New Starbucks Gold Card program has fewer perks

Posted by CreditCardGuru

Although not a credit card, the Starbucks loyalty rewards program is enjoyed by card connoisseurs everywhere. But long-time members will probably remember a time when they enjoyed it a lot more.

Recently the Starbucks Gold Card rewards changed for the worse. An email was sent out to cardholders, notifying us that we should “Get ready for a new-and-improved My Starbucks Rewards.”

Starbucks Gold Card parody

Well, it’s a “new” program, but it’s certainly not “improved.” A more accurate title for the email would be this:

“Get ready to pay more for your coffee”

Why do I say this? Well, review the old Starbucks Gold Card benefits:

  • Free soy milk
  • Free syrups
  • Free drink every 15 stars (15 drink purchases)
  • Free refills on brewed or iced coffee and tea
  • Free tall beverage every time you buy a 1 lb bag of whole bean coffee
  • Free birthday beverage

Now, let’s review the new program:

  • Free drink (or food) every 12 stars (12 drink purchases).
  • Free refills on brewed or iced coffee and tea
  • Free birthday beverage

So it seems that Starbucks has discontinued several of its perks and called it an improvement.

Hoodwinked?

They try and really play up that now, there are “no more snail mail postcards for rewards. Free drinks and food rewards will load right onto your Starbucks Card.”

First of all, the post cards arrived in a matter of days so that was no biggie. Secondly, I liked to use my postcards strategically to buy the most expensive drinks possible.

But now, correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds like every 13th drink purchase will automatically be the free one. I don’t see anything that says we will have the right to choose when we redeem the reward beverage. So unless you have the time and mental resources during the waking hours of the morning to actually remember how many drinks you’ve bought so far, you might accidentally use your freebie on something cheap, like a black coffee. What was great about the postcard is you had full knowledge of when it was being used and you could control when that would be.
Update: You can save your free-drink credits for whenever you want. So, you can pay for your cheap black coffee and save your free drink for something fancier down the road.

Milking the customer

The worst “new and improved” change is that there will no longer be complimentary soy or syrups.

So they will continue offering cow’s milk, but if you want to sub it for soy, you will now be whacked with a 60 cent surcharge.

That makes absolutely no sense at all, because on a per-ounce basis, dairy milk is significantly more expensive than soy. Plus, unopened soy milk can be stored at room temperature and has a long shelf-life, so it’s also cheaper for them from a logistics standpoint, too.

That brings us to the question… then why are they charging Gold Card holders for something that actually saves them money?

I can’t help but wonder if Starbucks knows that the vegans, lactose intolerant, and health conscious consumers will have no choice but to cough up the difference.

“Improved” benefits = 30% price hike

For many consumers, the elimination of soy milk and syrups will lead to their beverages costing upwards of 30% of higher. Here’s an example…

Tall Café Americano = $1.95
+ Soy = $0.60
———————————————————
Old price = $1.95
“New and Improved” price = $2.55
(that’s 30% higher)

And I haven’t even factored in the “new and improved” costs for the syrups. Remember that’s something else that’s on the Starbucks Gold Card discontinued list.

Verdict

The new card offers convenience, in that your rewards are loaded right onto your card, and you get free drinks slightly more often.

However, with loyalty programs, part of draw is feeling taken care of as a customer and getting little perks and extras for free. And, with this new program, a lot of those nice, complimentary perks (soy, syrups) are going away. If you were a fan of those, your Gold card might seem less worthy of space in your wallet.

If you also want to ditch the Starbucks Gold Card program, I highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card because it gives 2x on dining at restaurants.

Or if you want a real Gold Card with real worthwhile rewards and benefits, then check out American Express.


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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.

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

  1. Goody Banker August 14, 2014 at 4:00PM

    I’ve had trouble with getting my free drink or birthday drinks. It does show on the mobile app what was earned or how many starshat but the rewards expire if not used in 30 days. What sense does that make? It was earned at one point but expired. Huh?
    I recently got a birthday reward and went to use it but was a day late and was told it had expired. I don’t get it…
    Ive used my card numerous times when i had a reward available but wasnt asked if I wanted to use it and the reward expired. Thats happened twice. It pisses me off!

  2. Dominik Szewczyk June 29, 2014 at 8:31AM

    I was a black card holder since 2008 and did some of the same calculations. I preffeeed my 10% discount and free drinks after 15.

  3. Hadassah June 28, 2014 at 12:02PM

    I get charged 50 cents for every refill on the iced green tea I drink almost everyday and even then they make me pay for the 50 cents with my gold card as to “make sure I am a gold customer” as the barista has assured me because he “wouldn’t want to make me pay for a full sized drink again.”

  4. Patty June 1, 2014 at 10:55AM

    I’m not sure if its the same everywhere, but where I live you get to choose when you use your free beverage. I can’t count how many postcards I lost and never got my free drink, so I enjoy the card. As for losing out on free syrups and soy milk and drink upgrades, I never got those anyway because I always felt like I had to beg for it and it wasn’t worth that. The new card works way better for me.

  5. white May 28, 2014 at 7:23PM

    as of today as Starbucks are no longer giving me free refills on my tea i will let them stick there gold card in there ass

    • Me May 31, 2014 at 2:56PM

      It’s their.

  6. Mjp April 26, 2014 at 1:57AM

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience. For me the Starbuck rewards are a cost saving benefit. I buy a reusable cup and I only order a tall Pike for $1.75 minus .10 (for using a reusable cup). So it cost me a total of $19.80 for 12 cups and 12 stars. With the reward I’ll buy the $6.95 salad. So my total cost for the 12 cups is $12.85. That’s just a little over a $1.07 for a cup of coffee. You can’t get a cup of coffee anywhere for that price not to mention the free refills.

    • Refill Abuser May 15, 2014 at 2:24AM

      I like the idea of never having to pay for starbucks again. Get a 5 dollar starbucks gift card, register it for a birthday say Jan 01. Next one use that gift card to buy another gift card and register it for Jan 02, so on until you have 365 gift cards registered so you have a birthday reward every day. If you want to get a free sandwich too, get a second card registered making it 730 gift cards using just 5 dollars.

      • Starbucks May 30, 2014 at 4:42AM

        Wtf haha

  7. Karoosie April 8, 2014 at 2:59PM

    For me, this program is way better. I don’t use soy or syrups, and I don’t buy bagged coffee, so now I get my free drink (or food now!) 20% faster. You’re wrong about being forced to use it on the 13th purchase, it stores in your account and you can use it whenever. Not to mention that when I tell the barista that I’m using a reward, every time I’ve had more than one item in the order they have applied it to the most expensive item, including the $5 protein pack. I sure as heck would rather have everything stored in my app than get a postcard that I’ll most likely forget to bring with me.

  8. Brandy March 25, 2014 at 6:06PM

    You gotta love an inflammatory post about corporate greed that ends with a rallying cry to use a Capital One card. Subtle!

  9. Mary March 21, 2014 at 5:40PM

    Thank you “Hollywood” for clarifying everything. I support Starbucks frankly because they support the working man…the communities they are in…they strive to aim for pleasing the customer no matter what. If you want a 50 cent coffee go to the gas station. If you want sloppy customer service go to a fast food place. For those who make coffee at home from store bought coffee ie; folgers and maxwell etc…have you seen the price for 1 pound of that coffee??? Its VERY close to the same as 1 pound of Starbucks coffee so why settle for a coffee company who doesn’t offer rewards when you can get “something” for the samething you were planning on purchasing anyways. Not to mention every Gold Members account is different I may get a coupon but you may not it caters to how you buy and what you buy…its marketing but its what I call safe and nice marketing. I ♡ Starbucks! :)

  10. That guy March 19, 2014 at 7:20AM

    Let’s add another insult to injury:

    If you bought a bag of Starbucks coffee, you used to be able to redeem that bag for a free coffee at a Starbucks location. (as well as have a sticker for a code)

    Now, they have changed the bag printing design… no more free coffee offer.

    For me, that means that the “real cost” of a bag of coffee from Starbucks has gone UP $2.00 / bag. And that means that the VALUE of Starbucks, compared to competitors, has gone DOWN.

    A star sticker does not offset that difference.

    • Frank March 25, 2014 at 4:39PM

      I noticed the same thing… as of around Mar 1, 2014 grocery store coffee bags no longer have the FREE TALL Coffee Offer… NOR the STAR STICKER attached. I love the way they get us hooked on Starbucks and slowly take away the good deals. Have you tried taking in a grocery store coffee bag WITHOUT the FREE TALL Coffee Offer on it and see if they still give a Free Tall?

    • SBUXPARTNER April 5, 2014 at 9:11PM

      Not true. The code is 514 for a free tall coffee with the trade in of any bag marked or unmarked. This is why we accept the empty bags from in store coffee as well.

      Source: I work at Starbucks.

  11. Anastasia March 13, 2014 at 10:59PM

    I think it works if you’re a college student. I go there once a week and only get one item. It seems to me that if you’re frequently going then it isn’t as worth it as opposed to someone who doesn’t go as frequently. Is there a correction here?

  12. Smarter than you March 9, 2014 at 6:43PM

    Actually you are wrong. Instead of wasting paper you get an email telling you that you have a reward. You have to tell the barista before they ring your drink up if you want to use the reward, so no, you won’t waste it on a coffee by accident. Also, you can use it on food now and you couldn’t before so that is a bonus as well. Keep in mind, they could get rid of rewards all together. And in case you are unaware the price of everything goes up. When Starbucks starts paying more for milk, they have to compensate. Also, while I’m ranting, all the customers that come to get free drinks when we have specials like Bogo- it would be nice to tip!

  13. FB March 7, 2014 at 9:24PM

    To everyone complaining, honestly what’s the big deal? Starbucks is NOT obligated to give anything for free. Most businesses don’t. If the member rewards card did not exist many of us would still be spending our money buying coffee at Starbucks with no expectation of being “rewarded” for it. The whole point of the Gold card, green card or what ever type of member you are is to reward frequent customers for coming in and supporting their business. Free is free no matter how many stars it took to get there. It is better than getting nothing for buying drinks you would have bought regardless . Starbucks Rewards program is also an advertising ploy. That fact should not be shocking to you. There are people out there who make it a goal to become a gold member and spend money they otherwise would not have in order to attain iit but that’s not Starbucks fault. It’s just business.

    • Patty June 1, 2014 at 10:58AM

      Well said! I always chuckle when people complain about freebies and benefits. It’s like the company can’t do anything right!

  14. Eric March 6, 2014 at 3:47PM

    What is the policy on free refills now . I am getting different answers from Starbucks stores. One says free filter tall coffee whatever the original purchase, and one says it has to be tall filter only to get the refill !

    • Tanya March 17, 2014 at 4:31PM

      Eric,
      Starbucks policy is a free refill of brewed coffee, iced coffee, iced tea, or hot tea with the purchase of any beverage.

  15. Brevet05 March 1, 2014 at 4:00PM

    I guess I can’t comment on the old system, as I have only been using Starbucks Rewards since late November, when they sent me an e-mail for the ‘Gold Rush’. I went to the web site, played their little ‘get familiar with our system’ games (locate a store, transfer money, send e-gift cards, etc), earning free stars along the way, and went Gold with pretty minimal purchases. I have never been a regular Starbucks store customer, as I have the ability to make great coffee and espresso at home and at work, but since I have been earning stars for my bags of beans and redeeming the codes that show up in my account, I find myself in the stores quite regularly. I’m probably hooked, but that free Turkey Rustico Panini I had for lunch today still tasted great…
    Thanks for not taking my chair by going elsewhere, I guess.

  16. Hannah January 28, 2014 at 7:07AM

    You still get a free tall coffee for every bag of coffee you buy. This hasn’t changed nor is it exclusive to the rewards program. It states on the bottom or side of every bag of Starbucks Coffee that you can redeem for one free tall coffee. True, you have to take the empty bag into a Starbucks location, but I just empty my beans into a canister and off I go.

    • jim January 30, 2014 at 9:24AM

      Hannah, That is a new one to me and I plan to check my bag bottom and if so, save from now on!! That is, if a stay a loyal member.

      Frankly, I’ve been a gold card member since 2008 and I’ve watched our benefits dwindle down to nothing, under the guise of improvements. For example, I generally earn most of my stars by purchasing bags of the expensive Kenya AA beans. I used to get a free tall beverage of choice with each purchase, which at least offset some of the high pricing ($14 a pound!!). That has gone by the wayside, although at least I still get a star for purchasing a bag. But, they’ve also implemented the bogus expiration date on a reward (which I learned to my dismay when trying to use one of my rewards the other day). Their website says that they are doing this for the following reason: “Rewards have an expiration date because we want to encourage members to use them. As our most loyal customers we want you to enjoy your birthday reward and earned rewards because you deserve that…” Yeah, right–they are looking out for way to cut on letting us redeem rewards, as we no longer get a postcard and unless we check our account, we don’t even know we’ve earned the rewards. The baristas are apparently trained not to let us know that we have a drink award available when we purchase something in line. Wouldn’t it be much better customer service and encourage loyalty if they were instead instructed to remind us that we had a reward available and ask if we’d like to use it? Not under the new marketing/profiteering philosophy. I may just opt out of Starbucks from now on and purchase my beans locally and opt for any other ccffeehouse but Starbucks whle on roadtrips.

  17. midget_goliath January 14, 2014 at 12:55AM

    Hold on coffee bean, here is the correct math:
    (2.42 Amazano + Goat milk) * 113 purchases = astronomic mucho money
    (1.95 Green Tea + Seaweed juice) * 115 purchases = less astronomic money
    Which is a 1.9567% more Apple PI slices before inflation.

    Geez, what is so difficult about that.

  18. Liliana January 11, 2014 at 6:59PM

    As a college student I find myself studying at Starbucks almost every night, 5 times a week. It’s a very peaceful, relaxing area in the later times of day where I’m able to stay focused. Yes, it sucks that the rewards seem to diminish but for someone like me who’ll spend countless hours at a time there, the free refils really come in handy. I just got the rewards card in late December after Christmas and am already in Green level and when the semester starts up I know I’ll be in gold in no time. I have done a lot of studying over break for classes I have yet to start but as a full time medical student, what else is there to expect, & I’ve noticed that my spending has decreased at Starbucks simply because of the free refils !

    So if you’re a college student, I definetly recomended getting the card.

  19. Michelle January 9, 2014 at 12:41PM

    I am one who buys 4 drinks at a time (for the family) but unless I ask them to ring each drink separately I get one star per transaction. It doesn’t matter if my average purchase is $40 including food. I still get one star per transaction. I didn’t even notice that the free syrups were gone. I don’t always get a syrup. Wow.

  20. JS December 4, 2013 at 10:37AM

    McDonalds new coffees will give them a run for their money at half the price! Try them!

    • JS December 4, 2013 at 10:37AM

      But, I’m still a Starbucks fan ;o)

    • Mary March 21, 2014 at 5:22PM

      Not true. But McDonald’s is franchised out but most I have noticed that the same size large mocha hot there compared to Starbucks the price is VERY close. McDonald’s is about $4.25 not including tax when a Venti White Mocha costs about $4.95 so what a whole 70 cents makes a huge difference??? Not when I know my money at Starbucks helps support the community and my order is always perfectly correct and consistent as McDonalds you are only making a franchise owner rich and a 16 yr old sloppy making ur drink and I can promise its nothing but powder cocoa with warm watered down milk…no thank you. I will never choose McDonald’s over starbucks…you cant compare them at all not in price nor quality!

    • NP May 31, 2014 at 11:42AM

      That mess tastes like dirt & no “real” coffee or espresso drinker will fall for that. All of their iced coffees are full of sugar & heavy cream…GROSS

  21. Sam November 24, 2013 at 4:45PM

    Yes, me too! I will dump Sh$t-bucks! It’s not worth it. What a load of crap

  22. Tony November 24, 2013 at 1:10PM

    Starbucks rewards are not for me. I got a gold card, then was downgraded to green. I have purchased many coffees, but only have tw stars. They seem to disappear each month. I am not near my anniversary date, which is January.

    I’ll stick to going elsewhere. Laveggio’s in Binghamton & Soulful Cup in Corning.

  23. Sapphire October 27, 2013 at 11:25PM

    I don’t get many rewards for being a member or loyal customer. I only got one 5 dollar offer on one of my cards and one free drink, but so far nothing else. I think I get more from being a Vons member than anything else, if I type my number in the starbucks machine I get dollar off coupons, it isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.

  24. Kelly August 29, 2013 at 11:53AM

    I love the new rewards. I only like one drink there and get it every day, which does not include soy or syrups, so it’s a great deal for me. The iPhone app keeps track of your rewards so it’s easy to find out when one is available. I’m really glad the postcards are history. I think there were some that I never received…

  25. Steven L. May 28, 2013 at 3:43PM

    “If you also want to ditch the Starbucks Gold Card program and go for green pastures elsewhere, I highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred card…”

    Or… you could use reload the *$ card with the Sapphire card. Depending on your market area, it’s not like coffee is necessarily cheaper elsewhere.

  26. Kevin November 3, 2012 at 11:35PM

    It’s a bit late if you’ve taken your business elsewhere (I’m sure Howard doesn’t care), but:

    “But now, correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds like every 13th drink purchase will automatically be the free one.”

    You are wrong. You are also now corrected. You have to specifically ask to apply the reward (they will choose the most expensive eligible item).

    You neglect entirely the new “redeem for food” reward as well. Keep in mind, their profit margin on drinks are probably like 400% (bean, water, sugar, milk) and their profit margin on food is probably 100-200% (where do you buy “salumi”? +shipping, storage, etc.), so if you redeem on food items, you’re probably costing them more anyway.

    Also, a more fair analysis of the new rewards structure:
    (2.55 Americano + Soy milk) * 12 purchases = $30.60
    (1.95 Americano + Soy milk) * 15 purchases = $29.25
    Which is a 4.6% difference (1.35), not a 30% difference, but it doesn’t sound as dramatic (because it isn’t dramatic), so it probably doesn’t make for a very good blog post.

    As a matter of fact, if your “regular” drink purchase is $2.40 or better with free soy milk, you will make out better with the new plan paying for the soy milk than you did under the old rewards program (Because 3*12 = 2.4*15!). If your regular drink purchase at Starbucks is $2.40, you are also quite insane.

    As somebody who reviews credit card reward structures (many of which are very complicated!), it’s completely shocking that you made only one calculation for this “review” and it was based on a completely flawed premise.

    And who buys americanos (or adds syrups to drinks) at -Starbucks- and complains about getting a good value?

    My Starbucks gold card plan pre-plan change:
    Buy 15 cups of coffee
    Redeem for a green tea frapp

    My new Starbucks gold card plan:
    Buy 12 cups of coffee
    Redeem for a green tea frapp (or any of the food items, as I see fit)

    Yeah, they’re really getting me with this new plan change.

    • Michael November 7, 2012 at 9:22PM

      Kevin, two things….

      1. When the change was announced, they didn’t say you could choose when to use it. They didn’t disclose that ’til later, after this post was written.

      2. This math of yours is hogwash:

      (2.55 Americano + Soy milk) * 12 purchases = $30.60
      (1.95 Americano + Soy milk) * 15 purchases = $29.25
      Which is a 4.6% difference (1.35), not a 30% difference, but it doesn’t sound as dramatic (because it isn’t dramatic), so it probably doesn’t make for a very good blog post.

      Um… you obviously are only focused on the free drink, NOT THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE TO PAY $0.60 MORE ON EVERY DRINK! 12 x $0.60 = paying $7.20 more (or $9.00 more for 15 drinks). So according to you, paying $7.20 or $9.00 more is a deal, because you get get the free drink a little sooner? You make no sense.

      • mike January 5, 2013 at 9:49AM

        Think he did factor the .60 in. Don’t forget to subtract the fact that you do not pay for drink 13, 14, and 15 ( each at 2.55) to get the reward.

        I do like the old way better,especially for the people who add the syrups!
        Crap, I really wake my lazy butt up earlier and make my own instead of spending 3 bucks every day!!!

      • Belle May 7, 2013 at 7:08AM

        well, that makes sense if people are just getting soy milk. However, if they want to try and make a fancy cheap drink than it can now cost about $4.50 now. For example, I used to get a Large Americano with steamed soy and 1 pump of chi, and 1 pump of chocolate, which now is 2.95 for the Americano, 60 cents for the soy and I think it is ether 50 or 60 cents for each of the flavors. They wont even just charge you for one even though each flavor you can get 5 pumps, they still charge you for each flavor. Also if you go the other way about ordering this drink by getting a mocha, adding a shot of espresso, and the chi, and soy it comes out to over 7 dollars. It just depends on how you like your drink if the new rewards are good for you or not.

    • Belle May 7, 2013 at 7:19AM

      I do… buy americanos and doctor them up, or sometimes I even buy a small coffee and add hot water, milk and other random things. But its mainly because they have really strong coffee and I like mine quite a bit weaker. I used to think that their regular coffee just tasted like crap but than I figured out that it is just too strong for me.

      I also will sometimes get an Americano with two pumps of chi and steamed soy milk because if I order a chi and add the espresso, and steamed soy it can come out to like 7 dollars or something. While the other way is cheaper by 3 dollars and is not as overly sweet.

      • Hollywood February 23, 2014 at 1:15AM

        Hey I’m a Starbucks partner and just to clarify we do not charge 60¢ for the steamed soy in americanos or even brewed coffee for that matter. We only charge for soy when it’s more then 4oz. Also we charge for the first syrup added to brewed coffee, iced coffee, frappuccinos, and even iced teas but not for each syrup. Usually the first syrup is charged but not each individual syrup. However if you add mocha drizzle or caramel drizzle to a drink that does not come with it you will be charged an additional 60¢. Starbucks is known to allow customers to customize drinks to their liking so really they are the ones who are responsible for how much they are spending by adding so many different customizations. We as a company enjoy giving the customer exactly what they ask for. If they are willing to pay the price for their complicated customizations then really why are they complaining? We offer a wide variety of coffees with different strengths. If you are not a fan of bold brews Americanos are probably not the best thing to order. Our blonde roast would probably be a perfect choice. Also the reason why the soy chai is more expensive is because it’s a latte and lattes have more then 4oz of Milk.

  27. Ari Herzog September 30, 2012 at 7:13AM

    Amen, brother.

    I saw that email and thought the same. I frequently took advantage of the free mocha syrup in my iced chai, and the postcards also served as a reminder to buy a venti instead of a grande. How do I know that now?

    But to take my business elsewhere? Hmm…

    • Belle May 7, 2013 at 7:10AM

      You can still choose when you use your free drink, however you have to keep an eye on your e-mail to know when you get it. You just let whoever you are ordering from know.

    • Hollywood February 23, 2014 at 1:25AM

      The reason why the postcards were changed to emails and the Starbucks app notifications was because of abuse of the postcards. People who were not gold star members would come into the store with the postcard ripped to hide the persons name in which it was addressed
      To. The gold card also frequently sends special coupons, codes like buy one get one free, $1 off and many other codes. With the Starbucks app you get notifications of how many stars you have, how many rewards you have and all the different codes you get that exclusive to our gold card members. I know because even though I am a partner I also have a gold card. When you go to redeem your special exclusive coupons our registers will then ask us to scan the gold card associated with that exclusive deal. If you do not have a gold card or registered card you cannot redeem the coupon. I def think the gold card has improved. And now with getting a free FOOD or Drink item every 12 stars makes it fair to our customers who just really enjoy a simple cup of coffee but perhaps don’t want to spend $2-$7 on a food item.

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