.


hubsy profile image

hubsy 23 months ago Author

Hi Hanna, thanks for the question! Basically, you get a star in your rewards loyalty account every time you use a registered card. This means you have to put money on the card before you spend money at Starbucks. You can keep that gift card in your wallet, and load say… $30 on to it every month, and whenever you go to Starbucks, use that card. For any purchase you make there, you will get a star. However, if you just swipe an empty card, you will not get any stars. Similarly, if you swipe an unregistered card, you will also not get any stars.


hubsy profile image

hubsy 23 months ago Author

Hi Monsoon, thanks for your question! It should usually take 4–6 weeks, but sometimes it can take more. I know for me it took more than two months…


Ronbo 22 months ago

I'm going on three months and still no Gold card. I have contacted starbucks three times with the same answer were working on it. That's funny because I had to meet goals to get it and now I have to wait until whenever.


Mando 22 months ago

Time is key. I recently got 15 stars during a promotion where you get four extra stars when you buy a drink with espresso, I love my Iced Caramel Machiatto! And right now if you buy 6 drinks you get 15 free!


JPac1 profile image

JPac1 22 months ago from Columbia, Missouri

Loyalty and rewards programs are often designed to be less win/win and more win/give-me-your-money. There are some good, worthwhile ones out there, but they're so often a ruse to get you to stick around and spend more. If you go in and spend at a certain place or with a certain company all the time, why not? Then it is win/win. But if you're an occasional shopper, why bother?


hubsy profile image

hubsy 21 months ago Author

Ronbo, that sounds horrible, they always take forever with these things...


hubsy profile image

hubsy 21 months ago Author

Manod, that sounds amazing!!!!! Can't believe I missed it!!!


hubsy profile image

hubsy 21 months ago Author

That's definitely true James!


Bishy 21 months ago

Best way to keep a card shiny and new looking is to go to your bank and ask for an ATM card protective sleeve. They are designed to keep the magnetic strip intact, but work great at keeping the gold front gold.


Trudy 21 months ago

I use the App no card needed.


Mama Ria 21 months ago

Thanks Hubs. This was very helpful in understanding the ins and outs of having a card!! I don't go that often. I don't think I'll participate.


hubsy profile image

hubsy 21 months ago Author

Thanks Bishy!!! I never thought of that! I'll be going to my bank soon!


hubsy profile image

hubsy 21 months ago Author

I've started using the app too Trudy! So convenient!


hubsy profile image

hubsy 21 months ago Author

Glad it helped Mama Ria!


Megan 20 months ago

Not sure why you wouldn't do it as it is free. AND you get a free drink just for signing up if you use a phone app. Granted you do have to spend $ to earn/ maintain the status, but if you drin k coffee or enjoy treats from time to time, there is no harm in having the rewards card or hook up app in your phone other than that it does somewhat encourage you to go to Starbucks.


Tony 20 months ago

If you use the promotions which they send weekly through email you can amass additional points for your purchases. I received over 59 points last month alone and am sitting on 4 free drinks. They had a promotion that if you made ten purchases in a little over a week you would receive 20 bonus points.


Sarah 20 months ago

I live in the UK, here we have a different system - 15 purchases to get a free coffee, and 50 purchases a year to keep to gold! It's almost impossible to maintain. So for a medium vanilla latte which is about £3 ($4.50) I get 50p off for the syrup ($0.75). I have to spend £125 a year on coffee (approx $180) to get 3 free drinks and get free syrup. Starbucks have also taken our free birthday drink away from us, so actually I'm not seeing any real rewards - I'm sure I wouldn't drink half as much coffee if I didn't have the rewards card, yet seem compelled to keep it as it took me a year to achieve. Oh, and they don't send us a gold card here either! (You'd think with them refusing to apply tax in the UK that they might perhaps be a little more favourable to the locals!). One tip I would recommend though is to insist on paying for each drink separately. It annoys the hell out of them when you have a few drinks on order but you've got to play them at their own game.


kdlieb 19 months ago

I just realized it's one star per transaction--so if I buy a cup for me and my husband, only 1 star. And, of course, free soy milk has been not a thing for more than a year. Not so at my local barista, who gives me 1 free one for every 9 purchased.


Greg 19 months ago

No it's not, they only make offers for things most people don't buy, and the same offers can be received at a location promoting independently... Refills are a joke, only for plane coffee or tea , and that's about it.


Chistone Sanchez 19 months ago

I realize that this article was written almost a year ago so maybe it is just that things have changed, but there are quite a few promotions for extra stars and buying ground and instant coffees in grocery stores earns stars as well... I earned triple points for buying three products (there was a list of eligible products including ground and instant coffee )

Also I like the free syrup because I always get a dark roast with a few pumps sugar free syrup (saves me from the calories)

I really appreciate the post though... when I started earning stars I was just as eager to get the gold card... luckly i realized it is not woth going to starbucks more than normal to "earn" it


Luis Polo 19 months ago

Great post. I have been a gold card holder for years now, but now that I am starting to lean more towards a real good cup of just coffee, I've realized that Starbucks isn't the best. There are at least 4 coffee shops closer to me that have much better beans and every 5th or so drink is free. So today I started to really analyze the benefit. If you love they're regular coffee, than it's worth it. If you're going for the delicioso sugar drinks that their chemists have perfected, then it's not worth it.


Frost 19 months ago

I know this is an old post, and several users have made similar comments, but I'll chime in: the gold card might be lousy if it doesn't fit your habits, but it can be great if it fits your needs (and it fits mine very well). I hit Starbucks about twice a week and 9 times out of 10 I only get a tall coffee (hot or iced). Just having the free gold card refills makes it worth it (they'd be 53 cents each here...so in theory I'm saving $1/week, and it costs me nothing). When I get my bonus drink (12 stars) I treat myself to a grande or venti frappuccino or something. And the promotions are what they are: I get 3-4 each month, but ignore most because they're not items I buy (or they're intense, like buy 8 drinks in 11 days, which I don't do). But some promotions fit, and I take advantage: a recent one got me extra stars for trying the Smores drink (it's not bad) and just last week I got a one-time bonus of a grande for less than the tall price. So it only saved me a buck...over my coffee-drinking year, that kind of thing adds up. By the way, the card has not made me an exclusive Starbucks customer: I still go to Dunkin' when it's more convenient (their coffee is still better, although SB is getting closer). Dunkin' has their own rewards program, structured differently.


klinger 18 months ago

Starbucks ripoff. Other companies give you a free cup for every 10 you purchase and there is no time limit


StarbuckEatThis 18 months ago

Marketing...marketing...marketing...makes me sick. Wake up robots. You continually purchase so much at Starbucks, for too little reward. One sided marketing, if you ask me. Whoever gets fat on drinking coffee? America does. Almost remind me of what the French do to ducks in the process of making Foie Gras... Shove 2 pounds of grain down a ducks throat for duck liver. Geezzz


Matt 17 months ago

Have to admit, I am feeling a bit deflated after reaching gold status. More hassle than it's worth.


Tina 16 months ago

My Gold card stopped working (with the advent of their concentrating on smartphones/iPhones and leaving us notebook users in the dust), and even though I used Starbucks mostly for food, they kept changing their bistro boxes on me. When I want a good cup of coffee (and until recently, I'd been adrift), I get a Dark Roast at Dunkin Donuts (which is more like a "medium roast" to Starbucks fanatics - not that I am one anymore). At least their website works for regular non-smartphone customers with their Perks card. This may change soon, but I hope it does not.


hubsy profile image

hubsy 16 months ago Author

Thanks Tina! Thats strange about your Gold card... Mine seems to be working stilll... I hope it continues to!


Daniel 16 months ago

Well I am an all around Starbucks consumer. But I am coffee drinker, started after I left the military, went to college, and of all places I lived in Seattle, the home of Starbucks. I received my Starbucks card, when they originally started the promotion. I transferred to southern California and I knew every Starbucks location in San Diego county to the Mexican border.

I am also a tea drinker because of living in Japan and wonderful friends from the U.K. After school, I lived abroad in the Philippines for a number years. They did not have any reward programs in the Philippines while I resided there.

After I returned to the U.S., I settled on the east coast with my original Starbucks card (with questions from baristas that have never seen my card), I finally achieved gold status. I like the the app and online option because I can purchase various products to maintain my status. So that I do not scratch my card or make blemishes, I order through the app (where available) and pay with my phone.

I love all coffee shops, but Starbucks Seattle was really the first. So I guess for me it is all about loyalty, although they are quite expensive, I love the fraps and some of the products offered.


@johnwylie 15 months ago

Reward programs are only good if you use that product regularly anyway. I drink Starbucks (at least) 2 times a week. So, to get rewarded for something I did anyways? I say that is well worth it.


Josh 15 months ago

The main issue with this loyalty program is that it rewards "visits" instead of "dollars spent". If I visit SB 12 times and spend $20 each visit, over the 12 visits I spend $240. Someone that also visits 12 times but only spends $5 a visit totals only $60 but is entitled to the SAME reward as me. Doesn't make much sense.


Jan 13 months ago

After spending gifts cards ad nauseum at Starbucks for a couple years and no gold card. Suddenly, they send me a gold card in the mail that arrives with a dent in it and I've moved to coffee heaven in Minnesota, with very few Starbucks around! Go figure!


Kevin 13 months ago

Yes, Even at the drive up window I make sure to separate my drinks for my boyfriend and I so we can rack up those stars quick! Petition to make stars for every purchase made not just transactions!


Kaya 11 months ago

I started out as a green level card member 3 years ago on my birthday, 2 months later i became a gold member (wooow so good to see your name on gold member card lol). Became clear that you spend so much money into buying those drinks. I only order one drink - venti, green tea lemonade (gtl), lite ice, 1/2 sweet. It was 3.95 from last year and now they increased into 4.69 w tax. A month i spend around 70ish, that is a lot of money into it. On top of that, 99% they screwed up your name or the drink doesn't taste the same as usual. I do make complaint to them if my drink is not right. Good to show off your gold card but to me is not worth it. That $70, I can save toward my charity trip.

PS: I don't recall or remember in Canada they have free refill for coffee or tea (or i don't know anything about it).


meagain 10 months ago

Engaging story--when you stopped getting free syrup, I felt sad for you! Well done.


Warren carmona 8 months ago

I did a purchased iced cinamon chai latte and i was expecting that i could get a free refill of just a normal espresso coffee in my container. But the barista charge me for a regular espresso of 2 dollars. He said im supposed to buy a regular espresso iced coffee to get a free refill. Well i just got my lessons today lol.


Jo Lim profile image

Jo Lim 5 months ago

Great written opinion. I only drink when they have 1-1 promotion. That will make it worth it =)

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