Gaming the Starbucks System

Or, Sticking It to the Starbucks Man.

That’s right. Today we’re here to talk about my Starbucks Gold Card quest, number 7 on my Mostly-Easily-Attainable 30 Before 30 List.

Why do I care so much about becoming a Gold Card member? Good question. I really shouldn’t. It’s not like I’m a Starbucks fiend or anything. Their drinks are both delicious and overpriced. Unless it’s PSL season, peppermint mocha season, or I’m stuck in an airport, I rarely visit Starbucks.

Still, though, the Gold Card thing hangs over me, like some mythical golden carrot leading me forward in my sugar-sweetened purchases. Which is where Sticking It to the Starbucks Man comes in: although my quest calls for 30 stars–that is, 30 separate Starbucks transactions, seemingly–I’ve found a back road on this quest that is saving me precious pennies and accelerating my progress toward that shiny goal.

Oh, you need me to lay it out straight for you? I’M GAMING THE SYSTEM. In a totally legal way! (And not in a totally annoying way that involves ringing up every single freaking item you purchase separately as one Mommy Blogger suggested. I mean, baristas are nice and all, but they aren’t that nice.)

Let’s break it down: to become a Starbucks Gold Card-holder, one needs to attain 30 stars within the space of twelve months. Stars are earned through transactions at Starbucks: one transaction, one star. 30 transactions, Gold Card.

But wait! Starbucks also runs promotions! Which is right where the system-gaming comes in. In order to take advantages of said promotions, you must opt-in to Starbucks e-mails. Totally worth it, when you’re getting e-mails every couple of weeks telling you that you’ll earn six bonus stars if you buy packaged Starbucks coffee within a set period of time. (Six! Bonus! Stars! If an average Starbucks drink costs $5, which it most certainly does–as I’ve said before, this stuff is expensive–that e-mail promotion is worth $30 of saved transactions alone! Not to mention the “Oh, I’m in Starbucks and that pumpkin bread sure does look good” mentality that will have you spending extra dough for no extra stars.)

So, right. E-mail promotions. Nothing fancy about that, right?


Here’s a real-world example; that is, the promotion-combining sorcery I’m currently working. 9/7: I get an e-mail informing me I can sign up for the Star Dash. Between 9/8 and 9/20, if I make three purchases, I’ll get a bonus ten stars loaded to my account. If I make five purchases, I’ll get fifteen bonus stars loaded to my account. Since the math works out better for the three-purchase deal, I make a mental note to get a drink per week for the next three weeks and sign on up for that bad boy. 9/8: I receive another email. Mobile Order & Pay: Double stars are on the menu. According to Starbucks. Until the 22nd. Although I’ve already purchased my first Star Dash drink, I make a second mental note to make the second and third mobile purchases, so I can rake in an extra bonus star for each of those transactions. 9/15: Pumpkin Spice or Salted Caramel Mocha Fraps are Blended with Bonus Stars, now until the 21st. How many bonus stars? Three. Per transaction. I make a third mental note to purchase one of each frappuccino, via mobile order, before the 21st.

Okay. Let’s call this an update, even though I haven’t even finished the post yet. Because what did I just do? I read the fine print. And according to said fine print, “these Bonus Stars cannot be combined with other offers, promotions or discounts. Bonus Stars do not apply towards Star Dashes.” So, sad-face Emily is not as clever as she thought she was. The rule stands, though: use promotions, and use them hard. With the packaged Starbucks coffee promotion, the Star Dash, the mobile rewards, and the Blended with Bonus Stars rewards, I stand to earn 32 stars in 6 transactions. Which will top off my stars toward Gold and will also earn me at least two free beverages.

Worth. It.

*Full disclosure, I’m not sure whether this strategy works quite yet. I’m still waiting for all my promotions to finish and the stars to be credited to me.

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