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 / Updated  / Source: Today
By Katya Trezza

Starbucks just brewed up some big changes to its Rewards program, which launched on Tuesday. Their plan was to make it easier for coffee loyalists to get freebies faster and offer more modest perks for occasional Starbucks visitors who enroll — but many customers aren't happy about the change, saying that it's now more expensive to get some of the chain's popular rewards.

For the past 10 years, the chain has been running a program that lets guests earn points (known as “stars”) every time they grab a coffee or snack. According to Starbucks, over 16 million people are enrolled in the current program, which underwent significant changes three years ago. The chain also says its rewards members account for a substantial portion of its business — about 40 percent.

How Starbucks Rewards used to work:

Since 2016, Starbucks has been giving every rewards member two stars for every $1 spent at the chain. To become a green level member, coffee lovers must collect at least 1 point (up to 299), which grants perks like free in-store refills and birthday rewards. After 300 stars are collected during a calendar year, the member acquires gold status. Gold members can get a drink of any size, or a single pastry, for 125 stars. They can also earn double stars on certain days every month. The status also comes with a personalized membership card.

How the program just changed:

As of April 16, all Starbucks Rewards members are able to start redeeming the stars they earn for free drink additions, beverages, food and even Starbucks merchandise. So you don't need to earn a certain level of stars in order to be able to enjoy the perks of membership.

After earning 25 stars, members will be able to score a free drink "customization" on any order, like an extra espresso shot, a different milk substitute, or even a dash of flavored syrup. At 50 stars and above, members will be able to get a free brewed coffee, hot tea or bakery item. They can redeem 150 stars for a "handcrafted" drink (like a specialty macchiato), hot breakfast item, or a yogurt parfait. At 200 stars, members can cash in for a sandwich, a protein box or even a salad, where available. At the highest tier (400 stars) members will be able to redeem points for Starbucks merchandise or at-home coffee products, like ground coffee or K-Cup pods.

Starbucks rewards redemption optionsStarbucks

The company removed the green and gold levels entirely — and that change isn't sitting right with people who have already achieved the higher-tier status. They feel their hard-earned stars have decreased in value.

And with the roll out of the new program, many loyal Starbucks fans were shocked to find their stars had been wiped clean.

Starbucks also changed the conditions of when stars expire. Stars used to burn out if you didn't use or redeem them within six months. With the new system, members who pay for their drinks and food using either a Starbucks Rewards Visa credit or prepaid card will not lose their stars after six months.

While Starbucks is making it easier for most coffee consumers to score perks — except, it seems, its most devout drinkers — the tiered plan isn't as cheap as Burger King's recently announced $5 unlimited coffee deal, which launched last month.