A Very Expensive Starbucks Drink (Thanks Credit Card Rewards!)

Posted by CreditCardGuru

Possibly the world’s most expensive Starbucks drink at $20.65

One of the great things about credit card rewards is that they allow you to indulge in things you normally would never buy yourself. For me, that guilty indulgence is Starbucks. I love their burnt-tasting overpriced cup of Joe.

However despite my love for it, I would never actually pay for it. A four-dollar drink x 365 days= $1,460 per year! Think about it… that equals around $2,500 pre-tax income for many people. Luckily thanks to my Discover, I get to enjoy Starbucks all the time without actually paying for it. Here’s how I do it…

  • The Discover It card gives a 5% cash back on category spending (which sometimes includes eating out) and 1% on everything else. Those rewards add up fast if you max out your 5% spending.
  • Then when you redeem your cash back, you can multiply the value even further by choosing partner gift cards in lieu of cash. For Starbucks, each $45 in accumulated Cashback Bonus will buy you a $50 gift card (that’s an 11.11% boost in value).

  • But I don’t stop there. Rather than spending those gift cards directly, I transfer the balances to an existing Starbucks gift card that I’ve been using for years which has earned Gold status (any gift card will automatically be upgraded to gold after buying 30 drinks). With the Gold Card, you get free syrups and milk options.
  • Even though I’m technically not paying, I still get creative with my drink options to minimize the price and maximize the value. For example, instead of getting a latte, I will get 3 shots of espresso ($2.30) in a grande cup, then fill the rest with steamed soy (normally 60 cents, free with Gold) plus a couple pumps of vanilla syrup (normally 50 cents, free with Gold). I’m proud to proclaim that my high-octane latte only costs $2.30, which is less than half the price of ordering a similar Grande Café Latte for $4.65. Between the 11.11% boost from Discover, plus the 50% or so discount from ordering creative versions of normally expensive drinks, Starbucks can be affordable!

Starbucks free drink certificateGoing back to the Gold Card, every 15 beverages you buy with it scores you a free drink certificate. Because I’m a value-oriented type of guy, I also use these certificates to their maximum potential by ordering the most extravagant beverages imaginable (not my ghetto lattes). What is the most expensive Starbucks drink ever? Well after searching all morning long, the most expensive real-life examples I could find were in the $13 to $14 range. That’s amateur work. I knew I could do better and after extensive research, I did…

My grand total: $20.65 for a single drink

I started my order with the venti white chocolate mocha, specifically because it was the most expensive drink at Starbucks. Once I started reading through my laundry list of modifiers (yes, I brought an actual list).

my $20.65 Starbucks drink receiptI got one pump of every single syrup available, extra caramel sauce, soy (which didn’t show up on my receipt), and 22 extra shots of espresso (that’s 24 total). During my order the cashier kept asking me “You are actually buying this, right?” to confirm I was for real. I assured her of my seriousness, though technically I wasn’t going to “pay” for it out of pocket. Can you imagine how many calories were involved?

It wasn’t until after she rung me up that I whipped out the certificate from my back pocket. “Management will definitely be auditing this order for sure” she replied. I was actually surprised how friendly and helpful she was throughout the entire process. I guess because it’s Hollywood, she must be used to some unusual stuff. No telling how fussy celebs (or more likely their assistants) must be when it comes to ordering their drinks.

I patiently stepped aside and watched them make my drink, which surprisingly, didn’t take nearly as long as I would have thought. Due to all the modifiers there was a tad bit of overflow, which actually had to be poured into a second cup.

According to the Starbucks website each shot of espresso is 75 mg of caffeine, which means my drink had a grand total of 1,800 mg. To put that in perspective, a single can of Red Bull contains 80 mg, so my beverage was the equivalent of 22.5 cans of Red Bulls! Seems kind of reckless for Starbucks to sell a drink like that without having the customer sign some sort waiver (before getting the shakes, of course). Would there be some legal exposure should I have gone into full cardiac arrest? You think?

While I would love to claim the title for most expensive reward redemption at Starbucks, my record no longer stands. A woman nearly tripled the value of my lucrative latte this summer. The torch has been passed, long live the queen.

How did it taste?

I lifted the lid and it smelled like a burnt pine cone. As to how it tasted? Exactly how it smelled. Don’t worry, I tipped very generously to them for helping out. Now if only I could sleep.

Written or last updated August 22, 2014


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Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

20 comments... read them below or add your own

  1. Leanne October 22, 2014 at 2:20PM

    Taking advantage like this is probably the reason why Starbucks stopped offering free flavor shots and soy milk. Way to ruin it for the rest of us :)

  2. marie April 3, 2014 at 6:31AM

    Could someone still go in there and order a 20 dollar drink for the earned free drink from reward card?

  3. Mary March 11, 2014 at 5:57PM

    Hi, I was the barista who made the order for you two years ago (not the girl at the register). Actually you tipped $2, while that was nice of you, it wasn’t as “generous” as you stated. I hope you find calm with your life.

    • Scott March 29, 2014 at 6:24PM

      This made me pee in my pants a little!

    • AWOL October 17, 2014 at 4:43PM

      I just want to say that, most Starbucks customers I have observed don’t tip at all, especially the fussy ones…

  4. gine November 19, 2012 at 11:43AM

    I’m a couponer–recently purchased starbuck vouchers on line and BOY have I caught HELL from the local store. IT’S A COUPON!!!THE STORE ISN”T OUT any money NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE DRINK WOULD NORMALLY COST!! and I didn’t HAVE TO USE A CREDIT CARD. WHAT’S THE PROBLEM??? I was told NOT TO COME BACK IF WANTING TO USE A VOUCHER OR CERTIFICATE–ANY ONE ELSE HAVE THAT PROBLEM???

    • Smirk December 9, 2013 at 1:28PM

      Depends on whether or not the coupons are stolen service recovery certificates.

  5. stef February 16, 2012 at 7:10AM

    actually a Ghetto latte is when you ask for just espresso shots in a regular cup and fill the rest with milk from the condiment stand. That’s ghetto

  6. GP January 23, 2012 at 4:25AM

    you’re an idiot and have fallen directly into the trap the credit card issuer and merchant have laid for you. cash back is worth the most as cash, as you can invest it and make a return on it. receiving rewards as cash effectively lowers the price of everything you bought with the card. discounted gift cards are only worthwhile if they’re for retailers you’d purchase from in those amounts ANYWAY (e.g., a supermarket or wal-mart or target or amazon or whatever), and issuers aren’t dumb enough to discount more useful gift cards by much for that reason. you’re funneling reward money into starbucks, which means THEY’RE receiving the money up-front (and they can invest it, instead of you) and YOU’RE spending money on something you wouldn’t ordinarily buy (but you do because you think it’s “free”).

    i happen to shop at starbucks the same way- get free cards and got a gold card and vouchers as a result without spending a cent (did you try for a free refill on your $20 drink?). only i do it by accruing points on mypoints.com, which only costs me time i’d anyway spend surfing the internet. and cash on mypoints is significantly more expensive than starbucks cards.

    most often, though, i make my own coffee because it actually tastes good.

  7. Jane January 15, 2012 at 11:02AM

    I hope you tipped your barista.

  8. bill December 10, 2011 at 7:50PM

    “22 extra shots of espresso” is there a max on the shots if there is not why 22 shots?

    • j January 4, 2014 at 9:16AM

      I work at starbucks and was curious about this yesterday, so I typed it into the computer. The starbucks POS system won’t let me ring up more than 99 shots total. It costs just under $50 for 99 shots, and with each shot taking between 18-22 seconds to pour (via the machine) you’re talking that your drink will take just under 40 minutes to pour, those shots will all die. HAHA

  9. Chas July 26, 2011 at 1:45AM

    @Stephanie: 22 shots of espresso tastes exactly like 1 shot of espresso…there’s just 22 times more of it. As to what it would feel like, that depends on your tolerance to caffeine. I’m hypersensitive, which means that a cup of coffee could send me to the hospital. I nearly died from a caffeine overdose a few years ago…I spent two days in the hospital with a serious arrhythmia from drinking four cups of plain old coffee in a day. However, 10 years ago, I probably could have consumed that cup of 24 shots of espresso without an issue.

    I really don’t understand why the OP ordered 10 shots of syrup when all after the first were free and he was just going to throw it away anyway. Seems pretty stupid to me.

  10. stephanie July 19, 2011 at 7:44PM

    definitely made me laugh. currently trying to imagine what 22 shots of espresso would taste / feel like…

  11. Anna May 26, 2011 at 4:58AM

    Obnoxious and wasteful.

    • Kat November 26, 2011 at 12:34AM

      Thank you Anna! While this was funny, you should have consumed it if you ordered it. Plus, it isn’t bolstering your savings if you aren’t going to enjoy what you get.

  12. birdlady May 17, 2011 at 12:22PM

    With the Gold Card, you get free syrups and milk options.

  13. Tom May 17, 2011 at 11:14AM

    dldancer, you obviously didn’t read the whole article if you asked that question.

  14. dldancer May 16, 2011 at 3:48AM

    This is hilarious! It’s funny you mention the white mocha whenever I get the free drink certificates I also use them for that because they are the most expensive drink. I do have a question. From the receipt did the cashier not charge you for the extra syrups?

  15. tangerine45 May 12, 2011 at 3:17PM

    Is the all time most expensive drink from Starbucks ever ordered?

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