A Close Up Look: Free milk changes and syrups at the Green Level of My Starbucks Rewards:

I’ve decided to write a series of articles about the  MyStarbucksRewards program.

As a reminder, any registered Starbucks card can earn rewards under the MyStarbucksRewards program.  In the U.S., it is estimated that about 25% of all transactions are with a registered card, and that there are more than four million active card holders.  And in the past year, about 20 million transactions were with the mobile card phone application.  That’s a lot of Starbucks cards in use!  Given the massive numbers of customers using a registered card (or a registered card on their mobile device with the Starbucks app), understanding these rewards is more important now than ever before.  And, there’s no doubt that Starbucks gains a lot of brand loyalty by having so many people carrying around their cards.

Here is how a customer reaches the “Green Level” of card rewards:  When you register a card, put money on it, and use it to pay for your purchases at least five times, you’ll automatically be elevated to the “Green Level” of card rewards.

I’ve got four articles coming about the MyStarbucksRewards, and mostly I’m focusing on the Green Level because that seems to be where there is the most confusion:

  1. A close up look: My Starbucks Rewards at the Green Level – Free Syrups and Milk Changes (July 27, 2012)
  2. A close up look: My Starbucks Rewards at the Green Level – Free Tall Beverage with Whole Bean Purchase (August 3, 2012)
  3. A close up look: My Starbucks Rewards at the Green Level – Free Refills (August 10, 2012)
  4. A close up look: My Starbucks Rewards: Areas of confusion at the Gold Level (August 17, 2012)

I am asking that the conversations in these threads stay on topic.  I realize there is a lot to say when it comes to MyStarbucksRewards, so I’m hoping the “Free Tall Beverage” conversations won’t spill into the “Free Refills” thread, for example.

The information I give will not exactly match what is on the Starbucks website.  The benefits announced on that page do not completely correspond to the all the benefits stated by moderators on MSI,  or Starbucks Customer Service, and they don’t entirely match what the registers do.  Nor do the benefits on the website exactly match what I see happening inside the stores. And of course, these four articles only pertain to the United States version of the My Starbucks Rewards.  There are international markets with very different rewards programs.

I had made attempts (a while ago) to get someone in the Rewards/loyalty department to sit down with me, but that has never worked out, so I’ll just write my articles, and hope that my understanding of them is close to the intent of the rewards.


What is not included? Sauces are not included:

One thing for sure, the sauces are not included in this perk.  Mocha sauce, pumpkin spice sauce, chai sauce, and white mocha sauce are never discounted as free. If a customer orders a tall latte with just “one pump of mocha” there is still a charge for that mocha  sauce.

If you think about it, if there were no charges for “mocha” sauce, many drinks would only be charged as a latte.  I don’t think Starbucks ever intended to create a program where most everyone ordering an espresso bar beverage would be charged as just a “latte,” with no mocha or white mocha charges, or other specialty drink charges.

Also, the sauces are a little thicker, and a little more costly than the syrups.  The syrups really are mostly a sugar and water, and so they’re fairly cheap with high margin to them.  The baristas do some preparation to make some of the sauces in the store (such as mocha sauce), so there is the cost of additional labor with the sauces.

This comes up as an area of confusion all the time.  MyStarbucksIdea.com has many threads about the charge for sauces.  Here is one example of many:  Sauces should be considered syrups.  (That thread seems to be started by a partner too!)

Free Syrups:

When a customer is adding syrup flavors to his or her beverage, the surcharge for that is deducted after the card is swiped.  In other words, if I were to order a tall iced vanilla chai, the registers would waive the charge for the vanilla syrup as a registered card benefit at the “Green” level of benefit or higher.  All the standard syrups such as vanilla, sugar free vanilla, toffeenut, caramel, sugar free caramel, peppermint,  cinnamon dulce, hazelnut, raspberry, and classic are free of charge at the Green level.

Starbucks definitely reserves the right to make some of  they syrups NOT part of the above perk.  In fact, this did happen in the spring of 2010 when “dark cherry” syrup was launched – the fee for the dark cherry syrup was not waived as a card benefit.  That does cause some confusion when that happens, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  Personally, I’d like to see dark cherry come back as an option, even if I do have to pay extra for it. 🙂

Free Soy Milk Upgrade is Included:

If you want your beverage with soy milk instead of dairy milk, there is no surcharge for soy milk when you pay for your beverage using a registered Starbucks card at the Green Level of benefits.  This benefit is clear and unambiguous.

By the way, when the barista rings up the beverage, the soy milk charge will show as included in the total.  It doesn’t come off until the card is swiped.  (That is true for all the card benefits, you’ll see the charge until the card is swiped.)   The fee for the soy milk will be automatically deducted, and the register barista has no control over this.  There is no special code that the register barista needs to input.  This is probably one of the most unambiguous and clear benefits of a card at the “Green” level of benefits.

I have always thought that it makes sense to charge at least a nominal fee for using soy milk in a beverage.  At least in my area, it costs more to buy the alternative milks in the grocery store than just to buy ordinary cow’s milk.

Free Breve (Half & Half) Milk Upgrade is Included:

If you want your beverage with breve milk instead of a different milk option, the surcharge for this milk change is waived when you pay for your beverage using a registered Starbucks card at the Green Level of benefits.

When the current Rewards program launched (officially December 26, 2009), it was crystal clear that breve would be no charge with a registered card at the Green level or higher.  The registers definitely still make this deduction.

What’s very strange is that I am sure that for a while the MyStarbucksRewards page didn’t mention this perk.  In any case, the free breve perk is now listed there.  I am sure it wasn’t there a couple of months ago, and I wish I’d taken a screen shot of it.  I’d mentioned it to a number of partners.  Somehow, it’s fixed now.  You have to click on “see full list” to find a mention of it, and the header could still be made more clear.

Here’s the start of the series of articles.  Looking forward to your comments.  Would you change this MyStarbucksRewards benefit in any way?  Do you have a different understanding of these benefits?  I’ll be looking forward to all your thoughts and insights as this blog shines a spotlight on the My Starbucks Rewards program.