When the Starbucks rewards program came out years ago, I never followed the trend because I hardly ever spent money at Starbucks. To me, it was a waste of money to pay for overpriced coffee and frappuccinos.
But when I lived in D.C., my mom opened up a Starbucks account for me online. She wanted to able to add money to it occasionally for whenever I wanted a drink (my mom is so sweet like that 😁).
Seeing the stars add to my account with each purchase eventually got me hooked. Damn it, Starbucks!
Before the most recent revamp of the rewards program, it used to work like this:
Every purchase you make, you get 1 star. After you’ve earned 12 stars, you get a free reward. This allows you to buy any menu item. The most expensive things, like a Trenta sized drink or their snack pack, will cost you about $6
If the average order price is around $4, Starbucks is banking about $48 for every free item they give away, which is a net profit of $42 for them.
Side note: as a Gold level member (getting 30 stars in a year) you also get a “birthday reward” on your birthday. Who can argue with free stuff? (Well, almost free. But you know what I mean.)
Now, I think I’m a smart guy 🤔 so given these figures, there’s no way I’d get suckered into giving away $42.
Soon, I started to notice these promotional emails they would send out. They would have offers like, “make 4 purchases, earn 10 stars” or “visit 5 days in a row, get 12 stars”.
So I thought, this could be a way to cheat the system. Instead of spending $4 to get 1 star, I could average 2 or more stars per dollar if I bought one of the cheaper items (bagels – $1.50, vanilla bean scone -$1.25, banana -$1.00) through these promotions.
Here’s the math:
4 purchases x $1.50 (bagel) = $6 for 14 stars (4 regular + 10 promotional)
14 stars / $6 = 2.33 stars per dollar.
If costs me a little over $5 to get a free reward, that means I’m just about breaking even. Except I get a free reward plus the 4 bagels so that adds a bit more value.
And yes, I understand the whole “if you get 30% off your $10 purchase, you don’t save $3, you just spent $7” logic. But the instant gratification of the sweet, empty calories of a double chocolate chip venti frappuccino and the fallacious rationalization that I’m getting a great deal is irresistible.
This system, however only works if you only buy when there are good promotions. If the promo doesn’t give me at least 2 stars per dollar spent, I won’t use it. $6 spent = 12 stars = free item. Anything less than that and I’m losing money.
Although I guarantee there are tons of other people who have figured this out, I’m certain the majority of people will just get Starbucks whenever they feel like it, regardless of the promotion. This means Starbucks will make their generous $42 net more times than not.
These promos are to get you to making a habit out of going to Starbucks everyday, hence the “6 consecutive visits” promo. People with less mental discipline to go only during promotions will understandably fall for the trap.
With this new program, they seemed to fix the loopholes I’ve been exploiting. Now they award 2 stars for every dollar ($0.50 / star) and it takes 125 stars ($62.50) to earn a reward item. Though it prevents me from cheating, I admit it is obviously more fair for the average person.
With this new program not allowing me to cheat, I vowed not to participate in it anymore.
Until they sent another promotion to my email:
Quick calculations: 4 visits x $1.00 banana = 104 stars (26 stars per dollar spent)
With this system, I could turn $1 into $13!
A week later, they rolled out another promotion: 1 visit for 50 stars!
7 bananas later, I had 250 stars (2 free items).
I felt victorious. I had cheated this new system again. $7 to get 7 bananas + $12 worth of free Starbucks food items, a $19 value!
Sometimes I’ll just save these rewards for a rainy day, or split a venti frap into two grande fraps for with my girlfriend and me, essentially making it an $8.50 value (2 grande fraps run about $4.25).
There you go. That’s how I beat Starbucks. Having my frap and drinking it too.
But once my sugar high wears off, I realize I just bought seven overpriced bananas that will probably over ripen before I can eat them all, consumed 3 days worth of sugar in 10 minutes, wasted $2 worth of gas driving there, added 1 plastic cup to the landfills of our dying earth, and I bet you Starbucks isn’t crying over the $12 they lost on me as everyone who hears this story will probably want a frappuccino now.
Damn you, Starbucks.