A close up look: My Starbucks Rewards – Free Refills (3 of 4)

by Melody on August 10, 2012

Up For Discussion: Free Refills, a Green Level benefit of MyStarbucksRewards

I’ve decided to write a few articles about the  MyStarbucksRewards program.  And, for the most part, I will be focusing on the Green level of benefits.  It only takes five purchases with your registered card to be elevated to the Green level.

As a reminder, any registered Starbucks card can earn you rewards.  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.  That’s a lot of Starbucks cards in use!  Understanding these rewards is more important now than ever before.

The articles will be published on upcoming Fridays, as follows:

  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.

Caveat: This series of articles represents Melody’s understanding of the rewards, and may materially differ from what is stated on the Starbucks website.  These articles pertain only to the U.S. market.   I’m writing a series of articles, and I hope that I closely match the intent of what the rewards program represents.

As many people know, the very first generation of my Starbucks rewards was announced in March 2008, at that year’s annual shareholders’ meeting.  In many ways, the basic rewards haven’t changed much since then.  Back in 2008, there was only one level of awards, and those awards were essentially all the current “Green” level rewards.


The first point of clarification is that this benefit does NOT require the customer to have reached the “Gold” level of benefits.  I have frequently heard baristas tell customers that you get a free brewed coffee refill “with a Gold Card.”  That implies that you wouldn’t get one with your ordinary card at the Green level of benefits.  This is a Green level perk.  And please remember, there is never any requirement that a customer switch to the shiny gold card.  All the benefits are associated with the Starbucks.com/card profile, not the actual physical card.

On the topic of “Free Refills” the easiest thing to do is simply start with what is NOT covered.  In no particular order, here are some situations where there is NO free refill benefit.

Not covered:

1. If you’re using a drive-through, there is no free refill benefit.  At least this part of this benefit is clear and unambiguous.

2.  If you want to get a refill price on an espresso beverage, that is not a benefit.  In other words, if you drink a tall latte, and then you want a second tall latte (and you’ve stayed inside the store), there is no refill price for a latte.  The only items that are ever the refill price are brewed coffee (whatever happens to be brewing at the moment), iced coffee, and iced tea (meaning black, green, or passion tea.)

3. If you leave the store, there is no longer a free refill benefit. (However, we’ll see that there is some ambiguity with that.)

4. Essentially, if you are a “walk in” customer, there is no free refill.  You cannot walk in and get a “refill” priced brewed coffee, iced coffee, or iced tea.  You have to have already stayed in the store drinking your first beverage.



Just as an aside, the “Free Refill” benefit might be my least favorite perk.  This not because I don’t use it – I certainly have – but from what I can see, it is the perk that causes the most confusion.  It seems to operate almost the opposite as what Starbucks really intended.

Here’s what the Starbucks website says.  For the record, I find this to be one of the most confusingly written things on the entire Starbucks.com site:

Free refills while you’re here

Go ahead, stay awhile. Brewed or iced coffee or tea refills are on us while you’re in the store.
See what qualifies.

Use your registered Starbucks Card to pay for a brewed or iced coffee or tea and then bring that same card back to the register for a refill during the same visit. (This isn’t valid on Caffè Mistos, Starbucks Reserve™ or Clover® Brewed coffees – or the coffee you grab at the Drive Thru window.) Offer is subject to change and is valid at participating stores.

If you notice, the website singles out “Caffe Mistos,” “Starbucks Reserves” and “Clover brewed coffees.”  It almost makes absolutely no sense that those are singled out, at least in the manner that they are singled out above.  I think that this is what that above paragraph is trying to say:

Free Refills While You’re Here:

Go ahead. Stay  for a while.  Brewed or iced coffee, or tea refills are on us when you’re staying in our stores.  (See what qualifies.)

Use your Starbucks card at the green level, and pay for your refill while visiting in the store.  The beverages available for a refill price are brewed coffee, iced coffee, and tea, hot or iced.  No other beverages are available at a refill benefit price.  (This benefit also does not include coffee brewed with a Clover brewer, or any coffee made with Reserve coffee beans.  Also, coffee prepared as a Caffe Misto is not available at the refill price.  We’re sorry – we know that those are coffee beverages too, but there is no refill price for those unique hand-crafted coffee beverages.  It’s a lovely benefit, and has have a few limits on it.)  Offer is subject to change, and is valid at participating Starbucks stores.

I want to  mention some common myths about the free refills.  I’ve seen both partners and customers get tripped up on these common pitfalls:

Common myths and pitfalls:

I bought a tall Pike Place Roast at the store on the corner of Fourth and Union.  Later, I walked across the street to the Puget Plaza Starbucks.  They are only literally just across the street from each other.  Can I get a tall Pike Place Roast at the refill price at the Puget Plaza Starbucks?

No, no, no.  You left the store. It is NOT a refill.  You must pay full price for your tall Pike Place Roast at the Puget Plaza Starbucks.  It doesn’t matter that they are literally across the street from each other.  You left the store.  However, please ask the barista to give you a personal cup discount.  You get ten cents off your beverage for having brought in your own cup.  (Even though local health code will require that the Starbucks give you a new paper cup.)

I thought that if I bought one brewed coffee in the morning, I could get refills all day long, even if I came back later after work?

No, no, no.  If you leave the store, there is no longer a refill benefit.  If you stay inside the store, there is a refill benefit.

I work inside a tall office building.  Can I get a free refill so long as I have not left the building?

No, no, no.  There are definitely Starbucks in the lobby level of tall office towers.  In those circumstances, it’s often true that customers may only travel a short distance between their favorite Starbucks and their office.  It is still not a free refill, or refill priced.  If you leave the store, there is no longer a refill benefit.

Is there a time limit on how long I can stay inside Starbucks drinking free refills?

As a customer, I have never seen any customer-facing materials that express a time limit on free refills.  I have a distinct memory of Howard Schultz in 2008 (when announcing the then-new card benefits) saying enthusiastically, “Stay as long as you like…“  To this day, I think that is the intent of the program.  I have seen partners state that there is a two hour benefit.  Once upon a time, there was a free wifi benefit with a registered card that had a 2-hour limitation.  That limitation related to the free wifi benefit of 2008 – 2009, before it became free wifi everywhere, all day.

Can I get a free refill if I went outside and had my beverage on the store’s patio?

I don’t know the exact answer to this.  I’ve actually heard baristas say both yes and no to this.  It would seem to me that since you’re still on the store’s property, you should be able to get a free refill.  This appears to be another area of ambiguity.

My favorite Starbucks is tiny kiosk with no seating, like the Century Square Starbucks.  Can I get a free refill?

This is another area of ambiguity.  Since there is no actual way to stay “in” a kiosk store, it seems like there would be no way to get any free refills.

I bought a tall Pike Place Roast, and I have been sitting inside the store reading the paper.  Can I get a pour over of the dark roast pick of the day as a free refill?

This would be yet another area of ambiguity.  I don’t see that the website really addresses this situation.  I believe that the answer is “no.”  The barista should then charge the customer for a tall dark roast.  The reason that I say this is because this benefit is not really intended to include any beverages that are handcrafted or time consuming.  Because of the extra labor involved of the pour over, I don’t think that was intended as a “refill” benefit.

I went to Starbucks and bought a tall mocha, and I did stay in the store.  Can I get a tall Pike Place Roast as a refill now?

I think the answer to this is yes.  I don’t think the website really addresses this situation.  Consistently, moderators at MyStarbucksIdea.com will say “yes” this is a benefit.  It makes little sense to tell a customer, “I’m sorry, you should have bought a cheaper drink if you wanted free refills.”  And in theory, if the benefit is strictly limited to in-store customers, it’s not an expensive benefit to offer.

I’ve been told by partners that the Beverage Resource Manual describes the free refill benefit as a benefit, “regardless of original drink purchased.”  I’ve never actually seen that in writing, but if you’re a partner, check the BRM to see if this is mentioned in it.

I went to Starbucks and bought a tall mocha, and I did stay in the store.  Can I get a tall iced black tea refill now?

I think the answer to this is yes.

If the customer is switching from a hot drink to a cold drink refill (or vice versa), I’ve known many partners who will bristle at that.  I really can see the reluctance to give the customer the benefit of switching from a hot to cold drink as this will always mean a new cup.  I think I might bristle at this too if I were a barista.  Technically though, I think you can.

This is a really confusing benefit with lots of areas of ambiguity.  What did Starbucks really intend when they thunk up this benefit?

The rationale behind the free refill benefit is as follows, or at least this represents my best guess:

  • People who linger inside a store might spend more money on additional pastries or food.  Since the cost of a cup of Pike Place Roast is small, it might be worth it to encourage people to stay, and hopefully sell additional product as well.  Iced tea is really mostly water, and is also cheap to produce.
  • An empty store is never welcoming.  It’s a good idea to encourage a few people to linger.
  • We know that 80% of customers take their beverages “to go.”  If partners enforce this right, it won’t cost the company much because it will apply to only a small customer base.
  • Free refills help develop goodwill and a third place environment.
  • The overwhelming majority of customers are not going to stay long enough to have more than one or two refills.  The overwhelming majority of customers are “to go,” or stay briefly.
  • Seating limitations will help control how much this benefit gets used.  Since it’s only for in-store customers, it can really only be used by a small percentage of customers.
  • The daily brewed coffee, iced tea, hot tea, and iced coffee are very high margin beverages.

As you can see, how the benefit was intended, and how it is now applied in the stores are almost in complete conflict with each other.  Baristas routinely say “yes” to customers who should not get a refill, and sometimes say “no” to customers who SHOULD get a free refill

Now it’s your chance to weigh in on this perk.  What are your thoughts on this?  Basically, any card benefit that requires well over 2000 words to explain is too confusing.


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{ 100 comments… read them below or add one }

Corey December 27, 2012 at 12:22 am

Two questions:

First, if you can buy a tall mocha, and get a tall refill, wouldn’t it follow you could get a Jamaica Blue Mountain brewed off the clover machine, and stay for a free traditionally-brewed refill? Both cases are going from hand-brewed downgraded to mass-brewed.

You mentioned your view on going from Pike to Bold pour-over; however, what about Bold-to-Bold. For example, what if you get there at 11:30, get a drink and a Financial Times. You read some articles, and then get in line around 12:15 for a refill. They may not be planning to mass-brew a bold, but you bought a bold. Should it ~then~ get a pour-over refill?

Oh, and free comment: On Christmas Eve a barista to be unnamed substituted my Christmas Blend for Pike without asking. Isn’t that annoying? In my view, Pike is something Starbucks started brewing to achieve two things at once: embrace small-shop origins, and appeal to those who think Dunkin Donuts is better coffee. “Blonde” is another step in making Starbucks more appealing to a wider audience. Those of us who like bold do not see Pike as some kind of equivalence. …my home-brew beats Pike.

Minh January 6, 2013 at 9:33 am

One point of ambiguity removed – the latest FAQ does explicitly state “My Starbucks Rewards customers are eligible for free refills on brewed or iced coffee or tea, regardless of the original beverage purchased, while they are in a participating Starbucks store.” (emphasis added))


Melody January 6, 2013 at 9:35 am

@Minh – Good catch! That IS helpful. I hadn’t noticed that before now. (I really need to spend more time double checking the site, but I just don’t have time.) That is so important that I am thinking that it’s nearly worth it’s own blog post!

BostonPeng January 12, 2013 at 8:51 am

I was informed this morning that there is a one-hour time limit on refills. It sounds contrary to everything I’m seeing on the Starbucks website, and I was told they’re not being “super strict about it but they are talking about it.” Luckily I can set up a timer on my laptop to make sure I don’t go over the hour before getting a refill, but if this is what Starbucks is doing with their refill policy it may be time to consider changing where I get my coffee, or at least finding a different store that isn’t under this particular district manager. To be honest it’s not worth fighting with the management about so I can go elsewhere if I have to.

Melody January 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm

@BostonPeng – The refill policy does not have a one hour time limit. I would contact Customer Service if I were you. Have the store number or store address available.

800-Starbuc (800-782-7282)
Mon – Fri 5 AM – 8 PM (PST)
Sat 6 AM – 4 PM (PST)

BostonPeng January 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm

That’s what I was thinking, Melody. I’ll hold off on doing anything further unless I’m told they’re enforcing a new policy, and at that time I’ll challenge it. This store is pretty nice although they’ve been really busy the last few months. I know they’re getting negative comments and I’d prefer not to add to it if I can avoid it.

Melody January 12, 2013 at 12:58 pm

@BostonPeng – I totally understand the desire to bite your tongue. Most people do not like to complain – and that is actually why every complaint can be a valuable piece of feedback to help a store improve. I never want to see anybody be given a hard time, but I do want the experience to be the best it can within a Starbucks. So sometimes a complaint/feedback (“I’m not sure the store partners have got the refill policy down? Can somoene just touch base with them about that…”) is the only way there’s change.

BostonPeng January 12, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Trust me, it sounds like this place is getting more than enough complaints. Staffing has been poor lately and I’m always seeing people leave because the line is so long. As far as the refill issue goes I heard it was being “talked about”, not that the change was happening. I came to this post mostly because I wanted to see if anyone else had heard something similar to what I was hearing in Boston.

Melody January 12, 2013 at 1:07 pm

@BostonPeng – Oh by the way, hope you’ll “Like” or subscribe to this little site – http://www.facebook.com/pages/StarbucksMelody/180068562003180

It seems like the refill policy is always being talked about. It’s just a difficult policy to manage in many ways. I know here in Seattle, I’ll hear a rumor that stores will start to crack down on refills where people have left the store and come back, but as far as I can tell, nothing has changed in a long time here.

Purple1 January 12, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Melody as knowing someone in the Boston area I find it hard to believe they are introducing this new refill policy. Seems strange in general
And in particular for the area. I also
Have not heard of this.

Devin January 12, 2013 at 8:10 pm

There hasn’t been any changes to the refill policy, just a clarification of certain points that may have been a little fuzzy which Melody has covered earlier (like the refill-pricing on brewed coffees and teas after the purchase of ANY beverage). As for a time limit, there is nothing in the corporate literature that states that, so it is most likely a barista’s/supervisor’s/store’s interpretation of the refill policy. If you ever have a problem regarding a time limit on refills, ask to speak to the supervisor on duty, as they are in charge of the shift. I know it shouldn’t be a requirement, but be prepared to back up your statement by stating that you have double checked the policy, and you are in the right. If you still have problems, then I would suggest calling customer service. They will ensure that you are taken care of and the store in question will have the appropriate tools and plan of action in place to hopefully prevent a situation like that from happening again.

On a side note, everything I have stated goes for corporate own stores only. Licensed concepts generally follow the same guidelines as corporate, but ultimately they may make their own decisions.

Melody January 12, 2013 at 8:15 pm

@Devin – That was well said. And as a side note, I often forget to remind readers that much of what I write on this site applies only to the company-operated stores. Very true that the licensed stores can really vary a lot from corporate ones. Thanks for adding in that reminder.

(It’s always obvious to me when I’m in a company-operated store or a licensed one. Only the company-operated stores have the window cling that says “Employment Opportunities” featuring ASM Mikey’s face. And licensed stores are often inside of another business – I know you know that Devin, but that’s just for others who don’t know that.)

Jesse February 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm

If I bought a tall white mocha and stayed in the store to used the internet or read a newspaper, can i get a refill of a tall white mocha?

BostonPeng February 5, 2013 at 5:29 pm

You may be able to get a free drip coffee refill after getting a white mocha but the refills are only for brewed coffee or tea, hot or iced.

Melody February 6, 2013 at 8:28 am

@BostonPeng – Thanks for weighing in! Sorry I haven’t replied sooner. Yes, I would say that you could get brewed coffee as a refill after the white mocha, but there is not “refill” price for any handcrafted beverage such as a white mocha – I think you nailed it BostonPeng. Thanks!

BostonPeng February 6, 2013 at 8:37 am

My pleasure, Melody. I’ve actually had a barista at my favorite store offer to refill my custom crafted beverage as a refill but I passed on it in case a mystery shopper was around to drop a dime on them.

BostonPeng February 6, 2013 at 8:38 am

Sorry about that link in my last comment. I don’t know how that got there.

Ling February 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm

So I was searching on the web for some clarifications on the refill policy, and stumbled upon yours. Which, by the way, was really helpful.

Right now, I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Oregon, drank a venti Cocoa Cappuccino, paid with my Green Level card. Walked up to the counter, and asked if it’s possible to get a brew coffee refill with my card. The lady’s face turned sour and looked at me like I was trying to cheat or lie my way into getting a free refill. She did eventually gave me the refill, but the whole attitude thing was just so unnecessary. I know I wasn’t just thinking too much into it, as she was happily chatting with me just 2 seconds before I asked for a refill. And I did ask if it matters that I purchased a Cappuccino and not a brew coffee, to which she didn’t answer.

I guess it really depends on individual store policy on how they treat refills with card. This is my first time trying to get a free refill, and it would likely be the last. Don’t think I’d want to go through that treatment again.

Thank you for letting me vent. :)

Melody February 26, 2013 at 4:23 pm

@Ling – I think it’s important for Starbucks to hear episodes like yours. I really am sorry your refill experience didn’t go better. Somehow, there are partners who feel like the current refill policy is giving away the farm, and/or simply don’t know/don’t understand it. The experience IS important, and I’m glad you passed along your story here!

Ling February 26, 2013 at 4:31 pm

@Melody – Thanks for the reply. I did eventually wrote to Starbucks about this, and hopefully that would encourage them to reiterate the refill policy to individual stores.

This is just a minor hiccup. Definitely wouldn’t deter me from going to Starbucks in the future.

Kev May 14, 2013 at 12:09 am

I was wondering, does a chai tea count for this? I’ve been thinking of sitting up there to study and was curious if my favorite tea qualified.

I would definitely end up getting more food too if that was the case because i can sit for hours with a good chai,

Josh June 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

So I am brand new to having a gold card – earned it yesterday. I use the iPhone app for purchases.

If I have stayed in the store and am ready for a refill of my ice coffee, do I just go up and say I would like a Gold-level refill and flash my rewards screen on the iPhone app?

BostonPeng June 6, 2013 at 8:23 am

Congrats on reaching Gold status, Josh! Just bring your empty cup to the counter and ask for a refill. When you pay with your card or app the system will see you’re a Gold status member and apply the discount for your free refill.

Josh June 6, 2013 at 8:32 am

So I do have to swipe or scan my phone (i.e. pay) even though I am not charged?

Melody June 6, 2013 at 8:37 am

@Josh – Yes – The free refill perk is available for all those at the Green or Gold level of rewards.


When you digitally provide your profile (benefits are associated with your starbucks.com/card profile – not that individual card) with your phone app, the scanner recognizes that you’re at the right level of reward to give you the free refill benefit.

If you don’t provide a card (or phone app), there’s no way for the barista to know that you are at the Green or Gold level of benefits.

Welcome to my blog! :) Hope you will “like” it too.

Holly June 7, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Thanks for explaining this, I am green level and when going to starbucks today to hang out with some friends, I talked to the cashier and said how does your refill worked, she looked at me funny, said you only get coupons for being green level to get free drinks and that there is not refill policy, which this was the whole reason I use a card, every time I go to a starbucks and ask nobody seems to know what I am talking about. I feel like they need to explain this more to their workers, because I feel embarrassed every time I ask.

Chris August 21, 2013 at 10:48 am

What about the Orange Spiced Iced Coffee? I have gotten refills on that drink several times but today I was told that it was a “Specialty Drink” and not elligible for a refill, free or otherwise.

Any idea how a “Specialty Drink” fits in the heirarchy with “Hand Crafted” and “Brewed or iced coffee” drinks?

BostonPeng August 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm

AFAIK Specialty drinks = Hand Crafted. One way to think of it is that the brewed drinks are made in bulk (hot/iced coffee. iced tea, etc.) while everything else is made individually. If it’s made individually it’s not available for free refill

N1120A August 21, 2013 at 12:15 pm

A pour over would, however, count for a refill

John August 26, 2013 at 10:49 am

Ok, can you please figure this one out for me. When treat receipt is on, I will get a grande blonde in the morning, then in the afternoon, I will get a strawberry smoothie. Two problems when I try to get that smoothie refilled. First of all, although on the starbucks website it says “regardless of the original beverage purchased” Baristas will say you have to purchase a coffee or tea, not a smoothie. Then, for the refill, I ask for decaf iced coffee (i can’t have caffeine in the morning and afternoon or I can’t sleep) so then they tell me that they don’t brew decaf iced coffee and that I would have to have a decaf iced americano, which is not eligible for free refills. What is supposed to happen here?

Melody August 26, 2013 at 10:59 am

@John – It’s a little tough for me to figure out exactly what you’re saying by your fact pattern.

First off, you don’t really mention whether you have stayed in the store while drinking the smoothie – I am going to assume, “yes.” If you left the store, no refill perk at all.

If you drink a Grande smoothie in the afternoon, stayed in the store, and then ask for Decaf Iced Coffee (which that in itself is rare – there are only a few Starbucks markets that sell SO much Iced Coffee that they have a decaf iced coffee -so I am going to assume you are in New England!), then that Decaf Iced Coffee should be offered at the “refill” price – once you swipe your, loaded, registered card at the Green level or higher, the refill is free.

If the barista insists you must have started with iced coffee, then keep your receipt, call customer service, and complain and ask to make sure the feedback gets to a district manager. It is amazing to me that there are still stores where the refill policy is so misunderstood. The refill policy hasn’t changed in a long while.

Bear in mind, I made assumptions in this answer: I am assuming you drink the Strawberry Smoothie in store. And, if you are not in New England, (or one of the very few Starbucks regions offering a Decaf Iced Coffee) then you could get a regular Iced Coffee as your refill (or Iced Tea).


Call customer service and let them know what happened. Be prepared to have a receipt from that store in your hand so that you the location and store number.

Good luck!

CoffeeBoy October 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I just wanted to let everyone know that Cafe Misto is now included in Free Refills. I recently emailed starbucks and they said it will be included. The restriction from the website is also remove. However, Clover and pour over is still not allowed.
Brewed Coffee (including Caffe’ Misto, but not Clover or Pour-over coffee)
Iced Brewed Coffee
Hot Tea (includes tea bag; customers should not be charged if requesting hot water)
Iced Tea..”

Presea Aurion December 3, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Again my Starbucks would not give me a free refill. And were actually pretty rude and even walked away as I was mid talking (politely btw I work in CS myself) trying to explain the online policy. I called CS and they were not happy. Said they would contact the store because yes, you can get a refill no matter what beverage originally bought. As discussed here, it is silly to make customers buy cheaper beverages.

I hope next visit will go better, and CS gave me a free drink/bev reward for the grief. I said that wasn’t necessary, but they insisted.

Melody December 3, 2013 at 9:55 pm

@Presea Aurion – That is saddening to hear. The refill policy IS something that Starbucks needs to tackle head on. I’m glad you contacted CS. If I were you, I’d try to follow up with the District Manager, if possible. I can’t imagine have a full on argument over iced tea, iced coffee, or brewed coffee (all very high profit margin drinks) – Starbucks spends a lot more just trying to recover from those moments when a partner didn’t just say ‘yes.’

Darla December 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Not very familiar with Starbucks, but trying to learn. Wish there was an easy guide to ordering at Starbucks! If I want a hot green tea for my refill, what are my options to order for my 1st fill? Thanks!

darla December 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Oh and one more question – if I get a Hot Chocolate, can I then get it filled with either decaf coffee or tea for a refill?

Shawn December 26, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Does Hot Chocolate Qualify?

MagicKat December 27, 2013 at 10:52 am

The original beverage is irrelevant, so – yes, Darla you can get brewed coffee or tea as a refill for your hot chocolate. That’s just the policy though, it really depends on your baristas and how well they know and understand how the refills work.

Shawn, hot chocolate would be your original beverage, but you can’t get it as a refill.

Victoria December 29, 2013 at 12:26 am

Would I be able to get a free refill iced coffee and pay for syrup and milk to be added to it?

I’m a gold member.

Ricky January 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

If I get a vanilla latte or caramel latte and I have a green card, can I get free refills?

Taylor January 4, 2014 at 1:21 pm

I have the same question Ricky do iced caramel lattes qualify for free in store refills since it is iced coffeE?

BostonPeng January 6, 2014 at 8:48 am

I’ve gotten free refills on iced coffees and paid for syrups, although I”m pretty sure the syrups should still be free as a “sweetened” iced coffee. Granted that was as of the summer and I don’t know how things are now.

Ricky and Taylor:
Unless things have changed recently free beverages are only for brewed coffee or teas. Anything with espresso is labeled a “handcrafted beverage” and isn’t available as a free refill, although I’ve gotten free iced coffee refills after initially buying an iced caramel macchiato.

Julie January 6, 2014 at 5:11 pm

I frequent a Starbucks down the street from my house quite a bit and sit in the lobby for at least 6 hours (I bring my laptop and I always have something I need to do online). I’ve never been told I’ve exceeded my time limit on refills. But I have been told I can’t get an iced coffee refill when I originally bought a hot brewed coffee (and same when I bought the iced first and later wanted a hot refill. I do believe it can depend on the store, the baristas and how frequent of a customer you are. And someone else commented about getting syrups for free in their refills. I was told it depends on the syrup you get. The seasonal ones usually aren’t free on refills (because they are seasonal), but caramel and vanilla should be free.

Melody January 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm

@Julie -
Your store is not following the refill policy. If it is a company-operated store (stand alone store) they cannot make up their own policy – they have to follow the one set out by the Seattle Starbucks headquarters. I strongly suggest that you call Customer Service and complain.

As to syrups, I think there is some ambiguity. I think a syrup would be free in an iced coffee. A sauce is never free – pumpkin spice, caramel brulee, caramel flan – those are sauces.

Please call Customer Service!


Brenna March 3, 2014 at 8:47 pm

I purchased a decaf mocha and stayed in store to do some work. I stepped outside to chat w/ a friend leaving coffee and computer inside. Five minutes total and was back inside. Ten minutes later I ordered a decaf (pour over- they stop brewing decaf before noon) and used the treat receipt received earlier. Barista charged full price for the decaf. This was the first time they have ever charged for a refill with the gold card. From what I understand, I’ve been lucky. Also think I’m done w/ Starbucks!

Julie March 4, 2014 at 12:11 am

Brenna, The treat receipt is to get a baked good for $1. At least that’s what the email I received said. So using a treat receipt for a drink doesn’t do anything. Did you order a new drink or ask for a refill, but wanted a decaf brewed coffee instead? That would be the difference in how you were charged.

And Melody, I’m the same Julie that posted on January 6th. I never did call customer service, but when I went to Starbucks the other day I ordered a venti peppermint mocha, then got a hot brewed coffee for my refill. When I mentioned the policy to the barista, he said he’d never heard of it. I got my free refill with no issues, but I think it was because I go to that location all the time as he said he wouldn’t have argued with me about it since I was such a regular.

Jack March 11, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Say I Get A Trenta Sweeten Iced Passion Tea Lemonade, Would I Be Able To Get A Free Refill For A second Trenta Sweeten Iced Passion Tea Lemonade Or at Least A Trenta Sweeten Iced Passion Tea? Or Get An Iced Coffee With Milk As A Refill? (Could I Get A Syrup With That Iced Coffee?)


BostonPeng March 12, 2014 at 7:37 am

Unless they’ve changed it recently brewed iced teas and coffees qualify for free refills. Getting syrup in the coffee or tea should be free since it can be sold sweetened with classic, or some other, syrup, but I may be missing updated info. I haven’t gotten refills on iced tea in quite some time.

Jess March 21, 2014 at 2:25 pm

This article doesn’t state anything about free refills on Teas like the Passion hot/iced tea, or the Zen tea. Just yesterday I was denied a Chai tea latte refill (yes, I have a green level card) however, the barista never explained to me, is it a latte? Or is it tea? The drink I ordered is under “teas” in the Starbucks menu on Starbucks.com.
I guess my question is, can you only get refills on black tea? Or other teas too?
If it is only black tea, they should probably specify that in their rewards section of their site.

Melody March 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Hi Jess –
The refill policy is here -

In short, there are four things that can get a “refill” price: Iced Tea (meaning iced green tea, iced black tea, or iced passion tea), hot tea, hot brewed coffee (but not Clover-brewed coffee) and iced coffee.

I can see how a Chai beverage would be ambiguous. If you were trying to get the Chai Latte with Chai syrup and steamed milk, that wouldn’t fit into the category of things that can get a “refill” perk (meaning free if you’re green or gold).

I assume if you were just drinking chai tea made with just a chai tea bag and hot water, then that would be a chai tea refill because it’s just simple hot tea.

I can totally see the ambiguity but I think that probably the “no” you heard on the chai tea latte (your drink was chai syrup with steamed milk) was probably the right answer.

If you need more information, or have any concerns about what I wrote, then by all means, please contact Customer Service – They’re the final word on this.


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