Maximize Monday: Getting the Most Points from Starbucks Purchases

by on February 25, 2013 · 32 comments

in Chase, Starbucks

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Part of my daily routine is usually hitting up a Starbacks 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/ Plus 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 either the Chase Ink Bold or 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!

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.

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  • Andrey Manov

    Just to add:-) If you buy more than one item tell the cashier/barista that you want to pay separately using the same card since you earn a star not based on amount but transaction

  • HistoryRepeatersRDoomed

    I’ve been to many Staples in our region and they do not have any gift cards valued over $200. But I buy plenty of Amazon and Starbucks card at $100 and $50 increments with my Ink Bold card to get the 5% rather than just 1%. I’ve even bought Groupon gift cards to earn 5% with Ink.. then use a link from United Mileageplus shopping website to earn additional 1 to 2% on my purchases.

  • TrevorTraveller

    As usual, in the UK we’re shafted and get far less:

    No 5 star Green status free refills
    Still 15 star freebie level
    Still 50 star Gold status

  • Mark C. Palmer

    1) “Pick of the Week” free song is a nice perk! (see Messages in Starbucks app)
    2) It’s Passbook friendly on the iPhone for quick access at checkout.

  • Bonus-seeker

    …or perfect making a good cup of coffee at home.

  • Rlkanner

    Hi TPG–
    So I am part of the Chase Exclusives Program with Freedom and I also have a CSP card. Does it make more sense to ALWAYS use my Freedom card? With all purchases, not just the 5% cash back ones? And then transfer them over to my CSP card?

  • thepointsguy

    I use the freedom with exclusives for any dining purchase $10 or under. Otherwise Freedom 10% and 10 point bonus is more lucrative

  • thepointsguy

    Great point- ill make that clearer. It’s all about the points!

  • Eggss4

    You can also add a Starbucks gift card to the Go Wallet app; it still gives you credit in the program.

  • JTP

    TPG- I think you mean the CSP is more lucrative over $10?

    I think Freedom 10/10 is for everything but dining and travel, unless said dining/travel is under $10.

  • Rlkanner

    Wonderful. Thank you, guys!

  • JR

    Think you could buy a $5 dollar gift card, load it to the app, then buy a 5 dollar gift card and pay with the app, then load to THAT card to the app, and do that 30 times without every actually buying anything except the one time $5 dollar gift card with a chase freedom?

  • Gordon_mc

    In case this helps anyone else …

    1) As was noted earlier, the stars are per purchase, not per drink – so when my wife & I stop in at Starbucks in the morning we each pay with our OWN card – that way we get to the rewards twice as fast as if we paid together.

    2) I carefully watch the offers at my local Safeway, and buy Starbucks giftcards there when I get special offers on their “gas rewards”. For instance, right now I get 6x the normal rate for gas rewards, on any gift card purchases. So, if I use my BA Visa card to buy $150 worth of Starbucks gift cards, then I get:
    – 150 * 1.25 = 187 Avios for using my BA credit card
    – 90c per gallon, for up to 25 gallons gas discount = $22.50 savings
    – plus whatever free drinks from Starbucks my wife & I rack up on spending the $75 each

  • JTP

    interesting…… guess the question is, will a gift card transaction count as a star?

  • JR

    Can’t you just buy a single 5 dollar gift card, then load the gift card to MYStarbucks, then buy a 5 dollar gift card at Starbucks and pay with the app (ie the first gift card),load the new gift card back into MyStarbucks and rinse and repeat 30 times with a total outlay of $5?

  • JR

    Whoops sorry for the double reply. I didn’t see it post before :)

  • Km_nola

    Just an FYI that I received a letter from Chase last week that they are ending changing the Freedom offer for Chase Exclusives customers. No more 10% bonus for each purchase. No more 10 points per purchase bonus either. These offers have been replaced with a 10% ANNUAL bonus at the end of the year on all purchases made during the year.

    I’ll miss that 10 points per purchase bonus….and getting the 10% bonus each month!

  • JTP

    Isn’t that just for new exclusive members? Thought the older members got grandfathered in?

  • Rose

    “Green members now need to pay for soy and flavored syrups in their drinks, which were previously offered for free.”

    You must mean Gold members.

    Thanks for the input.

  • Km_nola

    Perhaps this is being rolled out differently in different parts of the country, but I’ve been a Chase customer for over a decade and have had the Freedom card (tied to my checking account) for most of that time. I received the letter about the changes last week with notice that they would take effect on April 1.

  • Russel Dann

    Hey TPG and readers,

    I have looked online for the answer to this in regards to the Starbucks card, but couldn’t find one, So I was hoping someone out there might be able to answer it.
    With the Starbucks card, if the card was created/purchased in Australia can it be used in Starbucks in Singapore, US etc or is it a separate card for each region.
    And the second question (since Starbucks doesn’t have a Philippine stand alone website), is the card useable in the Philippines?
    I tend to travel every 3 weeks from Perth to Manila, so this would be very helpful for me.

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  • Howard Paul

    I totally took advantage of this benefit!……a little too much. does
    anyone wanna buy some cards at a discount? :) cuz i need to unload a

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  • Will

    A gift card transition does not count as a star. Any transfer of funds from one card/account to another does not offer stars.

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  • Daniel

    I would be interested discounted Starbucks cards…

  • Echo

    If you aren’t using credit cards to reload your Starbucks cards you can also do something like purchase a Starbucks gift card at places like Safeway. Then you get 4x the gas rewards points during certain times of the year. That earns you usually $.10 cents off a gallon of gas, no shipping cost on the gift card and you can transfer the balance to your registered Startbucks card.

  • Joshua Wimberley

    I get my Starbucks card at Target using their REDcard 5% discount and it linked to my Citibank Thank You points card. It’s a grand slam of discounts!

  • liz

    in the case of the ink bold wouldn’t the credit card company catch on and put a stop to being able to buy gift cards with credit cards? ive notice some now require to be paid with cash and no credit cards at office depot…really wished i had join this credit card game years back… :(

  • Lawjef

    US Starbucks cards definitely work in Australia – I’m not sure what exchange rate they applied to my transactions – so I would assume that the Australian cards work in other regions too.

  • guest12


    If I use my chase card, how does it work? Will I automatically get cashback points if I use my chase card to reload my Starbucks online app/GC? Im probably going to reload my credits using a chase sapphire. I’m new to this.

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