Confusion with the Starbucks Gold Card

Confusion with the Starbucks Gold Card

This is the last in a series of four articles analyzing MyStarbucksRewards.  Here’s everything that has appeared in this series:

  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)

The actual gold card can cause some confusion.  The root of that confusion is usually that people think they must have it to earn stars and/or think that the green level perks require the Gold card.    In no particular order, here are few ways that I’ve seen customers (and baristas) confused about the Gold card:

1. Do I have to use my Gold card?

No.  There is NEVER a requirement to actually switch to the gold card.  I have indeed watched this be a point of confusion many times.  Oddly, many people (both customers and partners) seem to think that it is the actual gold card that earns you stars.  This is not true.  All of the card benefits that the customers receive are associated with the customer’s profile at

This means that the customer may earn stars with a mobile app, a braille card, an old black card, an old Shareholder’s card, a mini card, a (RED) card, a Chicago city card or any other city card,  an Evolution Fresh card, the “Twilight” First and Battery card, or truly any another card the customer wants to use.

2. I just received my Gold card in the mail.  Is there money already transferred on it?

No.  The Gold card does not arrive with money already on it.  I don’t know why people assume that it is pre-loaded, but I have met customers who just got their Gold card and think that there balance is already on that Gold card.  The Gold card does not arrive pre-loaded with money.

3. Am I earning “stars” with my Gold card?

When your profile is at the Gold level of benefits, you earn a star each time your card is swiped for a qualifying purchase.  There are a limited number of swipes which do not earn any “stars.”  If you are transferring money from one card to another, those swipes do not count as a “star.”  If you are purchasing a refill and it is free under MyStarbucksRewards, there is no “star.”

So you are earning stars for being at the Gold level on your profile.  And you many have numerous cards registered to your profile – all of which will earn you stars when you use them to pay for your purchases at Starbucks.

4.  I have a Gold card.  I use only my Gold card.  Is it possible that I am NOT Gold, and NOT earning stars?

It is actually possible that a customer is holding a Gold card but NOT receiving any stars for a purchase but IS receiving all the Green level perks such as a free tall beverage when buying a pound of beans, and free syrups.  (There are more Green Level benefits – see above links.)

It takes 30 stars each year to re-qualify as a Gold card customer.  This means that for some customers, they will hold a Gold card in their hands that is only functioning to give him or her Green benefits (remember, all perks are associated with your profile, and every card is at the level that your profile is at – regardless of  whether it is a shiny gold card).

If the customer has not attained the 30 stars, he or she has not renewed Gold level, and thus is not earning stars towards free drinks.  So it’s possible that the customer HAS a Gold card (earned in a previous year) but is NOT Gold because he or she hasn’t re-qualified.  As I have already mentioned, that Gold card then just functions to reward only the Green level perks (assuming that is where the customer is at.)

Because the current version of MyStarbucksRewards was launched in January (2010), it is actually most likely that the above scenario will happen early in the year, but it could happen at any time.

As an aside, the issue of having re-qualify for Gold status has sparked some interesting ideas at  Here’s what I mean:

  • Forever Gold – A MyStarbucksIdea idea where a person suggests that after 5 years of qualifyng for Gold, that a customer should be permanently Gold level.
  • Permanent Gold – Here’s an idea where a person wants a permanent Gold card after a certain number of years of Gold, to include a letter from Howard Schultz when a customer reaches “permanent Gold”!
  • Stars over 30 should count towards next year’s Gold – One more idea about having to renew the gold card.

Edit on August 18, 2012:  There was some great discussion in the comments about how a customer earns gold.  It appears that a customer can carry forward one year of gold status.  In other words, if I earn gold status, and then earn 30 stars after that during that year, my gold status is carried forward one year.

5. My barista has told me things like, “You get free refills with a Gold card.”  Doesn’t that mean that I MUST have a Gold card to get free refills?

I think that MANY partners say things like, “You get free refills with a Gold card,” or “You get free syrups with a Gold card,” or “You can have a free tall beverage with your whole bean purchase with a Gold card,” because it’s simply easier to explain than saying, “Any card at the Green level gets free refills – That’s 5 swipes to get to Green.”

Invariably, that leaves the lasting impression that a customer must use his or her Gold card. And then there is a second step to try and re-educate the customer correctly at a later date.

All the Green level benefits happen at 5 stars.  No need to ever get to Gold card level to start enjoying things like free refills, free syrups, and free milk changes.

6.  Do my free drinks automatically appear on my Gold card?

No.  Well, mostly no.  Starbucks has repeatedly stated that they are working towards electronic rewards.  Free drinks electronically loaded onto  your Starbucks card is in the testing phase in Pittsburgh.  Unless you reside in the Pittsburgh, your free drinks arrive as a postcard via the mail.

7.  I thought there would be lots of freebie coupons with the Gold card?

After every 15 stars, a customer earns a coupon for a free beverage.  MyStarbucksRewards does periodically send out other freebie coupons.  I have written about free Evolution Fresh juice coupons, a coupon for $1 off perfect oatmeal, free petite treats, and more.  However, unless customers have opted into postal mailing on his or her profile, none of the free coupons will be sent.



Hope you enjoyed this series of articles!  And now that you’ve read them all,  what would you change?

Talk about anything related to MyStarbucksRewards.







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  • Purple1

    Melody another great post on the rewards program and the gold card.
    I have seen in one form or another all the issues you have pointed out. I like the suggestions from MSI re after a certain number of years on gold you become gold forever and also the one re carrying over stars to the next year. Thanks again for a great series of posts on the rewards program.

  • CD

    Thanks for another great update to this series Melody – it shows you really put a lot of work and thought into it.

    As for the gold card, I recycled mine the day it arrived in the mail, but can see how all of the confusion lies in the actual card. Especially because the physical card seems to mean something to some people. Case in point, in order to take advantage of the cash back program, I upgraded my Costco membership years ago when my Costco usage increased but I never updated the actual card. I was at Costco earlier this week and the cashier told me I should stop by the service desk to get a new “executive” card. The old card works. The physical card I use does not determine the perks I receive, but she suggested it because my current card doesn’t “reflect my status” as an “executive level” customer. Who knew? :-p

  • denise r

    Another informative and necessary review of MSR. There really is lots of confusion around it all….honestly, as much from many of the partners as customers.
    The idea of ‘ending’ your gold status at the end of each yr seems really crazy to me. I think I’ve earned it, as long as Sbux decided to start these rewards…and to need to ‘become gold’ again at the beginning of the yr seems crazy to me.
    (@CD, I know what you mean about Costco..they used to change the cards when you changed your status but the last time I switched around, they left the cards the same, which makes sense.)

  • Rebecca

    The gold cards do come preloaded with $0.01 :). A customer noticed and asked me about it, and I’ve noticed it ever since. I believe it’s because a card has to be activated (ie loaded) in order to be registered.

    I don’t mind the idea of re-earning gold status. All it means is you have to earn 60 stars in one year to be gold for the next year. A common misconception I run into is that people think that when their ‘gold anniversary’ rolls around, they have to earn 30 stars after that date to get gold again. If you’ve earned more than one free drink this year, you’re staying gold next year :)

    I currently use my partner card as my Starbucks card, since it stops me from having to bring out 2 cards. But since I have an anniversary partner card, I often find it’s mistaken for a plain Starbucks card at other stores and I am not given my partner discount , which causes a lovely holdup at the till. *sigh* first world problems :)

  • Melody

    @Rebecca – I didn’t know about the .01 on the gold cards, but that makes sense since it is the only card that a customer gets that IS pre-registered.

    I think you do have to earn 30 stars each anniversary. ?? I’ve never heard that if you’ve earned a free drink card this year, you are gold for next year. I know that this year I went to the website and paid attention to my status in January. Every January 6th, is my anniversary. There used to be a nice feature where you could see a calendar (month by month calendar) and then you could click on a day and see how many stars you earned that day.

    The Card website has long frustrated me – seems slow, and for a while now, I can’t find that nice month by month chart. But I could swear, earlier this year, I followed that calendar, and I did have to become gold again … And it didn’t take long to earn gold again! :) I think you start over, and you earn green again too. But that I’m even more confused about.

  • DadCooks

    @Melody – your series on MyStarbucksRewards gets an A++ in my book, plus the discussions in the comments have been great too.

    Too bad Starbucks is not spending more time refining the MyStarBucksRewards website and the Starbucks Card Apps (both iPhone and Android). IMHO and experience, Starbucks is using programers who put too much fluff and pretty and not enough substance. This does not give me a secure feeling that they are going to be able to handle eRewards. The eRewards Test seems to have disappeared from the discussions online.

  • Rebecca

    You have the iPhone app, correct? If you look at your rewards tab, under the details, right above where you see your transaction list, you should see a ‘stars needed to maintain gold status’ bar. It also tells you to earn 30 stars before your anniversary to keep gold :). I am at 30/30, and have been since a very short time after I got gold in the first place :)

  • Sandra Trolinger

    I would give one start PER DRINK ordered. Sometimes I go in and order 2 to 5 drinks at a time and I hate knowing it ONLY counts for one star. I think it would be rude to ask for them to ring them up separately and I would be embarrassed to ask. I wish we could also get stars for buying bags of coffee at the grocery store or Target as I buy 1/3 of my coffee that way.

  • Becca

    @Sandra I have a few customers who ask for it and it’s not a big deal unless there is a long line or we seem frantic. I don’t think it’s rude to ask and we (generally) earn stars too as customers.

  • BCav

    This was a really awesome series, Melody! Thanks for breaking down the rewards program for people! I can’t believe how many “regulars” still don’t even know about registering their cards! *sigh*

    Even I have my partner card registered so I can enjoy these perks when I visit stores off the clock.

  • Lilian

    My point of confusion was that my balance wasn’t automatically transferred to the Gold Card. I felt silly when I couldn’t make a purchase with my Gold Card when I first received and didn’t have my Green Card with me so I had to pay without the benefit.

  • Lena

    This series of posts has served to further compound my jealousy that we don’t have Starbucks Cards in New Zealand. Until last year we had a buy 10, get one free stamp card system, but they took it away saying it would be replaced by the electronic card system – but so far, hasn’t happened :(.

  • denise r

    @Melody: I can still (except when they’re having ‘trouble’:( see the calendar site with the number of stars per day by month. And, as you said, I see it says: gold until 1/6/13 ? or whatever that date is. However, I never noticed NOT being ‘gold’ for those days in January…. Like DadC…says, it is messed up.

  • Kurt.

    My reading of the gold level is that there is a one year carry forward on it.

    “Once you qualify for Gold level, you will be at that level for a full year from that date. Simply earn 30 additional Stars before your anniversary date (the date you earned Gold) and you will continue to enjoy all of the Gold level benefits for another year.”(From the FAQ page)

    Make your 30th purchase today, Aug 17, 2012, and you are gold until August 17, 2013. Make 30 purchases over the next 52 weeks (year) and you are gold until Aug. 17 2014. Make 29 or fewer purchases over the next year and you should reset and have to start over.

  • Jo

    You can still access the calendar after signing into your account by going to ‘My Starbucks Rewards’ then clicking ‘Rewards History’ on the left.

    I’m still annoyed by what Starbucks did with the Canadian launch. I was in the test run in Calgary and just recently noticed that my anniversary date changed from December 28th (when I originally qualified in 2010) to October 4th (the date they launched nationally last year). This despite their FAQs stating about the change over “Your current account status will remain as-is and not be affected.” I contacted customer service and was basically told ‘yup, that’s why it changed, but we can’t do anything to fix it’. It sucks, as I intentionally ‘qualified’ for gold at the end of the year so I wouldn’t need to remember my anniversary date, and there’s little chance I’ll get my 30 stars by October (I tend to buy more drinks in fall/winter and was counting on having the extra 2.5 months to get the stars). I wonder how many people were affected by this and just haven’t noticed. If they’re like me and struggle to get the 30 stars, they’ll probably be knocked out of gold level without even knowing it.

  • Jo

    On another note, isn’t this contradictory: “Your Stars will remain on your account as long as you have any activity in the past two years. However, if you do not qualify for the Gold level again by your anniversary date (the date you qualified for the Gold level), you will revert to the Green level and lose all your Stars.”

    The first sentence states that as long as there is activity on your card (within a two year period), you’ll retain the stars you have. Then the next sentence states if you don’t make you 30 star goal by your anniversary date, you *lose* all your stars. But you could have activity within a two year period that doesn’t add up to 30 stars worth, so do you lose the stars or keep them? Do you only get to keep the stars if you haven’t reached gold level (ie. 29 or lower)? How is that fair that you get to keep your stars if you haven’t yet reached gold level, but not if you *have* reached gold level and just fail to get your next 30 within 12 months. That’s seems a bit counter-intuitive to me.

  • theatrenut

    Wow, I feel special for living in Pittsburgh! I can confirm that the free drink rewards are loaded electronically here. Only once (out of about three) was I unable to get my free drink from the card – the barista had already rung up my sale and scanned my card before I mentioned it. So I make sure to mention it as I hand over the card.

    The only thing I miss is that I can’t tell on the website whether I still have an unused free drink credit on my card. I’m going to find out if a barista can scan it and tell me.

  • Melody

    @Theaternut – You are lucky! I am hoping that someone else from Pittsburgh reads this and weighs in on how it is working out. I’ve never been able to keep good track of my rewards with the website. I earn enough free drink cards that it is quickly confusing!

  • Katie

    Gold Card! I admit, I get confused about the benefits and I’ve been a gold card member since they rolled out the program. I will say, the phone app has been my favorite addition. It’s made it so easy for me to track my rewards and reload my balance. It’s taken away the “how much do I have on this card?” and the “did I register this card?” questions that I used to ask myself. Often leading to even more of the gold benefits questions you mentioned above. My complaint though…why am I waiting for my free drink card to be mailed when I can manage EVERYTHING else via the phone app? Why not just add it as a feature? It’s kind of disappointing to see all of those pretty stars fall into the cup and then see a “your free drink coupon is on its way” message. Seems silly.

    Anyway. Great post. Clears up a lot of gold questions :)

  • Sean

    As this happened to me, if you have 28 stars for the year and do not hit requalify for gold, you will lose all 28 of those stars for the year and must requalify the entire 30 again.

  • JB

    Does anyone know why I cannot enter my gold card number for use in the Starbucks app for payment use? I’d like to use this function on my iPhone, but the number sequence doesn’t fit in the fields supplied by the app! AARGH!

  • Melody

    @JB – The gold card is supposed to be pre-registered to your profile. Is it already there? Or, try registering your cards through (log in, add a card) and the app will then automatically find it. Hope that helps! Please click “like” and like this little blog too.

  • Kris K

    I have had my gold card for a few years now and with the rewards going electronically, I caved and downloaded the Starbucks app. It tells me that I have 3 free drinks available, yet when I attempt to use them they tell me they aren’t available in the store. What is wrong?

  • jr

    If I have two register cards in the same account do I get two freebies on my birthday? Or does it just count as one?

  • DadCooks

    @jr – you only get one birthday freebie/reward per account.

    It does not matter how many cards your account has for determining rewards, the system is account centered not card centered.

  • jr

    @Dadcooks Thanks.
    If I unregister one of my two cards do I lose my stars?

  • DadCooks

    @jr – no you do not lose your stars if you unregister one of your two cards. Stars and Rewards are at the account level. The stars stay with the account. Making a purchase with a card earns a star, but that star then becomes attached to the account not to the specific card. That way you earn stars with any card and then can redeem rewards with any card, again related to that account. What is not at the account level are the dollars attached to a specific card.

    You can use the card that you remove from your current account and create a new account with it or give it to someone else.

  • Trish

    I think it’s ridiculous that you only get one star per transaction. So a single person who walks in for a coffee gets the same amount of stars as a mom who walks in and buys frappycinos for all the kids in the car? Doesn’t seem fair and only makes moms either make several different transactions or just go elsewhere…

  • Mike S

    Well thanks for all the info, I know it’s been a while since this article was posted, and some things have changed.

    Once Gold is obtained, free drinks now come after 12 stars, not 15. Also rewards have gone digital, so no more waiting for that card on the mail. I finally just got registered, just recently became addicted to Frappes ^^, and my bday is in a week. Website says register at least 30 days prior to your bday but in my sbux calender it shows I’m due a bday reward so the 30 days thing isn’t a serious requirement.

    I was curious about the black gold card, do they still exist? I think is rather have one of those than the shiny gold card, do you get to choose or is the black card just a relic these days?

    Also as for buying several drinks and/or food items, and only earning one star, since I’ve been buying Starbucks a lot lately and waiting so long to finally register, I felt I was owed a few more stars than just the one from a big order so I asked and the barista happily rang up my order of 4 items separately, allowing me to gain green status in one day (I hit them up later in the day for another Frappe)

  • margaret anderson

    I have an idea, lose the Gold Card. Nothing but confusion along with your website that is an absolute nightmare to navigate through IF I am able to be lucky enough to log into. Horrible, Horrible, website.

  • cynthia

    I want to register another Starbucks card and the website will not let me do so. How can this be done? I ASKED at the store and they said there is a place to register a second csrd. I cannot find the site. Thank you, Cynthia Frerman

  • Tori

    Can I use the actual gold card in store if I choose not to do it from the app or once you are register on the app u can’t use the actual card anymore?

  • Melody

    @Tori – You can do any of the above. You can use the shiny gold card. You can use any card registered to your profile. Or you can use any card on your mobile phone app – whether a gold card or not.

    The reason that you CAN do anything you want (so long as you’ve registered that card you’re using to your profile) is that there is nothing special about ANY card. It’s your digital profile that earns you rewards. Not any specific card.

    You’ll get all your rewards and perks, no matter what you choose.

  • chloe

    if i deactivate one of my cards, can i register it under a new account again? or is the card no longer usable?

  • Brittany

    You actually have to earn 300 stars to earn amother year at Gold Level, not 30 stars.

    And, you don’t earn only one star per transaction. Your earn 2 stars per one dollar spent and they give partial stars for the change.

  • Melody

    @Brittany – Sure. If you look at the date of this article, it’s old. Years old. There are many more recent articles on the new Rewards program.

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