The Game-Changing Trick To Save Money At Starbucks

If you mention Starbucks to a group of hardcore coffee aficionados, you're likely to receive very mixed reactions. Some coffee snobs snub the java giant for being merely average, but there's no denying that the Seattle-based brand has been hugely influential in the spread of gourmet coffee in the United States and around the world since its inception in 1971. 

Unfortunately, it can also be an expensive habit to pop into one of the chain's 32,000 stores every day for your caffeine fix. The average price for a hot coffee at Starbucks is $4.98 while cold coffee drinks average slightly less at $4.61.

As you might imagine, saving money at Starbucks is a hot topic with an abundance of tips and tricks floating around to stretch your coffee dollar. Some suggestions are helpful and credible while others rely mainly on the generosity of baristas or the fact that they're too busy to charge you for an extra request after your order is paid or already prepared. However, there's one sure-fire trick for saving money at Starbucks in 2023 that's totally legit, totally free, and totally easy: sign up for the chain's loyalty program. 

Loading funds in advance will accelerate your earnings

To get started, you can either create a new Starbucks Reward account online or download the app to your smartphone and join there. Payment can be made in-store with traditional cash, credit, or debit cards at the register or you can link your favorite credit/debit card to the app so both payment and rewards can be handled just by scanning your member code. Alternatively, purchases made with your registered debit or credit card will automatically be tracked in the rewards program without presenting your membership credentials.

Customers are also able to pre-load funds into the account with their favorite credit or debit card which has one major advantage over paying as you go: points accumulate at double the normal rate. Instead of earning one reward point — which the company calls Stars — per dollar spent, you'll earn two Stars per dollar spent if paying with funds that are pre-loaded onto the app.

Once a certain quantity of Stars is accumulated, they can be redeemed for perks like a free shot of expresso or syrup in your drink (25 Stars), a free beverage or bakery item (100 Stars), or even merchandise like tumblers (400 Stars). Starbucks Reward members will also earn a free food or beverage item on their birthday each year. Whether you're using your Stars or birthday perk to obtain a free item, do choose something expensive like a specialty drink or food such as a grilled cheese sandwich to maximize the value, not just drip coffee. 

Refills are free

Besides accumulating reward points toward free items, another major perk of being a rewards member is that if you want to top off or refill your drip coffee or tea beverage, it's completely free of charge. That's right, you can get a completely free refill of your hot or iced coffee or cold brew, as well as hot or iced tea.

Refills are available in-store only and you need to stay in the store the entire time, not leave and come back or leave one store and pop back in another store later. Still, that's a great deal for the many of us who treat Starbucks as a place to work or study for an hour. You can enjoy a beverage leisurely in the store, and then get a free refill to take with you right before you leave.

Better still, you can switch back and forth between coffee and tea, so even if you initially ordered coffee, your free refill can be a tea (and vice-versa). Even somewhat frequent visitors to Starbucks really have no excuse for not signing up for the chain's rewards program but we'll let you in on a little secret anyway: non-members can also score ultra-cheap in-store refills of drip coffee or tea for just $0.50 each.