The best credit cards to use at Starbucks

Oct 8, 2019

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With close to 30,000 locations, more than $25 billion in annual revenue and more than 16 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 to be sure you get the most bang for your cup of caffeine, we took a look at the best credit cards to use at Starbucks.

Before we dive in, note that — just as airline award charts aren’t all straightforward and simple — the Starbucks Rewards program has its nuances. Until earlier this year, the program charged a flat 125 Stars for pretty much anything on the menu, but now different items cost different numbers of Stars.

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 or pay from within the app, you earn 2 Starbucks Stars per dollar when you pay for most 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 4-5 cents each, depending on how you use them. We’ll use 4 cents per point for our purposes to stay on the conservative side, but know you can sometimes get a bit more value than that.

Here are the redemption offers within the Starbucks Rewards program:

  • 25 Stars: Drink modifications (such as an extra shot)
  • 50 Stars: Any size hot coffee, tea or a bakery item
  • 150 Stars: Handcrafted beverages (including iced coffee), oatmeal or a breakfast sandwich
  • 200 Stars: Lunch sandwiches, salads or protein boxes
  • 400 Stars: Packaged coffee or a single merchandise item up to $20
(Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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.

Earning bonus points at Starbucks

Your first thought when deciding which credit card to use at Starbucks might have been the one that gives you the best bonus on dining, and that’s not a bad approach. However, it is not the only path for maximizing value 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 the store), credit cards that give a mobile wallet bonus can work out well. For example, the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card awards 3x points per dollar for mobile wallet purchases.

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 if you are willing to take that one extra step.

For example, you could earn 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar by picking up a Starbucks gift card at a U.S. supermarket with your American Express® Gold Card (up to $25,000 each year; then 1x point).

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 6,500 bonus Stars, worth up to 130 cups of hot coffee after hitting the spending requirement, eight annual barista-curated bonus reward drinks and 300 bonus Stars the first time you use it to add money to your Starbucks account, then go for it (just factor in the 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 6,500 Starbucks Stars after you spend $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 on dining 1.7 cents 8.5 cents $495 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
American Express® Gold Card 4x on dining 2 cents 8 cents $250 (see rates and fees) 35,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. Terms apply.
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x on dining 2 cents 6 cents $450 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express 7x at U.S. restaurants 0.6 cents 4.2 cents $450 (see rates and fees) 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. Terms apply. At U.S. restaurants only
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 2x on dining 2 cents 4 cents $95 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card 4x on dining 1 cent 4 cents $95 (waived first year) $300 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months
Uber Visa Card 4x on dining 1 cent 4 cents $0 $100 after you spend $500 on purchases 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 you spend $4,500 on purchases 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 (you can purchase Starbucks gift cards there) 2 cents (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 on purchases 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 U.S. supermarkets; up to $6,000; then 1% (you can purchase Starbucks gift cards there) 1 cent 6 cents $95 (see rates and fees) $250 cash back after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months. Terms apply. 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 per year; then 1%. Terms apply.

The information for the Starbucks Visa, Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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. The 3x bonus on dining on the Chase Sapphire Reserve is also a good option.

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 absolute 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 new 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 cold brews into award flights.

(Photo courtesy of Starbucks)

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 2019 fourth-quarter 5% cash-back bonus categories on the Chase Freedom (also known as 5 Ultimate Reward points per dollar if you have a premium Ultimate Rewards card) are department stores, Chase Pay and Apple Pay (up to $1,500 on purchases each quarter you activate).

This means I can use a Chase Freedom to load money onto my Starbucks app and earn the equivalent of 10 cents in value from the 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar I earn, at least until I hit the quarterly 5x bonus limit on the Freedom.

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.

Earning 4x points per dollar on the Amex Gold Card is a good answer. Otherwise, try the 3x points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 5x points on the Citi Prestige Card. If you want to get fancy with Starbucks gift cards and rotating bonus categories on other 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.

American Express® Gold Card

With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at restaurants worldwide, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
See Rates & Fees
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.

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