Maximize Monday: Getting the Most Points from Starbucks Purchases

Feb 25, 2013

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Part of my daily routine is usually hitting up a Starbucks and getting an iced grande Americano. While not the absolute best coffee in the world, it helps me jump-start my day and I like being able to get a consistently made beverage whether I’m at home in the states or passing through an airport in Asia. My best friend has yelled at me for a while now for not using the Starbucks app and missing out on free drinks and other “elite” perks of the Starbucks program. As much as I know I should be paying for it with my app, I am a creature of habit and sometimes its hard to break out of a routine. I’d been used to either paying with my Chase Sapphire Preferred and Freedom cards (depending on the price of the purchase) to pay for my Starbucks purchases, though I’ve recently switched the entire way I pay for Starbucks to maximize their own loyalty program,  My Starbucks Rewards and the ability to load funds via gift cards purchased at offices supply stores.

Starbucks Rewards

To join My Starbucks Rewards, you simply need to register and load a Starbucks Card in any amount, either in-store, online, or with a Starbucks gift card, and you’re ready to go. The minimum load is $5 if purchasing/loading in-store or $15 if doing online.

Once your card is activated, you earn 1 Star for every purchase made using the card (or the Starbucks mobile app). Moving forward, Rewards continue to be earned as follows:

  • After you’ve used the card once, they’ll show you some love on your birthday each year with one free drink or something to eat.
  • Once you’ve collected 5 Stars, you reach Green status and are able to receive free refills on any brewed and iced coffee or tea during the same visit.
  • Collect 30 Stars within one calendar year – which is very easy to do, especially if you make a daily Starbucks run on your way into the office – and you attain Gold status. With Gold, you continue to receive your annual birthday reward and free refills in addition to:
    • A free drink or food reward with every 12 Stars
    • Those who opt-in can also receive occasional special offers from Starbucks via mail, email or text message
    • Once you’ve achieved Gold status, you keep your benefits for as long as you continue to make at least 30 purchases per year (rolling, based on when you originally qualified).

All food items in participating stores are eligible for the free reward, with the exception of multipacks, trays, whole bakery loaves and food items specific to the Starbucks Evenings menu recently rolled out in select locations. Free drink and food rewards expire 30 days they are earned.

Those who have used My Starbucks Rewards for a while will tell you that a few recent tweaks to the program made it easier to collect and redeem Rewards. Previously, Gold members had to collect 15 Stars instead of 12 to earn a free drink, and food items were not an option.


Additionally, Rewards are now automatically added to your account electronically as they’re earned, whereas previously Starbucks would send you a postcard in the mail that you would need to physically hang onto and hand over in-store to collect your Reward. The one negative to the changes is that Green members now need to pay for soy and flavored syrups in their drinks, which were previously offered for free.

It should be noted one Star is earned per purchase regardless of the size of the purchase. Grande drip coffee? One Star. Venti soy no foam sugar-free hazelnut lattes and blueberry scones for you and your entire office? Also one star.

Double Dipping Starbucks Rewards and Lucrative Credit Cards

Now the question become: how do you load your Starbucks card/app with funds? Clearly linking a credit card is the best option (it kills me to see people use cash to load their accounts!)

The Chase Freedom has Starbucks as a 5x quarterly bonus partner, up to $1,500 in spend, and Freedom points are generally worth 1 cent a piece in cash back. However, if you also have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold card, you can transfer those points earned from the Freedom to the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners of United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Priority Club and Amtrak. I value Ultimate Rewards points at about 2 cents each, so that’s a 10% rebate.

Beyond the quarterly 5x points, the Chase Exclusives program was available to Chase Freedom cardholders who got in on the card before the Exclusives program ended last year, however, cardholders earn 1 point for every $1 spent plus 10 points per transaction plus a 10% bonus on points. So if you were to visit Starbucks and spent $3 for a latte, you’d earn 3 points plus 10 points plus 0.3 points for a total of 13.3 points – which breaks down to 4.433 points per dollar. At about 2 cents each, so your return on your dollar amounts to about 8.9 cents, which is also pretty great.

The Sapphire Preferred gives 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at restaurants (Starbucks counts) and they also gives a yearly 7% bonus on all points earned, so you’re getting 2.14 points per dollar on Starbucks purchases. I value Chase points at about 2 cents a each, so that’s a 4.3% return in value from using the Sapphire Preferred.

The Citi Forward card gives 5 points per dollar on restaurant spend and ThankYou points are generally redeemed for 1 cent each in value, so using that card would be like getting a 5% rebate on Starbucks spend.

Double-Dipping With 5x Chase Ultimate Rewards and My Starbucks Rewards

That Chase Freedom 5x category is only good for another month, but in the longer term, the other option you have if you carry the Chase Ink Plus business cards is to go to an office store like Office Depot and buy Starbucks Gift Cards there at a rate of 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar you spend, then you can load the value of the gift card onto your My Starbucks Rewards card and still reap that program’s rewards. That way, you’re getting a return of about 10% on your dollar in terms of Ultimate Rewards plus the 8.33% you get with the My Starbucks Rewards card if you max out your gold status and free drink/food for every 12 purchases, for a total possible 18.33% return on your spending .

Note: I tried buying Starbucks giftcards from online retailers like Staples, but they add a $1.99 shipping fee, so the extra 2x points per $50 gift card is negated by the fee, but still if you don’t live near an office supply store, you can order them online- just make sure you go through an online shopping portal.

Double dip by using an Ink Bold or Ink Plus to buy Starbucks cards at Office Depot.
Double dip by using an Ink Bold or Ink Plus to buy Starbucks cards at Office Depot.

So, if you are looking to rack up Ultimate Rewards points for an ultra-premium airline or hotel redemption with partners like British Airways, United or Hyatt, leveraging Starbucks gift cards purchased at office supply stores is your best bet. Otherwise, at least your your Sapphire Preferred and at a very minimum, you might as well signup for the Starbucks My Rewards program and start earning your Gold status!

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