Heads Up: Starbucks Stars & Rewards Fail

Do you have a Starbucks gift card? Have you reached the “Gold” level? Are you using the Starbucks App on your iPhone to find Starbucks stores, pay for your drinks and collect rewards—Stars?

I do all of the above.

Yeah, I know many friends and acquaintances who like to get on the anti-Starbucks bandwagon touting a disdain for “corporate coffee”. Please, spare me. Oh sure, let me wander into an indie-coffee shop in some gentrified suburban neighborhood and shell out four-dollars for a mediocre pour of a cup from under- or over-roasted beans pumped out of thermal container that’s been sitting for hours. Or maybe spend five-bucks for a “pour over” — paying for the privilege for some clueless millennial hipster to tend to my dear cup of jo.

Get over it.


Starbucks may not be the best, but there’s no question it’s consistent. I will use my app and search out a store especially when I’m in a different town. Its gold and star reward loyalty program sometimes gives me an opportunity to sample something off its menu other than coffee. I like that, such as the oatmeal, breakfast sandwich or pastry.

Starbucks is very proud of its loyalty program. Promotes it aggressively. It’s big business because it’s tied to Starbucks cards and rewards. So much that customers are storing more cash on these cards than some banks and brokerage firms:

As more customers join the company’s loyalty rewards program—it now has 12 million members—they are paying for their coffee using the Starbucks cards or its mobile app, which now have a total $1.2 billion loaded onto them for future lattes or snack purchases…That’s more than many banks have in deposits, including First Commonwealth Financial Corp. and Charles Schwab.  — Forbes, June 2016.

Oh. And yeah, I’m a bit sore that Howard Schultz, after 34 years at the helm of the company that changed coffee in our country—for the good, by the way—is stepping down this year.

Happy New Year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Starbucks fanboy. I do like coffee. Good coffee. And that’s what I get, most of the time, at a Starbucks location—either a standalone store or one of those in-store full-service kiosks such as you find at a grocery store—sometimes company owned, or often simply licensed.

Not long ago I was in Missouri and my Starbucks app led me to an in-store location at a Price Cutter supermarket. Now Price Cutter is one of an endangered breed of regional supermarket chain species—still independently owned. Take that you anti-corporate coffee elitists.

Feeling rich with an available reward on my Starbucks Gold Card—as indicated boldly when I launch my Starbucks app on my phone—I was excited to add a healthy oatmeal with blueberries to my morning caffeine addiction.

Not SO fast, cowboy.

The sweet and friendly lady wearing a Starbucks Apron at the Starbucks full-service store in Price Cutter told me that they don’t accept rewards.

What? Shut the front door! That’s ridiculous.

“Oh,” she said, “you will still earn stars, you just cannot redeem them here.”

That’s bull. And I’m being kind.

If I’m going to be drinking corporate coffee, I demand corporate consistency that should be even and leveled across the entire brand experience. I guess not with Starbucks. Fail.

Sure, Starbucks is careful to note that rewards and stars are redeemed and given at “participating” stores. Yet, there’s no way I can tell when walking into any Starbucks location if it “participates.” Personally, I think Starbucks should change the color scheme of non-participating stores. Ha, that’ll never happen.

It’s a minor thing and this is a minor blog rant. Minimally, Starbucks should flag you with a notification via its App that a store I’m entering or about to launch my app and pay for a drink, that it’s a non-participating store and provide the detail of whether you can earn and/or redeem stars and rewards. It’s not that hard. Yet for travelers like me, I would like the courtesy of a “heads up.”

Has this happened to you? What do you think? Leave a comment and keep the discussion going!