With over 30,000 stores, Starbucks is one of the most recognizable coffeehouse chains in the world.
But when it comes to financial advice, Starbucks isn’t always so beloved. You might have heard of the latte factor, which explains the negative long-term cost your daily cup of joe presents.
With most Starbucks drinks ranging from $3 to $5, it isn’t the sort of cost that will derail your retirement plans, but it adds up. Plus, if you buy food, you’re also looking at an even higher bill, which is tough if you’re on a tight budget. The good news is it’s possible to get free or seriously discounted Starbucks to help you get your coffee fix without breaking the bank.
The Best Ways to Get Free or Cheap Starbucks
Starbucks has evolved from a small Seattle roastery into a global coffeehouse brand. Along the way, numerous rewards programs, Starbucks shopping tricks, and ways to get free Starbucks have emerged.
If you combine several of these methods, you can put a dent in your monthly Starbucks bill. You should still make a budget and track your spending. But with these tips, your future Starbucks trips are either covered by free gift cards or on the house.
1. Join the Starbucks Rewards Program
The best way to enjoy Starbucks freebies is to join the Starbucks Rewards program.
The Starbucks Rewards program pays you with stars for spending money at Starbucks. Stars are a form of cash back you redeem at Starbucks.
You sign up online or through the Starbucks mobile app for Android or iOS. Once you enroll, you begin earning stars for your purchases, although your payment method determines how many stars you earn per dollar:
- Pay as You Go. Earn 1 star for every $1 you spend when you pay with cash, credit, or debit. Alternatively, save your cards or connect your PayPal account to pay by tapping at the register with your smartphone. This method also pays 1 star per $1 you spend.
- Add Funds. Earn 2 stars for every $1 you spend when you add funds and pay through your Starbucks account or when you register and shop with a Starbucks gift card.
- Use the Visa Rewards Card. Earn up to 3 stars for every $1 you spend when you use the Starbucks Rewards Visa card.
Stars you earn appear in your Starbucks account. There are five rewards tiers you can redeem for things like free drinks or add-ons and free stuff:
- 25 Stars: Customize your drink with add-ons like espresso shots, extra syrup, or dairy substitutions.
- 50 Stars: Get a free hot coffee, tea, or bakery item.
- 150 Stars: Get a free handcrafted beverage, parfait, or breakfast item.
- 200 Stars: Get free food, including salads, sandwiches, and protein boxes.
- 400 Stars: Get select merchandise like a Starbucks cup or bag of ground coffee.
If you’re only interested in free drinks like green tea, iced coffee, or a pumpkin spice latte, it takes approximately $16 to $50 of Starbucks spending to reach 50 stars, depending on your payment method. Stars expire six months after the calendar month during which you earn them, so even casual Starbucks drinkers can likely redeem a reward in time.
Plus, the Starbucks Rewards program has other perks. For starters, you get a free birthday drink or food item as a member. You also get free refills for coffee and tea (in-store only).
Finally, double-star days let you earn twice the stars for spending. Starbucks also runs exclusive offers and even member-only contests and games that let you earn additional stars and prizes.
This loyalty program is worth it for any Starbucks fan since it’s free and still lets you choose how you pay.
2. Get Free Refills
One overlooked perk of the Starbucks Rewards program is free refills on coffee and tea for members.
You can’t stop in the morning on the way to work, then hit up the drive-thru on your lunch break for a free refill. You’re only eligible if you stay in the store to enjoy your first beverage.
But Starbucks has free Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, and electrical outlets, making it the perfect study location for students looking to hunker down and stay caffeinated. The savings add up quickly if you study at Starbucks daily.
For example, a grande regular coffee at Starbucks is around $2.10. Buying two is $4.20, but with free refills, you’re looking at $10.50 in weekly savings. Alternatively, you can stick with tall and get more frequent refills rather than buying a larger grande or venti coffee.
But Starbucks isn’t just for students. If you’re an online freelancer, this welcoming coffeehouse can serve as your workspace away from home. You get to enjoy free refills and Internet access without paying for a co-working office space.
3. Bring Your Own Mug
To save money at Starbucks and be less wasteful, get in the habit of bringing your own reusable mug. Drinks in reusable mugs get $0.10 off, and you still qualify for free refills if you’re a Starbucks Rewards member.
Starbucks will charge you for the closest cup size (but not for a larger beverage, and the discount doesn’t apply to its own for-here mugs). Depending on the beverage size you usually drink, several reusable mugs you can buy at various price points include:
- Short (8 Fluid Ounces): A ceramic insulated, dishwasher-safe silicone coffee mug, a stainless steel insulated travel tumbler with straw and flip-up lid, or a double-wall insulated stainless steel coffee mug with sliding lid and handle
- Tall (12 Fluid Ounces): A Starbucks tall tumbler, a double-wall insulated stainless steel coffee mug with leakproof lid, or a dishwasher- and microwave-safe reusable mug with a flip-top lid
- Grande (16 Fluid Ounces): A stainless steel insulated tumbler with a straw and flip-top lid, a double-wall insulated travel mug with leakproof lid, or a Starbucks reusable grande coffee cup
- Venti (20 Fluid Ounces): A car cupholder-compatible insulated tumbler with press-in lid, a double-wall insulated stainless steel spill-proof tumbler with flip-top lid, or a stainless steel insulated skinny tumbler with a stainless steel straw and straw cleaner
- Venti Cold (24 Fluid Ounces): A Starbucks cold cup tumbler, a stainless steel insulated tumbler with straw and flip-top lid, or a glass tumbler with a straw and a protective silicone sleeve
- Trenta (31 Fluid Ounces): A double-wall vacuum insulated stainless steel insulated tumbler with a flexible straw and splash-proof lid, an Iron Flask stainless steel insulated tumbler with straw set, or a BPA-free plastic double-wall insulated travel tumbler with jumbo straw (Note that tumblers that hold exactly 31 ounces of fluid are uncommon, so you have to opt for either a 30- or 32-ounce in most cases)
A $0.10 discount isn’t massive, but if you buy a coffee five days per week, that’s around $26 in annual savings, plenty to pay for a midrange travel tumbler in the first year.
Note that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Starbucks paused this official policy. While it’s likely to come back as vaccination levels rise, if your Starbucks’ program remains paused, bring your mug anyway. Many locations have been giving the discount if you ask, even if they can’t use your mug.
You can also check whether your Starbucks location is running the Borrow a Cup Program. With this program, you pay a $1 deposit for buying your drink in a reusable plastic Starbucks cup. When you bring that cup back to a participating Starbucks store and order another drink, you get a $1 credit and 10 bonus stars. The credit and stars appear in your Starbucks rewards account within 24 hours.
If you take advantage of this program just five times, you can redeem the 50 extra stars for a free hot coffee, tea, or bakery item. Realistically, that means you can score four free hot drinks or bakery items per month if you order Starbucks each day of the workweek and use this program.
The Borrow a Cup program expires on June 14, 2021, although Starbucks extended the program previously, so there’s the potential it could become permanent (or at least get extended again).
Between your own reusable mug or borrowing a Starbucks cup, you can consistently score discounts on your drinks.
4. Redeem Star Codes
If you buy Starbucks products at the grocery store, you’re already on track for earning more free Starbucks thanks to star codes.
With this partnership, you earn additional stars for purchasing Starbucks products. Eligible products include:
- Whole-bean and ground coffee
- K-cup pods
- Via Instant blends
- Verismo espresso pods
- Ready-to-drink beverages like Starbucks refreshers and Doubleshot Energy cans
- Multi-serve chilled coffee
- Cold-brew and fresh-brew cans
You can view a complete list of eligible products online. Most Starbucks products qualify, and products usually have a peelable star code sticker on the package.
If your purchase has a sticker, you can enter the star code on the Starbucks website. Alternatively, text REWARDS to 811811 to receive a prompt to text an image of your receipt to redeem your star code. You can also email a picture of your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org instead. Finally, you can redeem star codes on your computer by signing into your Starbucks Rewards account and uploading a photo of your receipt at starbucks-stars.com.
You have 60 days to submit a receipt, and stars appear in your Starbucks account approximately three days after submission. You have to be a Starbucks Rewards member to redeem star codes.
Products pay varying amounts of stars depending on their price. For example, a 40-ounce bag of Starbucks coffee earns 25 stars, whereas any ready-to-drink beverage earns 2 stars.
If you’re already buying Starbucks products, there’s no harm in getting more value for your money. But if you already use cheaper products than Starbucks sells, buying their products instead may ultimately cost you money.
5. Go During Happy Hour
Usually, happy hour means grabbing drinks with friends or an inexpensive date night at your local bar. But a handful of restaurants that offer nonalcoholic beverages also now offer happy-hour pricing. The most well-known of these is probably Sonic Drive-In’s half-priced drinks.
But Starbucks also runs a buy-one, get-one-free happy hour on select Thursdays from 2pm to 7pm at participating stores. You can turn on push notifications in the Starbucks app to learn when stores in your area run a happy hour. According to Starbucks, many stores participate, although locations in grocery stores, airports, schools, hotels, and retailers typically don’t.
If you need a caffeine kick after lunch, head to your local Starbucks with a colleague, and one of you can get a free drink. You can alternate who gets the freebie each time you go, so each of you gets a free drink around once per month.
Just note that you need to be a Starbucks Rewards member to participate. Additionally, the BOGO deal applies to handcrafted drinks, like Frappuccinos or cafe mochas, not regular coffee or tea, ready-to-drink beverages like bottled water or juice, Starbucks Reserve drinks, and alcohol.
6. Use Rewards Apps for Free Starbucks
Various receipt-scanning rewards apps compensate you for uploading receipts for proof of purchase at partner retailers. Similarly, apps that pay you to shop let you earn rewards for buying products from specific retailers.
Some popular rewards apps that can pay in free Starbucks gift cards include:
- Fetch Rewards. Shop for groceries and everyday essentials and earn points for purchasing products from partner brands. You can redeem your points for free Starbucks gift cards starting at 5,000 points, which is $5. The best part about Fetch Rewards is that you don’t need to select offers before shopping. Simply upload a copy of your receipt to Fetch Rewards and earn points if a partner brand is on the receipt. Read our Fetch Rewards review for more information.
- Drop. With Drop, you earn points for shopping at partner retailers through Drop’s mobile app. All you have to do is download Drop, link your credit and debit cards to the app, and select offers to shop for. Once you complete a purchase with a linked card, you earn Drop points, which are redeemable for free gift cards to companies like Amazon, Dunkin’, Nike, and Starbucks. Gift cards are available at $25, but Drop also lets you earn points by answering surveys and downloading mobile games so you can reach that threshold faster.
- Ibotta. Ibotta lets you earn cash back for shopping. Groceries aren’t Ibotta’s focus, but there are more than 1,500 partner brands to shop from. You must preselect rebate opportunities before shopping and then upload a receipt to earn points. You can also connect store loyalty cards from over 100 retailers to automatically earn points. You cash out at $20 through PayPal, direct deposit, or gift cards, including Starbucks. Read our Ibotta review for more information.
Apps like Ibotta, Drop, and Fetch Rewards are low-effort ways to earn free gift cards and cash rewards. If you do most of the shopping for your household, these apps deserve a spot on your phone.
7. Answer Surveys for Free Starbucks Gift Cards
Typically, online surveys are a waste of time. Many survey sites take weeks or months to redeem rewards and generally pay quite poorly.
But if you want to earn the occasional free Starbucks gift card while watching TV or relaxing at home, certain survey websites make it worth your while. Popular platforms include:
- Swagbucks. Answer surveys, play games, watch videos, and shop online to earn points. You can redeem Starbucks gift cards once you reach 10,000 points, which is worth $10. Check out our Swagbucks review for more details.
- Survey Junkie. Survey Junkie lets you answer surveys to earn points. You can then redeem your points for gift cards, including Starbucks, or PayPal cash once you reach 5,000 points, or $5, which is a low requirement. Check out our Survey Junkie review for more details.
- PrizeRebel. This paid survey website is similar to Survey Junkie and lets you redeem for free Starbucks gift cards once you earn $5.
If you frequently shop at Starbucks, it’s unlikely you can cover your entire weekly bill with paid surveys. But if you want an occasional free gift card and don’t mind answering surveys, these platforms are worth using.
8. Buy Discounted Starbucks Gift Cards
People sell or exchange unwanted gift cards online all the time. As a seller, gift card marketplaces are a fast way to turn a gift card you can’t use into cash. As a buyer, you can take advantage of lower prices to save money on future purchases.
One gift card marketplace that’s perfect for Starbucks fans is Raise. On Raise, Starbucks gift cards are up to 1.25% off. Plus, new buyers get an additional 10% off for a maximum of $20 in savings.
If you regularly shop at Starbucks, buying gift cards in advance is an effective way to cut costs and maximize how much Starbucks you can enjoy. Just note that you find the most savings by using the first-time buyer bonus with Raise. Afterward, discount gift cards don’t save a significant amount of money unless you’re spending hundreds of dollars per year at Starbucks.
9. Use the Starbucks Rewards Visa
The Starbucks Rewards Visa is where devoted fans can maximize how much free Starbucks they enjoy.
New cardholders automatically join the Starbucks Rewards program and receive 4,500 bonus stars if they spend $500 within the first three months of opening their account. There’s also a $0 introductory annual fee for your first year. Afterward, the card costs $49 per year.
You also earn various quantities of stars, depending on where you shop:
- At Starbucks. Earn 1 star per $1 loaded to your Starbucks Rewards account, which stacks with the 2 stars you earn per $1 you spend with preloaded funds. You also earn 2 stars per $1 for spending with this card at Starbucks if you don’t want to preload funds.
- Everyday Purchases. Earn 1 star per $2 you spend on groceries, local transit, commuting, Internet, cable, and phone services.
- Other Purchases. Earn 1 star per $4 you spend everywhere else.
Cardholders get other advantages too. For example, your stars never expire as long as you’re a cardholder. Additionally, you earn 300 bonus stars when you load funds onto the Starbucks app for the first time using your Visa.
You also get one barista pick per month. Barista picks are coupons for free Starbucks beverages that automatically appear in your Starbucks Rewards account. You receive your first barista pick within 30 days of becoming a cardholder, and coupons expire within 14 days. The value of a barista pick can’t exceed $10. But if you use all 12 coupons throughout the year, that’s at least $50 to $60 in free Starbucks if the cost of a drink is around $4 to $5.
Shopping with your Visa also provides various auto and travel benefits, including:
- Free theft and collision damage insurance on rentals
- Trip cancellation and interruption insurance that reimburses you up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip
- Purchase protection for 120 days (about four months) against damage and theft with up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account
- Extend U.S. manufacturer warranties by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less
Starbucks advertises other benefits as well, like roadside dispatch if you have an emergency, although you still pay roadside service fees, so it’s not as useful as it first sounds. (If you’re interested in roadside benefits and other discounts, it might be better to look into whether AAA is worth it.)
You get a cardholder benefits booklet that explains all the perks in greater detail. But the primary advantages are earning free stars, the welcome bonus for spending, and decent trip cancellation coverage.
It’s worth noting that this card has an annual percentage rate (APR) between 15.99% and 22.99% based on your credit score. The lack of a lower introductory APR rate is a slight downside.
If this card isn’t for you, check out other cash-back credit cards you can use to earn for your everyday purchases, including Starbucks. If you want a simple 1.5% cash-back rewards card and $200 early spending bonus, the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards credit card is an excellent zero-fee card.
10. Work at Starbucks
In terms of jobs that require no experience, Starbucks is certainly one of the most accessible options. The coffeehouse giant has thousands of locations and regularly hires new baristas, providing on-the-job training for new employees.
According to Indeed, Starbucks baristas earn $11.19 per hour on average. There’s also an impressive number of employee perks and benefits for both part- and full-time workers:
- Free Coffee and Tea. Receive a free pound of coffee or box of tea every week.
- In-Store Discounts. Get 30% off Starbucks food, drink, and merchandise.
- Health Coverage. Starbucks provides medical, dental, and vision coverage options for full-time and hourly employees. Plans typically cover preventative care. But medical insurance can also provide coverage for emergency care, prescription drugs, mental health services, and chemical dependency treatments. Read Starbucks’ employment benefits package to learn more.
- Life Insurance and Disability Coverage. Starbucks provides basic life insurance for all eligible employees that equals one year of your base pay. Employees can purchase supplemental life insurance coverage through payroll deductions. Starbucks also includes short- and long-term disability coverage to protect you in the event of injury or illness.
- Work-Life Balance Support. Get 10 backup care days per year for a small fee, free senior care planning help, and a free premium membership to Care.com. Starbucks also offers mental health resources like online therapy, coaching, and a meditation app.
- Family Expansion Reimbursement. Adoption, surrogacy, and intrauterine insemination costs may be eligible for up to $10,000 in reimbursements.
- College Achievement Plan. Earn a free undergraduate education online from Arizona State University. You can choose over 80 undergraduate degrees through this program, and Arizona State University is a well-known, accredited online college.
- 401(k) Savings Plan. If you’re 18 or older and reach 90 days of Starbucks part- or full-time employment, you’re eligible for the 401(k) savings plan. This plan lets you contribute between 1% and 75% of your pay each period up to the annual IRS contribution limit. Starbucks also provides 100% 401(k) matching on the first 5% of eligible income you contribute each pay period.
- Stock Investment Plans (SIP). The SIP stock plan lets Starbucks employees purchase company stock at a discount after working for at least 90 days. You can contribute 1% to 10% of your base pay each period. At the end of every quarter, your contribution buys Starbucks stock at a 5% discount.
There are numerous other benefits as well, such as parental leave, partner and family sick days, and a commuter benefit program.
Starbucks offers some of the most comprehensive benefits for a company that doesn’t require a degree or previous experience. You’d be hard-pressed to find an entry-level job that offers health insurance benefits and 401(k) matching.
Ultimately, free coffee and tea each week is just the cherry on top. Starbucks has an incredible array of perks that can help your career, education, and family life.
Purchases like a daily cup of Starbucks or avocado toast have turned into a scapegoat in the personal finance space. And while it’s true that small everyday purchases can add up, you shouldn’t ditch your Starbucks habit completely if you enjoy it and it fits within your budget.
Instead, find creative ways to get your coffee fix while saving money. It’s possible to enjoy inexpensive or free Starbucks drinks and food with just a little know-how.