How to Earn Stars and Get Free Drinks

Pumpkin spice. Venti, not large. A barista happily getting your name wrong. Love ’em or hate ’em, Starbucks has become a classic of modern culture.

Don’t feel guilty — the average customer visits the store six times per month, according to Business Insider, with the die-hards visiting 16 times per month. You’re not alone.

If you’re a regular, or even a semi- or wannabe-regular, it’ll be worth your time to sign up for the Starbucks Stars Rewards program. It’s free, it’s easy to earn free stuff, and there’s no reason not to. We’ll show you how to earn a lot of Starbucks Stars, and trade them in for the best food and drink rewards.

Already got some Stars, and wondering how to get the most out of them? Load up some free coffees. Jump down to see some valuable menu item redemptions, including the return on your spending for each one.

How Do You Earn Starbucks Stars?

You have three main options when it comes to earning Stars on Starbucks purchases:

  1. Earn 1 Star per dollar: Requires a Starbucks membership; you pay with cash, credit, or debit card, like normal
  2. Earn 2 Stars per dollar: Requires a Starbucks membership; you pay with a preloaded Starbucks gift card
  3. Earn 3 Stars per dollar: Requires a Starbucks membership and Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Card; you pay with a credit card/gift card combo move (sounds good, but not the best option for most people)

You could also earn 0 Stars per dollar, if you don’t have a Starbucks membership. But you’re better that that.

Option 2 is our recommended strategy for most people. This will let you earn 2 Stars per dollar at Starbucks, while earning credit card rewards on top of that.

Good afternoon, Starbucks.

How to Earn Starbucks Stars and Credit Card Rewards

This is a rewarding strategy you can set up and use in just a few minutes.

Just preload your digital Starbucks gift card with a rewards credit card, and then use your Starbucks gift card to make Starbucks purchases. You’ll earn credit card rewards for the preload, and Starbucks Stars for the Starbucks purchase.

This process — using two different reward programs — is known as double dipping. And you can take better advantage of it by using a dining/restaurant credit card for the preload, with extra points or cash back for dining at restaurants.

Insider tip

You can also use dining credit cards for regular Starbucks purchases, of course. You’ll earn credit card rewards, but you’ll only earn 1 Star per dollar. It’s quick and easy to preload a Starbucks gift card online or in the mobile app, so it’s worth the time.

Even though you can earn up to 3 Stars per dollar with the Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Card, we only recommend that for true Starbucks loyalists because that card comes with an annual fee: $0 first year, then $49.

Instead, most people will be better off with one of the general-use reward cards below.

But if Starbucks is your thing, here’s how you can earn a total of 3 Stars per dollar:

  1. Use the Starbucks card to load your digital Starbucks gift card, earning 1 Star per dollar.
  2. Use your Starbucks gift card to earn 2 Stars per dollar on Starbucks purchases.

One dip is good. A double dip is better. But a triple dip? Those don’t come along often. You might be able to achieve a triple dip by exploring credit card shopping portals like Amex Offers or Chase Offers/Shop through Chase, and looking for Starbucks-specific deals.

In hushed tones, some even speak of the mythical quadruple dip. Theoretically, a high-ranking credit card master could triple dip, and add in yet another reward portal like Dosh or Ebates, or a dining network reward/loyalty program, or an airline/hotel dining program. But that’s just a rumor… right?

What Are the Best Restaurant Credit Cards for Starbucks?

These are our favorite dining credit cards to use for Starbucks purchases, whether you’re preloading a gift card or just making regular purchases. If you were to split me into seven different people and said each one had to use a different card, I (we) would pick these cards.

Do Starbucks gift card reloads count as restaurant purchases?

Yes — when you reload a Starbucks gift card, it’ll usually count as a typical restaurant purchase.

But if you buy a new gift card on the Starbucks site or in the app, the purchase may not actually be from Starbucks because you might be buying the card from an independent gift card retailer. In that case, the purchase probably won’t code as a restaurant, which means your “restaurant” or “dining” credit card bonus category won’t apply. If you’re unsure, you may want to test this with a small gift card purchase. I learned this the hard way, so you don’t have to.

How Do You Use Starbucks Stars?

Here are your basic redemption options:

  • 25 Stars: Customize your drink (espresso shot, dairy substitute, syrup, and more)
  • 50 Stars: Brewed hot coffee, bakery item, or hot tea
  • 150 Stars: Handcrafted drink, hot breakfast, or parfait
  • 200 Stars: Lunch sandwich, protein box, or salad
  • 400 Stars: Select merchandise or at-home coffee

But not all redemptions are equal. You can find $2 and $8 items that each cost 50 Stars, for example. So it pays to take some time to figure out what makes for a good redemption value.

We have a few main points of advice when redeeming your Starbucks Stars:

  1. Aim for the highest-priced menu items in each redemption category, like those with the most meat or best cheeses.
  2. Each cup size requires the same number of Stars, so go for Venti!
  3. Don’t forget, you can include add-ins like extra espresso shots, cocoa powder, and caramel drizzle at no extra Star cost. These can boost your redemption value to epically caffeinated proportions.
  4. You’ll find great deals in the 50-Star category if you get a relatively simple coffee, like Pike Place or Caffè Misto, and load it up with extras.
  5. Keeping the above rules in mind, only get things you actually like. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Here’s a table of sample items, with their required Stars. Taxes are included in the prices, and all sizes are Venti. You can see your cash back equivalent for each item, if you earned either 2 or 3 Stars per dollar. Pay close attention to the 50-Star section.

Item (Redemption Value) Stars Required Cash Back at 2X Stars/dollar Cash Back at 3X Stars/dollar
Espresso shot ($0.97) 25 7.76% 11.63%
Pike Place Roast ($3.19) 50 12.76% 19.14%
Red Velvet Loaf ($3.35) 50 13.4% 20.1%
Blonde Roast + A lot of extras ($8.91) 50 35.64% 53.45%
Caffè Misto + A lot of extras; see below ($9.94) 50 39.76% 59.63%
Bacon, Sausage & Egg Wrap ($5.89) 150 7.85% 11.78%
Cappuccino + Caramel Syrup, Vanilla Bean Powder ($6.21) 150 8.28% 12.42%
Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino + 3 Espresso Shots, Caramel Drizzle ($9.77) 150 13.03% 19.54%
Chicken Caprese Panini ($7.29) 200 7.29% 10.93%
Pike Place bean bag ($12.95) 400 6.48% 9.71%

There are a lot of menu variations (Starbucks claims there are over 80,000 drink combinations, according to HuffPost), but the figures above show you don’t need to save up a lot of Stars for a fancy order to get a good value. In fact, it’s not too hard to get a 10% cash back equivalent or more on a run-of-the-mill coffee stop. Free food, like breakfast sandwiches and desserts, can provide a decent value but you can do better.

You could, for example, get a souped-up latte or Caffè Misto with all kinds of caramel and cinnamon decadence, plus espresso, to turn it into one of Starbucks’ fancy sugar drinks. If you haven’t had the jitters for a while, now’s your chance. Thanks to Starbucks Hacker for the Caffè Misto tip.

This one’s a money maker. How did they know I’d like a cookie?

Do Starbucks Stars Expire?

Yes: Unless otherwise noted, Starbucks Stars expire six calendar months after the month in which they’re earned. So you’ll have to stay on top of your rewards. You can always check your Star balance online or in the Starbucks app. Starbucks will always apply the oldest Stars whenever you redeem.

If you have the Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Card, your Stars won’t expire for as long as your account is open (the six-month clock starts ticking when you close your account).

Getting More Out of the Starbucks Stars Rewards Program

There are a few more notes to hit if you want to max out your Starbucks game:

  • Free refills: You get free refills for certain drinks during a Starbucks visit… so get them.
  • Special deals: Keep an eye out for Double Star Days, Bonus Star challenges, personalized deals, games, and other offers.
  • Birthday rewards: Get a complimentary handcrafted beverage, ready-to-drink bottled beverage, or food item.
  • Earn Stars on Starbucks products at other stores: Keep your receipt when you buy Starbucks items, like bags of coffee beans, at the grocery store. Verify the receipt in your Starbucks Rewards account to earn Stars on the price of the Starbucks products.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.

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