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Starbucks is changing its rewards program, a leaked memo shows — making it harder to redeem some free drinks

  • Starbucks is making changes to its beloved Starbucks Rewards program.
  • Many items, like free coffee, lattes, and sandwiches, will soon require more stars.
  • Customers will still get one star per $1, or two stars per $1 on a pre-loaded card.

Starbucks is making changes to its hugely popular Starbucks Rewards program, increasing the number of points required to redeem many menu items.

Customers who enroll in the chain’s Starbucks Rewards program earn points — or “stars” — when purchasing food or drinks, which can then be redeemed for free menu items, like coffee. An update to the system is rolling out in February, changing the number of stars required for most of the redemption options, a leaked internal memo viewed by Insider reveals. Insider reviewed the memo from two different sources.

Free hot coffee, tea, or baked goods will now require 100 stars, doubling the previous price of 50 stars. But iced coffee and iced tea will also be available at that tier — meaning customers will now be able to get those free drinks for only 100 stars, down from the current 150 stars. Some packaged snacks, ham and swiss croissants, and plastic to-go cups will also be available at the 100-star tier.

Cold brews, lattes, and all other “handcrafted drinks,” along with hot breakfast items like sandwiches, which previously required 150 stars to redeem, will now require 200 stars, while 300 stars can be redeemed for lunch items like sandwiches and salads, up from 200 stars previously. Also at the 300 level is a new option to redeem stars for packaged coffee.

The top level of 400 stars, for merchandise like cups, remains unchanged — and for 25 stars, customers will still be able to add an espresso shot, syrup, or alternative milk to a drink, as in the previous system. 

The way customers acquire stars will also not change, the memo says. Rewards members will still receive one star for every $1 spent at Starbucks, or two stars for every $1 using a pre-loaded digital or physical Starbucks card.

The updated rewards system is scheduled to go live February 13 and the changes are being made to “ensure the health of the program and meet the evolving needs of our customers,” the memo said.

A Starbucks spokesperson declined to comment to Insider on the memo or the changes it describes.

Starbucks has one of the most successful rewards memberships in the fast food business. The program has 28.7 million members as of this quarter, a year-over-year increase of 16%. Rewards members were responsible for over half of Starbucks’ sales last quarter.

Starbucks Rewards members tend to have strong feelings about the program and any potential changes. When the coffee chain last made major changes to the program in 2019, customers took to social media to express their grievances. At that point, Starbucks changed how many stars were required for some free foods and drinks. The rewards program has gained over 10 million members since then, so even more people could be affected this time around. 

Other quick-service chains have recently made it more expensive for customers to earn rewards. Chipotle increased the number of points rewards members needed for a free burrito by 16%, and Dunkin’ revamped its entire rewards system, more than doubling the amount of spending required for drinks like a free latte.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.