Starbucks Just Changed Its Rewards Program and People Are Losing Their Minds

Starbucks quietly changed the terms of its rewards program in the new year, to take effect Feb 13, and people are upset that their stars won't buy as much.

Starbucks apparently never heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The coffee chain quietly announced significant changes to its loyalty program, Starbucks Rewards, in the fine print of its terms of use at the same time it announced its new winter menu.

The move has loyal Starbucks customers scratching their heads. After all, Starbucks Rewards has been acclaimed by experts such as The Krazy Coupon Lady as “one of the best rewards programs that you can sign up for.”

What Is the Starbucks Rewards Program?

The Starbucks Rewards system operates via a barcode in the Starbucks app that allows customers to earn points—called “Stars”—when they make a purchase. You earn these Stars at different rates (depending on how you pay), and you spend them on free coffee, treats, and even merchandise. Customers earn one Star per dollar spent if they scan the barcode and then pay in-store using cash or a card. But if customers make their purchases through the Starbucks app’s “Starbucks card” and then use the barcode to pay, they earn two Stars per dollar spent.

How Will Starbucks Rewards Change?

Starbucks customer uses iPhone app to pay for a coffee at a store in Los AngelesKatie Falkenberg/Getty Images

Essentially, most of the rewards will cost twice as many Stars under the new program. For instance, a free hot coffee, pastry or hot tea will no longer be 50 Stars but rather 100. Yet the way customers accrue Stars will stay the same. Here’s a more detailed list of what you can currently redeem your stars for:

  • 25 Stars: Free drink customization (extra shot, alternative milk, flavor syrup, etc.)
  • 50 Stars: Free hot coffee (ie. a  “plain” drip coffee), a pastry or a hot tea (not lattes, cappuccinos, etc.)
  • 150 Stars: Free “handcrafted drink” (such as lattes, macchiatos, etc.), hot breakfast item or yogurt parfait
  • 200 Stars: Free lunch sandwich, protein box or salad
  • 400 Stars: Free merchandise (specific items) or bagged coffee for at-home use

However, with its new changes, effective February 13, here’s how you’ll be able to redeem Stars, according to Starbucks’ terms of use:

  • 100 Stars: Hot brewed coffee, hot steeped tea, iced brewed coffee, iced brewed tea, a bakery item (such as a cake pop or cookie), a packaged snack (such as popcorn or potato chips) or a Cold Siren Logo Plastic To-Go Cup (24 oz only), or a Siren Logo Plastic Hot Cup (16 oz only)
  • 200 Stars: Any handcrafted beverage (such as a latte or Frappuccino blended beverage) or any hot breakfast item (such as a breakfast sandwich or oatmeal).
  • 300 Stars: A packaged salad or lunch sandwich, a packaged protein box, or a packaged coffee item (such as whole bean coffee).

How Are Starbucks Customers Reacting?

Starbucks customers, to put it simply, are not happy about this. A big part of the anger seems to stem from the secretive way the news was delivered in the terms of use. Burying the bad news seemed to be a sneaky way to downplay that “free” coffees were becoming more expensive. With all these changes, it might be time to start making some Starbucks copycat recipes at home.

While Starbucks clearly tried to avoid bad reactions by skipping a big announcement, they only seemed to have delayed them, and lost customer trust in the process. After all, if a loyal patron misses this news, then goes to redeem their stars, what happens when they realize the amount required has changed? All in all, not a great move by Starbucks.