Earning Double Points (and Elite Status!) at Starbucks

My wife was a Starbucks Gold card member before that was common, she had a Gold card when the ‘elite’ level Starbucks cards first came out (and there wasn’t even a reference yet at Starbucks.com). She and always got looks at the counter when she paid with it. I don’t know if that’s a mark of distinction or not. Probably it’s not…

Well, it takes 30 transactions a year to reach Gold and 30 to retain it, I think it used to take only 15. And Gold status isn’t all that valuable. The “Green” level which used to be just for registering a card now takes 5 swipes and gets you free syrups, miles, and a brewed beverage when you buy whole beans (which I wouldn’t do from Starbucks since the beans are too oily). Gold only provides a free beverage every 15 purchases as an incremental benefit over Green.

There’s a great thread on Milepoint, Starbucks Tips and Tricks, my one contribution to the excellent advice about secret off-the-menu items and whatnot is naturally about earning status. They don’t award a credit (or “Star” as they call it) based on the number of items you purchase. They award a credit — towards achieving status, retaining status, and getting your next free drink — for each swipe of the card. So if you’re buying two drinks, pay for them ‘separately’ with the same Starbucks card. Three drinks? Pay with three separate swipes. You’ll earn free drinks faster.

But here’s the thing that finally hit me over the head this morning. Milepoint co-founder and MegaDO organizer Tommy Danielsen emailed me this morning,

On my way to NYC this morning and I handed the Starbucks lady my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to pay for my coffee. The only card that gives two miles per dollar spent at Starbucks

And I whacked myself on the head like in one of those V-8 commercials.

I recently made my wife sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The 40,000 point signup bonus and fee waived the first year was enough of a reason, thinking I could transfer the points over to my United or Hyatt accounts (hah!). Points transfer also to British Airways, Marriott, Priority Club, Amtrak, and Korean Airlines as well but United/Continental and Hyatt offer the best value. And of course points transfer to whomever you wish, in my experience instantly.

There’s double points on all travel spend and also on dining. Plus access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall which seems often to have the best earning of any of the mileage portals.

Here’s where I describe Chase Sapphire Preferred as the king of credit cards currently. It’s the one I’m making everyone in my office get. And when the cards arrive, my co-workers show up in my office door giddy about just how sexy the card is with its extra weight and without any embossed numbers on the front. (They don’t quite ‘get’ that the card is all about the points earning, but if it happens that the card is good looking, and that helps get them to use it, well then they’ll have more good points available when they come asking me to help them book their family vacations!)

For all my love of the card, it never occurred to me that Starbucks was ‘dining’ although of course it is!

Here’s the trick. Spending at Starbucks with the card earns double points. “Auto” reloads to not. But re-loading a Starbucks card at a Starbucks store does. Here’s why.

In store spending (including reloading a Starbucks card) is categorized as “Restaurants – Fast Food” while online reloads are categorized as “Merchandise – MISC FOOD STORE, SPECIALTY, CONVENIENCE” — the former category earns double points, the latter category does not.

Naturally, I don’t want to ask my wife to give up her elite status (or her free drink certificates). So the change to habit is that she now gets to reload her Starbucks card in-store.

She’s been earning less valuable points, and only a point a dollar to boot, for a long time. That’s my fault. Your humble View from the Wing blogger is far from perfect! Of course once realized, it’s easy to fix, she already has her marching orders for her Starbucks account.

This may have been completely obvious to everyone out there, but I pass it along because when Tommy emailed me I realized just how obvious (and for my family, fundamental) this was … and how I completely hadn’t realized it.

Now, in the interests of disclosure, if you decide to get this card using my link I do get a referral credit for it (which I very much appreciate). It’s a card that I have and use, made my wife get and use, and recommend to my friends and co-workers as well. But I do want you to be transparent.

Update: Tommy follows up with another email,

Oh, and I just used my Chase sapphire card to pay for the cab

Yeah, baby…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m waiting for my Chase Sapphire to arrive. Too bad Chase doesn’t send it 2nd day UPS like Amex did my SPG card

  2. If you have a Chase Freedom card and a Chase checking account, using the Freedom card will get you more than double points on small purchases such as a cup coffee (the Freedom card gives a bonus of 10 UR pts for each transaction + a 10% bonus for Chase checking customers). So for a $3 cup of coffee, you get 3 pts for the purchase itself, 10pts transaction bonus (+ the 10% bonus). That’s at least 13 pts for a $3 purchase. On top of that, the Freedom card is having a 5% bonus on dining until the end of December.

    You can then transfer those points to the Sapphire Preferred card for the flexibility of transferring to airline partners.

  3. You forgot the green level benefit of free refills. I sometimes sit in Starbucks working all morning drinking free refills.

  4. Wait, so does that mean I can get 5 points per dollar for reloaing my Starbucks in store using my Chase Freedom card this quarter?

  5. How can you see how a merchant is categorized or whether a purchase got double points? I didn’t see the merchant category on my online statement. Thanks!

  6. Thank you, thank you! I have been paying for the drinks separately for a while. My husband and I always pay with our own Gold Cards, and when I treat my daughter, I give her my gold card and I use my mobile card on my iPhone to pay. But I’ve been searching for a better (and by that I mean more lucrative)way to reload the card. Up to now, my best bet was getting 4x gas points at my local grocery store when I bought Starbucks gift cards, and then transferring the value to my gold card. And, we paid for a cab home from the airport the other day with Chase Sapphire, too! PS–your Starbucks card can be used at locations outside the US as well…

  7. For people using a credit card that earns double points at grocery stores, you can also buy a Starbucks gift card at the supermarket and “gift” it to yourself. You just have to remember to add it to your Starbucks account so that you earn stars toward the free drink.

    Some of the $25 gift cards at Safeway also currently come with a free pack of Via.

  8. On the iPhone you and another can use the app to pay for items and you each get free refills even if you are in different cities. Order a tall coffee instead of a Vente and just get the free refills.

  9. @Carl – I secure e-mailed Chase and requested the card to be sent quickly. They sent it out via overnight UPS.

  10. But what about the Ultimate Rewards Mall? There is a link for Starbucks that offers 1 extra point per $1, which is the same as your in-store purchase. You just have to log into the rewards mall then click through. Plus, right now Starbucks & Visa have a deal where if you buy 4 e-gift cards, you can get $5 free https://www.starbucks.com/shop/card

    I’ve been destroying the rewards mall since I got my Sapphire 2 weeks ago getting bonus points through there. Places like Home Depot & Sears offer 5 extra points per dollar AND they have in store pick up which is free.

    Some stores you can even buy gift cards and get the bonus points, such as Barnes & Noble. If you buy a ton of books, you can get 8 bonus points per $1 spent on gift cards!

  11. If you have a hard time making the 30 drinks in a year, register multiple gift cards to the same account and have multiple people use them. Separately my wife and I don’t qualify for gold in a usual year, but together its not a problem. She prefers cheaper tea, while I like the expensive coffee drinks. When a free drink card comes in the mail, I just buy her a tea and I use the free coupon for my coffee. Everyone is happy! Thanks for the advice on getting double points via UR…that will come in handy with my new Sapphire card.

  12. @Jolly I’d take 2.14 Chase Ultimate Rewards points over 5 Thank You Points, and CitiForward is capped at earning 75k points per year (worth $750).

  13. I also use my Freedom card for Starbucks. As I kept my Chase Checking from the OnePass 25k promotion, I get the 10/10 Freedom bonus, which goes directly to my UR account.

  14. Wow @Reader. Does it matter? The Starbucks thread on Milepoint is the only reference Gary made to the site. And, if you checked you would have seen that he didn’t start that thread. As a matter of fact, I did. Regardless of that, what does it really matter?

  15. As a Portlander, Starbucks is the worst coffee IMO here. The quality has really gone down in the past years ; the lattes are sub-par, and it lacks a rich coffee flavor. Peet’s, City Coffee, and Cafe Darte beat it.

  16. Buy a gift card in store with your Starbucks card, get a ‘star’ then load to your account and transfer the balance back. Repeat.
    If you add a ‘pump’ to your free refill (try mocha in an ice coffee) it will cost you 15 cents (I think, four pumps was 60 cents) and earn you another star.

  17. You can also load your entire monthly Starbucks spending in store on the first Friday of every month, and get triple miles.

  18. Hi Gary, Here’s an interesting piece to either blog on or add here:
    Situation: You’re on business travel, have to use company card to for your starbucks to be paid for, but you want those stars. It’s a difficult situation. Here’s the solution: Bring your gold card to $0.00 prior to your trip. When it’s time to pay, simply hand them your gold card, say “It won’t have enough on it,” hand them your corporate card, and say “I’d like to pay the difference” (as opposed to asking to reload your gold card). This will ensure that you’re paying only for what you’ve ordered and you get the gold star(s)!

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