Guide To Maximizing Starbucks Rewards Stars

Filed Under: Great Deals

A few days ago I wrote a detailed review of the Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Card. I briefly talked about how to redeem Starbucks Rewards Stars, though after publishing the post, a colleague of mine made me aware of the fact that there was so much more I could be doing to maximize my Stars.

For example, did you know you a Caffè Misto with 12 shots of espresso, six pumps of syrup, and cocoa powder, costs the same number of Starbucks Stars as a plain cup of coffee? Okay, the former admittedly sounds horrifying, but the point is that the possibilities are endless. 😉

I’ve been down a Starbucks Rewards rabbit hole the past few days, and I kind of love it. I love learning the ins-and-outs of loyalty programs — while I usually focus on travel loyalty programs, there are some really cool aspects to the Starbucks Rewards program.

Now, I think context is important — I’m not the world’s biggest Starbucks fan. Rather I sometimes go to Starbucks because the product is consistent and ordering is easy. My usual order is a cold brew to drink, and a spinach feta wrap to eat.

What is Starbucks Rewards?

Starbucks Rewards is Starbucks’ rewards program. “Stars” are the rewards currency of the program, and you can earn them through purchases at Starbucks stores, or through Starbucks’ co-branded credit card.

What makes Starbucks Rewards more exciting than some other loyalty programs? Well, the program isn’t strictly revenue-based, but rather has a rewards chart where you can get a wildly different dollar value for your Stars depending on how you redeem them.

I love how there are drinks that cost $3 and drinks that cost $15 that both require the same number of Stars for redemption.

How can you earn Starbucks Rewards Stars?

There are several ways you can earn Starbucks Stars:

  • Earn 2x Starbucks Stars per dollar spent at Starbucks when you pay with a prepaid digital Starbucks Card (you can load funds onto this from your credit card, and there’s no cost to join — make sure you use a credit card offering bonus rewards on dining, since Starbucks qualifies as that)
  • Earn 1x Starbucks Stars per dollar spent at Starbucks when using any other payment method (you just have to scan your Starbucks Rewards account separately from your payment method)
  • Earn Starbucks Stars for spending on the Starbucks Rewards Visa Card; for example, you can earn up to 4,800 Stars when you sign-up for the card and complete qualifying activities, and then can earn up to 1x Stars per dollar spent

To maximize your Stars you should always be using a registered Starbucks Card for your Starbucks spending, with a preloaded balance. Furthermore, Starbucks sometimes has double Stars days, where members can earn 4x Starbucks Stars for spending, rather than 2x Stars.

Do Starbucks Stars expire?

Starbucks Stars expire six months after the month in which they were earned. In other words, if you earn Stars on January 15, 2020, they’d expire on August 1, 2021. Note that if you have the Starbucks Rewards Visa Card then all the Stars that you earn don’t expire, so that gives you quite a bit more flexibility.

How can you redeem Starbucks Rewards Stars?

Starbucks Rewards has five different redemption rates, ranging from 25 to 400 Stars per item. Here’s how much you can expect to pay:

  • Redeem 25 Starbucks Stars to customize your drink — this includes an espresso shot, dairy substitute, or a syrup
  • Redeem 50 Starbucks Stars to get a brewed hot coffee, bakery item, or hot tea
  • Redeem 150 Starbucks Stars to get a handcrafted drink, hot breakfast sandwich, oatmeal, or your favorite drink
  • Redeem 200 Starbucks Stars to get a salad, sandwich, or protein box
  • Redeem 400 Starbucks Stars to get select merchandise or at-home coffee

Tips for maximizing Starbucks Stars

When it comes time to redeem Starbucks Stars, there are some general things to keep in mind:

  • The redemption cost is the same regardless of what size drink you order, so in general order a venti rather than a tall when redeeming Stars
  • Be aware of the free add-ons you can include with some redemptions, which I’ll talk more about below; this is really the key to maximizing your Starbucks Stars
  • Be strategic about the items in each category that you redeem for; for example, both an almond croissant and petite vanilla bean scone cost 50 Stars, but the former costs 160% more when paying cash (screenshot below)
  • Starbucks Rewards members can receive free refills of hot or iced brewed coffee or tea during the same store visit, whether paying with cash or redeeming Starbucks Stars, so this is a great way to maximize your value

The Starbucks Rewards Caffè Misto sweet spot

My colleague made me aware of the website Starbucks Hacker, and I love it. The website goes into the ins-and-outs of the Starbucks Rewards program as much as I go into the details of frequent flyer programs.

This also taught me what’s probably the single best use of Starbucks Rewards Stars:

  • 50 Starbucks Stars is near the lower end of the redemption options, and it gets you a brewed hot coffee, bakery item, or hot tea
  • A Caffè Misto is half brewed coffee and half steamed milk, and that costs just 50 Starbucks Stars
  • Meanwhile, a latte would cost 150 Stars, which is three times as much

If you redeem for a Caffè Misto, you can add espresso shots, syrups, and more, to the drink, at no extra cost. A venti Caffè Misto costs $3.65 or 50 Stars.

But that’s kind of boring, no? Let’s make some modifications…

How about we add in four espresso shots, some pumps of syrup, some cocoa powder, and some almond milk foam? This would still only cost 50 Stars, while the cash cost would be over $10.

My colleague ordered one of these yesterday and said it actually tasted good. Personally, I feel kind of sick even looking at the order, as much as I love the value of this on paper.

So you could also take it easy on the syrups but still get significantly more value. If you order enough espresso shots in one drink, then I think your coffee with milk actually becomes a full-on latte.

I’m an old-fashioned guy — leave out all the syrups, I think I’ll just take a 12 shot Caffè Misto, which would retail for over $15 (warning: proceed at your own risk). 😉

To be clear, I’m not at all suggesting that this is what anyone should actually order. Rather I’m just having fun with all of this and playing around with the possibilities.

What about the Starbucks free birthday reward?

One other great perks of the program is that Starbucks Rewards members receive a free reward on their birthday every year:

  • This is automatically loaded to your account and is only valid on the date of your birthday
  • You can have either a handcrafted beverage, food item, or ready-to-drink bottled beverage
  • To qualify, you must have signed up for Starbucks Rewards at least seven days prior to your birthday, and make at least one Star-earning transaction prior to your birthday every year

You can use similar strategies to the above for maximizing your Starbucks birthday reward. However, you can just go straight for the handcrafted beverage, because any eligible drink is covered.

How much are Starbucks Stars worth?

It’s hard to give a concrete answer as to how much Starbucks Stars are worth:

  • Everyone likes to redeem for different things
  • Pricing varies based on the location
  • There’s a difference between what you can order to get the most value per Starbucks Star, and what you might actually want to order; in other words, adding 12 espresso shots to a drink is possible, but it’s probably not advisable

In trying to come up with a valuation, let’s pick items at random from some of these categories (I’m going off of Miami pricing here):

  • A venti blonde roast usually costs $3, and requires 50 Starbucks Stars; that’s a value of 6.0 cents per Starbucks Star
  • An almond croissant usually costs $3.50, and requires 50 Starbucks Stars; that’s a value of 7.0 cents per Starbucks Star
  • A spinach, feta, and egg white wrap usually costs $4.50, and requires 150 Starbucks Stars; that’s a value of 3.0 cents per Starbucks Star
  • A venti cold brew usually costs $4.50, and requires 150 Starbucks Stars; that’s a value of 3.0 cents per Starbucks Star
  • A venti latte usually costs $5.50, and requires 150 Starbucks Stars; that’s a value of 3.7 cents per Starbucks Star
  • A grilled chicken and hummus protein box usually costs $7, and requires 200 Starbucks Stars; that’s a value of 3.5 cents per Starbucks Star
  • A chicken & quinoa protein bowl usually costs $9, and requires 200 Starbucks Stars; that’s a value of 4.5 cents per Starbucks Star
  • A bag of veranda blend beans usually costs $14, and requires 400 Starbucks Stars; that’s a value of 3.5 cents per Starbucks Star

This is just a random selection of items without any sort of add-ons. As you can see, we’re looking at anywhere from 3.0-7.0 cents of value per Starbucks Star. Based on that, personally, I’d conservatively value Starbucks Stars at somewhere in the range of 4-5 cents each.

Bottom line

I love loyalty programs of all kinds and particularly ones where there are ways to get outsized value. While Starbucks Rewards is hardly as lucrative as an airline frequent flyer program, I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with it, given all the creative redemption opportunities.

Redemption values vary significantly, so it’s worth at least putting some thought into how you redeem your Starbucks Stars.

To summarize my Starbucks Rewards advice:

  • The 50 Stars category is the sweet spot, whether you’re redeeming for a coffee or a bakery item; generally, items costing 150 Stars aren’t 3x as expensive if paying cash
  • The absolute best value is ordering a Caffè Misto with some modifications; this is a way to live the latte lifestyle on a coffee budget 😉
  • If you don’t want to go totally overboard with modifications, at a minimum ordering drinks with additional espresso shots is a way to get more value; maybe don’t order a drink with 12 shots, though

Unfortunately, my go-to Starbucks orders only get me three cents of value per Star, so I need to do better. I guess I’ll be trying a Caffè Misto on my next visit to Starbucks. 😉

Does anyone have any other tips for maximizing the Starbucks Rewards program? What’s your go-to reward redemption?

Comments
  1. Double long shot on ice in a venti cup, then refill cold brew (no ice) for free. Been doing it for years, that way I don’t feel as scammy as I would ordering the Misto.

  2. Stacking star rewards. They’ll offer a bonus for buying, say, a breakfast sandwich, a hot drink & an iced drink over a certain time frame. They’ll sometimes overlap this with a double star day.

  3. I use my Starbucks Rewards stars in Canada (where I live now), but I have a US account since I started the program while living in the US. I can redeem US-earned stars in Canada, and the prices are the same for redemptions except for one category.

    Redeem 250 Starbucks Stars in Canada to get a salad, sandwich, or protein box (it’s 200 Stars in the US).

    Otherwise for all other redemptions, the prices are the same in Canada as in the US.

    Redemption rates for Canada:

    Redeem 25 Starbucks Stars to customize your drink — this includes an espresso shot, dairy substitute, or a syrup
    Redeem 50 Starbucks Stars to get a brewed hot coffee, bakery item, or hot tea
    Redeem 150 Starbucks Stars to get a handcrafted drink, hot breakfast sandwich, oatmeal, or your favorite drink
    Redeem 250 Starbucks Stars to get a salad, sandwich, or protein box
    Redeem 400 Starbucks Stars to get select merchandise or at-home coffee

  4. The birthday reward is ONLY good ON the day of your birthday. They have been narrowing the range of days for a few years.

  5. Thank you, Lucky. They are masters of marketing. Now if Starbucks would roast and brew drinkable coffee, I would go out of my way to visit them. Now I visit them because they are at every corner and takes absolutely no effort to get their coffee when in the hurry.

  6. In additional to the regular targeted promo awards that show up in the app, also keep an eye out for their seasonal contests. There will be an alternate method of entry in most of them that get you two plays per day for only a few seconds of finding the AMOE link and letting the form fill in with autocomplete. Last spring’s contest happened when a lot of stores were either closed or had few customers because of the pandemic and I think i ended with about 500 stars from daily AMOE plays.

  7. In my mind the best value for me is using 50 points towards a pastry. Costs about 75% of a drink but only 33% of the points.

  8. My standard is a venti brewed coffee. There is a Starbucks directly on my daily commute so I order ahead on the app before I leave for work and pick it up (was doing this before the pandemic). There are better coffees around, but I’m not adding an extra five miles just for that…

    Promos give bonus stars almost every week, I always register for them. I can finish the ones which are “earn X stars by making Y purchases over these days” easily with my daily purchases. Others depend on the number of stars I get for the purchases. I generally don’t buy other stuff unless I’m getting 6+ stars per dollar total though that can change depending on what my day will be like, and what they want me to buy.

    I save up my stars. Before the pandemic I’d occasionally get treats for my team using stars but they are all WFH now. I also use them when traveling, both at airports and when driving…Starbucks is (nearly) everywhere and has consistent offerings. At one point I had just over 4,000, and used them all within a two-week span.

  9. I save my rewards for Hawaii or resort locations where the cost may be higher for the same item I normally order.

  10. under ordinary circumstances i would earn and redeem all the time. right now, otoh, that’s just not happening.

    > Stars never expire with the free debit card too.

    this is absolutely not true. they do tell you when the stars will expire, but they absolutely expire. i had large piles of stars expire during the pandemic, and i complained to customer service and they reinstated them, but i am not sure they’d do this consistently …

  11. I wonder if you can redeem UK stars in the USA? I know the gift cards work OK
    Our scheme only offers 150 stars for a free drink, so much pricier than yours. On the upside they don’t expire for 2 years, which is just as well given how infrequently I visit Starbucks!

  12. @Alan likely you can’t. I remember emailing Starbucks CS about not being able to redeem or earn US stars in Japan. They said that the star system was localized to your country, or maybe just Japan didn’t participate in the star system. Interesting about the US/Canada discussion above. Give it a try anyway!

  13. Earning and spending have to be taken into consideration.. using the promo’s, but X number of times (which is really items, so never buy TWO items on one order, always make TWO orders) that is earning power to compound just the regular 2$ per or 3$ per stars earning power.. SPENDING is another one.. I really NEVER use 150 for a 3.65$ cocoa, when it can be used for my Ventir Dark or Decaf orders at only 50 stars per. Usually a 2.95$ item here in CA. Ouch.. that’s nearly 3x the purchasing power. Getting a second rewards account can net you even better offers, sometimes one account offers 200 stars for 7 purchases (remember, ITEMS, not visits) and another rewards account will offer 200 stars for only 5 purchases.

    I figure overall I spend in $$ about 1/2 of what anything actually costs.. but I will say, I’m going to have to try the misto. Sounds like a nice latte for 1/3 the stars.

  14. As Ricky noted, stacking offers is a great way to build points fast. It’s about the only time I go there, actually.

    Beyond Dbl Star days on top of an offer, I’ve also received more than offer with an overlapping time period where one purchase would count towards both. “Order two days in a row for 50 pts” and on one of those days they’ll also offer “buy any latte and get 25 pts” or something like that.

  15. Howard, you should have run for the White House when you had your chance. Look who’s going in there now. You could have taken him.

  16. I redeemed 400 to pick up a package of their whole bean Kona reserve which was selling for $40+ – so probably 10 cents per star. Otherwise I redeem 50 for a cheese danish at around 6 cents per star. I’ve always been a fan of the company- even had a yellow lab named Starbuck.

  17. Is it sad that I don’t have to worry about my points expiring because I can use them for getting merch? Sometimes I think that getting that many stars and use them often for a free drink or item or merch is a little sad. Maybe I give Starbucks too much money. lol! The merch does have to be $20 and under, I think. I just got a nice sparkly red cup from them.

  18. Do you know about the Joe and the Juice app?I worked out the best redemption options for them, much like you did with Starbucks in this post, as well as the most efficient way to achieve top tier status with them.

  19. @J, the last time I looked into it the Calgary locations were the only ones which worked with US stars. That might have changed, it was years ago.

  20. I have used my Starbucks rewards in Japan and France. My big saver is a lemonade black ice trenta (lite ice) using stars & almond croissants…it sucks now that you can’t get refills since you can’t work at a location (or just hang and read this website).

    Funny, Lucky I was thinking about you doing this article about a month ago and was sorta doing the math when I got up to 500+ stars. Especially since they’ve penetrated just about every train station (WAS_Union has two), airport and street corner of major cities. The availability to preorder is a great advantage

  21. Starbucks uses an AI to send you targeted promotional star challenges (i.e. buy x times for 100 extra stars). There are a couple of interesting plays, one basic the other works with a little management.
    a) Most offers are based on visits not items purchased. So when using the mobile app always split every item out to a separate purchase. Each counts. As it is mobile it adds no extra burden to the crew working whereas asking to separate the purchase at the register would P them Off.
    b) have 2 separate cards and accounts. The targeted offers ‘learn’ your spend and match with harder challenges to encourage more spend from your baseline. Ignore one card for around 2-3 months and it resets and you get super easy offers for bonus stars on spend you would do anyway. Then switch and start ignoring the first card. Switch off every couple of months.

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