The Starbucks Refill Policy Update.

Refill policy update April 2016Just a few days ago, our friends at the Seattle Starbucks headquarters updated and re-wrote the Starbucks refill policy. Isn’t hasn’t changed hugely, but seems to be more clear that the original beverage can be any beverage. It’s worth taking a look at the new and improved version (as of April 12, 2016) of the Starbucks Refill Policy.

What’s new?

  • The words “regardless of original beverage” have been removed and replace with the more simple, “purchase a beverage.” It is still the case that you can buy any beverage and get a refill of the 4 “refill” items.
  • All references to Teavana stores are gone. (This is a good thing as Teavana never did have the same “refill” policy as Starbucks).
  • The words “some restrictions apply” are gone.
  • All references to the “Green” and “Gold” level of Starbucks Rewards are now gone.

Just as a review, here’s how the refill policy works (in Melody’s words):

Buy any handcrafted beverage and pay with your registered card. Buy any second beverage while still in the store (you cannot walk out the front doors and come back) and it’s free with your registered card. However, there’s a big catch: Your second beverage can only be one of four things: iced tea, iced coffee, hot tea, or hot coffee. You should not be charged – even if you’re getting a tea sachet.

While you can get an iced tea as a refill, you cannot get an iced tea lemonade drink as a refill. Your iced tea must be one of the following: Iced Passion Tango Tea, Iced Black Tea, or Iced Green Tea.

A basic hot brewed coffee is just the brewed coffee of the day. For example, hot brewed coffee may be Pike Place Roast, Veranda Blend, Gold Coast Blend, or any other core coffee that the store has readily available as a brewed coffee. A basic brewed coffee only includes those coffee which are brewed as the daily brewed. It does not include the barista making a handcrafted cup of coffee via the Clover brewer.

There is never a refill benefit when you are in the drive-thru.

You have to have consumed the first drink, whatever that may be, and ordered your second beverage (only of the limited 4 items) all within the same-store visit. You must purchase the same size.

You cannot start with a non-handcrafted beverage, such as a bottled water or bottled Refresher.

You must be at a participating Starbucks: Some licensed stores may not participate in the refill benefit.

I realize my version of the refill policy is longer but I’m confident it’s accurate.

In off the record conversations, I’d often been told that the previous words, “Some restrictions apply,” referred to same size limitations. That is you cannot start with a short latte, and get a refill of a Venti Iced Passion Tea. Since the new refill policy uses a lot fewer words, it’s not clear to me that the restriction of same-size is still pertinent or has it been removed? Also, the new refill policy makes no mention of whether the first drink has to be handcrafted or not, but my understanding is that it does.

Partners: The right answer is almost always yes. Just as the company is generous with you: stock options, meal benefit, free beverages while at work, partner discount, and more, the company in turns wants you to pass on that goodwill spirit to your customers. Do not assume the worst in people. Frankly, there really are a lot of confused customers out there. It doesn’t come out of your paycheck. It’s very silly to act like this is a life or death matter and give yourself worry wrinkles, gray hair and high blood pressure. Be generous. This brand is not about cherry picking who gets great customer experiences.

Customers: Do NOT try to ask for a refill when you are in the drive thru. Do not walk into a store with an empty cup and just ask for a refill without having FIRST purchased a first beverage within the store. This is absolute!!!!!! Never walk into a store and start with a “refill.” That is NOT a refill. I don’t care if you just work in the floors of the building above or you just were at a different Starbucks 5 minutes ago. Once you leave the front doors of the store, all refill benefits will come to an end. Do not try to ask for a refill price on anything other than the 4 items I mentioned: Iced Coffee, Iced Tea, Hot Brewed Coffee of the Day, and Hot Tea.

If you do not have a registered Starbucks card, your refill is not free. It will be about 50 cents, however there may be tax and local variation to the refill price. Please do not quote me on the refill price.

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35 Comments

  • Lisa Atkinson Waller

    Even though the wording is very similar to the original policy, I think it’s always a good idea to revisit this policy. Refills shouldn’t be rocket science, but for some reason they always seem to be. Personally, I’ve been fortunate… never had a problem with a refill.

  • Jon Ruth

    What is the situation if a person goes to the outside seating area of the specific Starbucks location? Can they reenter the store for a refill?

  • Tex

    Jon: I believe most stores will consider the outside seating area as OK, especially if you’re a regular at a given location and the partners know you were out on the patio, but to avoid any confusion, I just go by Melody’s clarification – if you breathed fresh air not via an open window, no more refill.

    Melody: This post will help a lot of people get it right. To me the rules have not changed (my refills have always been same size hot coffee in winter, cold brew iced coffee in summer). Thank you for this. Starbucks really should use your wording instead of their own to avoid confusion…

  • Alistair

    What about cream/milk? Is that free on refills?

  • S the K

    Do they use the same cup? For example, if you get a tall hot mocha latte, then return for a refill of iced black tea, will you get a mocha latte-flavored iced black tea?

  • Melody

    @Alistair – You should be able to get a splash of cream / milk in your coffee free , whether a first one or refill. I believe that less than 4 ounces of milk is considered a “splash” in the world of Starbucks.
    @S the K – The same cup thing is actually an issue. For some reason, I’ve met many partners who have this weird idea that it’s not a refill unless they use the same cup. This is very untrue. It’s some weird rule baristas seem to have made up in their mind. In fact, it doesn’t even make sense because in many places, local health codes require a new cup. I would just ask for a new cup if it looks like the barista is going to try and re-use an old cup in a situation that doesn’t make sense, like what you describe.

  • Daniel L Rappaport

    Hello everyone. I am a huge Starbucks fan, and have been following Melody for quite some time.

    Here is my addition to the conversation:

    If you just finished your drink, stepped outside for a brief moment, and realized that you would like a refill (especially after waiting in a long line), I see nothing wrong with being very nice, saying that you were outside for just a moment, and kindly request a refill.

    The barista can always say no, but, I think that this is where great guest service comes in (especially if you are a rewards member).

    I am not asking for something for nothing . Not am I suggesting that a refill should be given if someone decides to take off, run errands for hours, and come back and expect a refill. Sorry. Your rent is up!

    But, to be on property, catch a quick phone call, check on your dog, or something – I think that it should definitely be ok.

    That’s just my two cents.

    Thanks!

  • Scott

    I had three consecutive negative experiences trying to utilize the refill policy. It left such a bad taste in my mouth (the awkwardness, having other customers join in to ‘explain’ it to me, etc.), that it’s impacted how much I go to Starbucks. Hope this clarifies things.

  • Tex

    Scott – where we (wife and I) have run into negative experiences is when the baristas don’t know the policy, most common is when they insist your refill has to be the same drink you originally ordered… one time my wife started with a chai tea latte and the refill (to an iced tea, same size) was declined. They were in the wrong, my wife emailed a complaint to CS and was given bonus stars and a credit for this. If it happens again definitely complain through the web form.

  • calwatch

    Yes, absolutely, don’t argue with the cashier. Ask to speak with a manager; if you still get declined, file a complaint. They have your email and so can verify that you did attempt to follow the refill policy and will be comped appropriately.

    As far as “stepping out”, Starbucks is not jail. I always occupy a space with a jacket or a bag, so if I have to go back to the car to get something that doesn’t count as leaving. If you leave the space long enough so that you wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving your jacket or bag out, then that’s too long.

  • Robert Acre

    Well, this may be the “Policy”, but as noted, the Baristas have some latitude – in the local store, apparently. I have had a cup or two (my SB personal cup) of Veranda, left the store and came back 3 or 4 hours later and gotten the free refill. I have purchased one cup at one store, and then travelling across town, stop by another and get a free cup by just asking and scanning my “pay – Code”. re liberal in Arkansas???

  • Kristina

    I just experienced my first issue with the refill policy. My original drink was a vanilla sweet cream cold brew and when I asked for a refill of iced green tea, the barista informed me that you cannot go from coffee to tea, but she would allow me to do so this time. :-/ I really wish the refill policy was clear and concise and that the baristas were adequately informed of it.

  • George M. Filancus

    My local Starbucks is apparently really cool.

    I can go in anytime with an empty cup and ask for a refill and they’ll charge me just $0.54. No fuss. No questions. I’m sure this will probably get nixxed at some point, but I won’t complain.

  • awestruckx7

    I haven’t had an issue with free refills until today. After I ordered my drink, I asked for a refill on an iced coffee, but the barista told me that I had to get the same initial drink. I asked her if the policy changed recently and she said that it has been the same policy all along…

  • Melody

    @Awestruck – The barista was incorrect. I’m always a little amazed at barista refill sheriffs. The right answer in the world of Starbucks is almost always yes. I would call Customer Service so the store can get feedback and make corrections where needed.

  • Sam

    I am sitting in a Starbucks typing this after being told it’s only on the original beverage. I got iced coffee and wanted a refill of ice tea. I go tthe “just this once” reply. I said thanks, but I’m pretty sure you get any of the refill beverages regardless of the original drink. He said “That’s what I used to think, but no. That’s not the policy.” What is the deal. Can we please get a consistent, black and white, policy on this?!

  • ichnap

    EVEN IF I SIT OUTSIDE ON THEIR CHAIRS? NEVER LEFT? I WAS GIVEN A HARD TIME ABOUT THIS TODAY!!! THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED TO ME!!!!

  • Kaley Morrow

    I have been a gold member for a few years now and have never had a problem getting the free refills until lately. I got a frappuccino and wanted an iced coffee as my refill and the barista told me that I could only get a refill of my original drink but she’d do it “just this time”. She was also very snarky about it. I don’t even bother getting the refill anymore if she’s working.

  • Christine C

    Seems we know the refill policy far better than any baristas we encounter these days. It’s pretty ridiculous the NO responses and the attitudes and far out stories we’re getting re refills and policy. The best thing to do is always submit a web form complaint to get this problem corrected across the board.
    Re sitting on the outside patio, yes that is allowed, clarification received directly from Starbucks below:
    “I’m story for any confusion, patios are also considered “in store” in which you should have no problem properly receiving the benefits of our refill policy at any of our Company operated stores which are all “stand alone locations”. I hope this helps answer any concerns that you still may had.”
    If you ever have any questions or concerns in the future, please visit us at CustomerService.Starbucks.com. Have a beautiful night!”

  • Christine C

    Starbucks refill policy clarification directly from Starbucks customer service today:

    After purchasing any regular priced beverage you may purchase a brewed hot or iced coffee or tea at the reduced refill price, during the same store visit. That last bit is the important part, once you leave the store, your visit has ended and any subsequent coffee or tea refill thereafter would be considered a new purchase.

    Please note that those who are in the Green or Gold level of our Starbucks Rewards™ program can receive unlimited free brewed hot or iced coffee or tea refills, regardless of the original beverage purchased, during the same store visit. This is our way of thanking customers for using the Starbucks Card. The original purchase must be made with the registered card. The card must also be presented at the store POS in order to redeem the refill.

    (I asked for patio clarification and this was the response):

    I’m story for any confusion, patios are also considered “in store” in which you should have no problem properly receiving the benefits of our refill policy at any of our Company operated stores which are all “stand alone locations”. I hope this helps answer any concerns that you still may had.

  • Angela

    Can you also get syrup with a refill?

  • Hemster

    I just got a refill of a tall Pike Place (purchased a tall and consumed it on th premises) but got charged $0.50+tax. I thought the refill was FREE? What is the proper way to get it? If I swipe my (registered) gold card from my phone app, I get charged!

  • Daniel S

    All i’m reading is about “in store”, purchase a refill from the same store and stuff. So what about purchasing one of those 4 items at Starbucks in a mall. I mostly get my drinks in a mall. Am I allowed to get a refill on my beverage or do I have to ask the baristas first if they allow it? Also, is there a time limit i have to wait to get the second drink, cause i finish iced tea drinks very quick.

  • Hua

    Seems like it should be more clear, but I’m getting mixed messages from different locations. At my two normal stores I will often start with a drip or iced tea in the summer and have sometimes been getting vanilla cream cold brews as a refill. There hasn’t been any question at my two normal locations, but when I went to another location in the same city I was told this wasn’t the case. (This was actually after a Frappuccino.) The barista said “no refill of any kind after a Frappuccino.”) I left the line, found the policy, and showed her — and she relented.

    This week at a store in another state, I bought a drip and tried to get a Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew refill… I was first told “not allowed” but she tried it in the POS and then said “we can do the cold brew but vanilla sweet cream will cost extra.” Returned to that store today and was told the same thing.

    So what gives?

  • Melody

    Hua, Starbucks is sometimes like a roller coaster ride. You shouldn’t have gotten flack from any store. I’m not clear if you can do a vanilla sweet cream CB as a refill but if stores are living their mission statement, this is an example of where ambiguity should be resolved in your favor, imho.

  • Lauren

    So here’s one I haven’t seen any information about… What if you place your original order in the app, but then don’t leave the store? I sometimes use the app to order if I’m ordering something with a lot of customizations, even if I plan to spend the next two hours at the store. Is an app purchase part of the visit and therefore eligible for refills?

    If I tried to do this, I’d probably try to make eye contact and greet the barista when I first come in, etc… so they realize I’m not just walking in off the street asking for a refill.

  • Doug Mehus

    Good synopsis, Melody. I’m not sure what the “old” wording was relative to the current wording but I suspect one key difference was the requirement to have a “Gold” level (unless it was available on “Green” level).

    I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t be limited to just brewed drip coffee, though it’s nice that iced coffee is OK as a “refill” (in this case, if your original purchase was a hot brewed coffee, would you be given a second, plastic cup for the free iced coffee “refill”?). Also, if you accidentally throw out your first cup in the same visit (I agree…exit to the patio and re-entrance to the store is likely considered to be the same visit), will they give you a second cup for the “refill”?

    What’s actually considered a “hot brewed coffee”? I’m guessing a mocha wouldn’t be included in this (would be nice if it were!). Could it be a Pike Place Roast or True North Roast (guessing that’s what most Starbucks stores use in Canada by default) with a shot of espresso? What’s the “Clover” machine?

    Also, I sometimes see “regular” customers with laptops, always with a brewed beverage they purchase, presumably doing business from the Starbucks location and, today, a woman had two or three Starbucks cups. If you don’t leave the location, could you get multiple drip coffee refills off of the one, original gourmet beverage purchased?

    One nice feature is it sounds like if you purchase a Grande, your “refill” would be a Grande. If you purchased a Venti, your “refill” would be a Venti, unless you asked for a smaller size, presumably.

    To prevent people from trying to come in and get a free “refill” without a purchase, I wish Starbucks would amend the policy to state that a free “refill” of a hot drip coffee, iced coffee, tea or iced tea beverage will be provided, with or without receipt, upon presentation of one’s Starbucks card if at the same location as one’s original purchase and without the person having left the store or store’s enclosed outdoor patio area. Alternatively, a Starbucks Rewards cardholder would be entitled to receive a free same-day “refill” at any Starbucks location upon presentation of the original same-day purchase receipt and the customer’s Starbucks card. That way, if you’re in a different part of town, you could still get one free “refill” per day.

    Would you think it’d also be advisable to, of course smiling as you approach the counter preferably with your empty cup in hand, to ask for the free “refill” of *first* prior to the transaction being conducted, so the barista knows not to deduct it from one’s Starbucks card balance and codes it as a “discount” or “refill” transaction?

    Cheers,
    Doug

  • Doug Mehus

    Thanks Christine C. That clarifies that unlimited free “refills” to Green and Gold Starbucks Rewards members within the same store visit and also that store outdoor patios are included within the same visit.

    All Starbucks stores are company owned and operated, as I understand it, unless it’s within, say, a grocery store like Safeway then that grocery store is the store operator so those would be excluded as those are franchise locations. Mall stores, I would say, are typically Starbucks company-owned stores, at least in Canada anyway. I’ve also seen “Starbucks licensees,” in hotel lobbies, that aren’t even Starbucks franchisees but have the right to use the Starbucks branding and offer the Starbucks brand of coffee among their own menu. So those would be excluded, obviously, too.

    Cheers,
    Doug

  • starbuxgal

    I sometimes request cold brew for my refill; believe most stores discard any remaining every evening(?) and it’s EZ for them. Kudos to Starbucks for offering the free refills! It’s a smart incentive towards buying a “pricey” drink and a nice reward for their “fans”.
    BTW, sooooo HAPPY!!! that Starbucks will have the RED cups again; even if they are having green ones too! Here’s a peek: http://www.businessinsider.com/starbucks-red-holiday-cup-leaks-2016-10

  • Alf

    So, I just went into Starbucks and had this problem once again. I have the refill policy on my home screen of my phone and had the cashier read it back to me. As of August 2016, though, the wording of the policy has been updated. In the cashier’s mind I would had to have ordered a brewed coffee in the first place in order to get a refill with one. I called customer service from the store and both the agent and the supervisor told me I was correct, but I never got a refill. They said they would have the district manager get in contact with me. I just retrieved a thread of e-mails that I have sent to Starbucks in the past (dating back a few years now) about the same issue and suggested that they return to the phrase “regardless of original beverage” to the refill policy text. Turnover is high at Starbucks, so most cashiers, baristas, and even managers are not aware what the refill policy states. It’s a shame, though, that when the text of the policy is given to them to read that they do not understand it.

  • Melody

    @Alf What’s a shame is that your experience was so poor. I’ve found that many partners don’t want to learn from customers. The customer can’t possibly know anything. That’s a terrible attitude. You had the policy and emails. And frankly the Starbucks way should have been to say yes easily- it’s the right answer here (assuming you stayed in the store) and it’s no good to alienate a customer over a few cents worth of coffee.

  • Ann Travis

    I didn’t even know Starbucks offered refills, and I have been a regular for a few years now. My question is, does this apply to frappucinos? If I am still at the store, can I actually get another vinte frappucino? Or would that not be one of the drinks that applies? There are a couple of baristas at the one we go to that are always a little flippant to start with, so I would be embarrassed to ask for a refill on anything.

  • Melody

    @Ann – Your baristas should not be flippant. What separates Starbucks from other companies is the experience. Any retailer can figure out how to put ingredients in a cup. Call Customer Service is you have feedback for your store – and be specific as to exactly which store – 800 782 7282

    NO you cannot get a Venti Frappuccino as a refill. Please re-read the sentence your second beverage can only be… It is in bold. I wrote it all out above. If I were to try to explain it right now, I’d just be re-writing the exact same thing above.

    “Buy any handcrafted beverage and pay with your registered card. Buy any second beverage while still in the store (you cannot walk out the front doors and come back) and it’s free with your registered card. However, there’s a big catch: Your second beverage can only be one of four things: iced tea, iced coffee, hot tea, or hot coffee. You should not be charged – even if you’re getting a tea sachet. “

  • Mucker

    Some Starbucks violate this policy – perhaps it’s up to the manager? The manager a the Pico Starbucks in San Clemente charges for teabags. Small annoyance but it’s really weird

  • Sandra L Memmer

    I don’t go to starbucks but I go to Teavana all the time. Does it work at Teavana. I’ve been told yes by customer service but they don’t seem to know if you can or not. Since I’m a regular they will often do it for me but not always. They just don’t seem to know for sure.

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