The Best Credit Cards to Use at Starbucks

Dec 20, 2018

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With close to 30,000 locations, over $24 billion in annual net revenue and over 15 million rewards members, Starbucks is, without question, a worldwide phenomenon. Believe it or not, even here at The Points Guy, some of our most popular articles are related to Starbucks. So, it is (past) time to combine the world of points and rewards credit cards with the immense popularity of Starbucks and release a list of the best credit cards to use at Starbucks.

Now — just like airline award charts aren’t all straightforward and simple, neither are all the nuances of the Starbucks Rewards program. To keep things apples to apples here, we’re going to assume you are already a Starbucks Gold member who can cash in 125 Starbucks Stars for basically any item on the menu. If you aren’t yet a Gold member, I recommend just using the credit card in your wallet that is the most rewarding on dining for your occasional Starbucks purchase. Come back to this article once your coffee addition hits peak levels (like after a kid is born or you get a second or third job).

Earning and Using Starbucks Stars

No matter what credit card (or gift card) you use to pay for Starbucks, if you load that money into your Starbucks app, you earn 2 Starbucks Stars per dollar when pay for Starbucks menu items. Since that is a constant at participating Starbucks, we’re going to largely ignore those earnings here, but be sure and earn those Stars as they are worth about 4 cents each.

Speaking of which, a Starbucks Reward costs 125 Stars and can be used for anything from a basic cup of coffee that costs a little over $2 to a $8 turkey sandwich box to one of those insane large made-up drinks with 8 million espresso shots, whip cream, sprinkles and rainbow pixie dust. But, with most drinks and breakfast items ringing in at $5 or less, we’ll say that $5 is the target value for 125 Stars, making Stars worth 4 cents each by our calculations.

There’s also the quirk that Starbucks Stars expire six months after they are earned on the first day of the month, so they aren’t valuable at all if you don’t use them up.

(Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Lots of Ways to Earn a Bonus at Starbucks

Your first thought when deciding which credit card to use at Starbucks might have been the one that gives the best bonus on dining, and that’s not a bad approach. However, it is not the only path to a bonus at Starbucks. Since you can reload your Starbucks balance from the mobile app (or even use a mobile wallet payment option like Apple Pay or Chase Pay to pay in-store), credit cards that give a mobile wallet bonus are in the hunt.

Starbucks gift cards are also sold everywhere from office supply stores, to grocery stores, gas stations, warehouse stores, drugstores, home improvement stores and more. This means that the options to earn a credit card category bonus on a Starbucks gift card are almost endless.

A selection of gift cards in a store in New York on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (?? Richard B. Levine) (Photo by Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images)

No, the Starbucks Visa Isn’t the Best

I’m not saying you shouldn’t get the Starbucks Visa. I mean, if you really want 4,500 bonus Stars, worth a staggering 36 food and drink items after hitting the spending requirement and eight annual barista-curated bonus reward drinks, then go for it (just factor in Chase’s 5/24 rule). But, for everyday spending, and even spending at Starbucks you will soon see it is simply not the best option.

Best Credit Cards to Use at Starbucks

Accurately narrowing down the best way to pay for your Starbucks latte is complicated since there are so many options, but we’ll highlight the best of the best to get you on the right track.

Category Bonus Value of the Points Total Earned per Dollar  Annual Fee Welcome Bonus Notes
Starbucks Rewards Visa Card 1x when reloading Starbucks (marketing often says 3x, but 2 of the Stars aren’t directly tied to using the card) 4 cents 4 cents $49 4,500 Starbucks Stars after spending $500 in the first three months. To earn 1 Star, must load amount to your Starbucks account, not use it to pay in-store
Citi Prestige Card 5x 1.7 cents 8.5 cents $495 50,000 points after $4,000 in spending in the first three months
American Express® Gold Card 4x at US restaurants 2 cents 8 cents $250 (See Rates & Fees) 35,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. Terms Apply. 4x only valid at US restaurants
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x on dining 2 cents 6 cents $450 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express 7x at US restaurants 0.6 cents 4.2 cents $450 (See Rates & Fees) 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months At US restaurants only
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 2x on dining 2 cents 4 cents $95 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card 4x on dining 1 cent 4 cents $95 (waived 1st year) $500 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 within the first three months
Uber Visa Card 4x on dining 1 cent 4 cents $0 $100 after you spend $500 in the first 90 days
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card 3x on mobile wallet 1.5 cents 4.5 cents $400 50,000 after spending $4,500 in the first 90 days Must pay using mobile wallet option such as Apple Pay
Ink Business Cash Credit Card 5x at office supply stores – purchase Starbucks gift cards there 2 cent (this assumes you also have a premium Ultimate Rewards product) 10 cents $0 $500 bonus cash back (50,000 points) after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. 5x on first $25k in combined purchases at office supply stores, cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account year.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express 6% back at US supermarkets – purchase Starbucks gift cards there 1 cent 6 cents $95 (See Rates & Fees) $200 cash back after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months 6% cash back at US supermarkets up to $6,000 per year; then 1%. Terms Apply


As you can see, the American Express Gold Card and Citi Prestige Card lead the way if you want to directly load up your Starbucks account in the app or pay in a Starbucks store, though note that the 4x on Amex Gold is only valid in US stores. Meanwhile, the 3x bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, is valid for dining both in the US and abroad.

If you want to get fancy, purchasing Starbucks gift cards at retailers where you can earn a bonus with a rewards credit card is likely your best play. We especially like earning 5x at office supply stores courtesy of the Ink Business Cash Credit Card or legacy Ink Plus Business Card (now closed to applicants). Those who have the Ink Business Cash and a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards card can transfer those 5 points per dollar earned to hotel and airline partners and turn pup-a-chinos and frappuccinos into award flights.

You may also want to factor in Amex Offers, gas rewards at supermarkets and a whole host of other stacking opportunities if you go down the Starbucks gift card pathway.

The Best Card for Starbucks May Rotate

If that wasn’t already information overload, let me offer a final wrinkle to this coffee foam. The best card in your wallet for Starbucks purchase may rotate. Periodically, Starbucks offers bonuses for reloading your account via Chase Pay or similar, altering the equation. Additionally, if you have a card such as the Chase Freedom where the bonus categories rotate, that card may sometimes take the top slot. For example, right now the 2018 4th Quarter 5% cash-back bonus category on the Chase Freedom (also known as 5 Ultimate Reward points per dollar if you have a premium Ultimate Rewards card) is wholesale clubs (up to $1,500).

This means I can use a Chase Freedom, purchase discounted Starbucks gift cards on the Sam’s Club website, load them to my Starbucks app and not only earn the equivalent of 10 cents in value from the 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar I earn, but also save money on my Starbucks gift cards at the same time.

Bottom Line

Are you on your second cup of coffee yet? We know, this was a long answer to a simple question.

In short, there isn’t a quick answer to the best credit card to use at Starbucks, but that is because there are lots of opportunities to earn credit card rewards, save money and pick up Starbucks Stars at the same time. The Starbucks Visa isn’t bad, but you can do better. Within the US, earning 4x on the Amex Gold Card is a good answer. Otherwise, try the 3x on the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 5x on the Citi Prestige Card. If you want to get fancy with Starbucks gift cards, be our guest and enjoy the extra points and savings that can be created with a little extra effort and the right rewards credit card.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred Card, please click here.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.