Skip another line: Starbucks continues rollout of mobile ordering at US airports

Feb 26, 2022

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If you’ve been to an airport lately, you’ll know that crowded terminals, long lines and tedious delays can make the travel experience, well, less than ideal. Even if you cruise through security with Clear and TSA PreCheck, odds are you’ll find another stress test if you are in need of a crucial preflight caffeinated beverage.

But coffee lovers may have noticed that there’s a new way to jump ahead in at least one other line: Starbucks.

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While mobile ordering has been a staple of the Starbucks app for years in many locations, airports were notoriously a Starbucks mobile order abyss. Instead of pushing a few buttons to order and then having your venti iced coffee with almond milk waiting as you walked by Starbucks near gate C14, instead, you had to just get in line and wait. 

The only mobile convenience you would have would be mobile payment with airport Starbucks. (Photo by Katie Falkenberg/For The Times/Getty Images)

Thankfully, that’s been quietly changing as the coffee giant has been rolling out another variation of its coffee commerce aimed at eliminating all the hassle that stands between you and your favorite beverage.

It’s now possible to order ahead and pay using the Starbucks app at many major airport locations across the U.S. And yes, that also means you can then easily pay for your in-airport purchase with your Starbucks Stars.

Even though we’re just now seeing mobile ordering at select airport locations, Starbucks spokesperson Nick Sampogna told TPG the feature “started rolling out at airports in June 2021… Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) was the first.” 

To find out if your local airport Starbucks is accepting mobile orders, just use the store locator in your Starbucks app and see if you could select your desired airport location for a mobile order pick-up.

We recently tested the feature at Orlando International Airport (MCO). TPG staffer and frequent flyer Tarah Chieffi placed her order on the app for two coffees and four breakfast sandwiches at 7:40 a.m. and was given an estimated wait time of 10 minutes. “The regular line wasn’t too long but I was very happy not to be standing in it,” said Tarah, thrilled to be testing out the service.

“When I got there my order was already packed up and ready to go. It couldn’t have been easier!”

Being able to order your airport coffee in advance to grab on the go with the Starbucks app is reason enough to join the coffee chain’s loyalty program, to say nothing of the other benefits including free drinks and pastries.

You earn 1 Star per $1 if you decide to pay with cash, debit, a credit card or a mobile wallet.

Even better, you earn 2 Starbucks Stars per $1 spent when you load money to your Starbucks app with your credit card before placing your order. It all starts to become meaningful once you accrue 50 Stars, which will score you a free coffee, tea or bakery item. There are also frequent bonus promotions available in the app to ramp up your earnings.

Becoming a member is easy. Just set up a profile with your name, e-mail address and a password to create a Starbucks Rewards account.

If you’re wondering why it took until just recently to order an iced latte when you land and grab it as you deplane, the shift became possible when airport concession behemoth HMSHost began leading the charge on mobile ordering at airports. (HMSHost operates food and beverage outlets in more than 120 airports). 

As airport concession providers adapt to consumer demands for more efficient and customized experiences, travelers can expect to see more changes at their local airport. HMSHost announced in 2020 that it would be terminating its exclusivity agreement with Starbucks after 30 years to focus on local brands and concepts that speak to each destination.

“HMSHost is going to continue to be a partner, but they will be in a model where they are not exclusive, which gives us a range of options to better serve our customers,” said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.

Starbucks’ new (nonexclusive) agreement with premier airport concession provider, OTG, has enabled travelers to place orders at iPad stations and have their food and drinks delivered directly to their gate or wherever they are in the airport.

Bottom line

If you’ve ever had to skip that much-desired cup of morning coffee on a travel day because the in-airport Starbucks line was too long and you were worried you’d miss your flight, this may be the answer to your unspoken prayers. Now, before you clear security or taxi to the gate, you could place a mobile order for your coffee of choice and, if all goes well, you can simply skip to the front of the line, grab your beverage and be on your way to your final destination.

Featured photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images.

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