Is there a loophole in the new Starbucks Rewards program?


Starbucks is changing its rewards program to reward those who spend more, rather than those who just go often.

But the catch (and the deal-breaker for me) is that you have to pay using their reloadable Starbucks Card.

Under the old system, one could “hack” the system with the help of a patient barista, who could ring up multiple items as separate sales (to get more Stars). And while you can’t do this anymore, it did get me to thinking: is there a way that I could get this same patient barista to help me get around using the Starbucks Card (and the extra spending that it induces)?

Stars in my eyes

The kicker was when I read this FAQ entry:

Will I earn Stars if I pay with cash, credit or debit card instead of my registered Starbucks Card?

No. To earn Stars on your purchases, you must pay with your registered Starbucks®, Teavana® or Evolution Fresh™ Card…We cannot award Stars and Rewards for purchases made with alternative methods of payment, but you can use cash, debit or credit cards to reload your Starbucks Card.

Hmmm. I kept reading, and found this FAQ entry:

How do I reload my Starbucks Card?

You can reload your Starbucks Card at participating Starbucks locations, by going to and clicking on Reload A Card, or through the Starbucks® App for iPhone® or Android™.

The two of those together gave me an idea: I could carry a zero balance on my Starbucks Card, and then pay for my purchase by loading the exact amount of money on to my card at the time of the sale.

This would eliminate the “gift card” nature of the Starbucks Card, so it wouldn’t feel like free money. And I would never be induced into spending money at Starbucks over any other place. And I would still earn Stars!

Nice try

After the excitement of finding the loophole passed, I thought it over, and decided to personally give this a pass. While it’s not circumventing any terms and conditions, I think it would feel a little annoying and contrived to ask someone to load money onto my account, just to liquidate it immediately after. And all for a potential free drink every few months.

Call me a people-pleaser, but it doesn’t seem worth it.

If I had a smartphone, I could use the app to add the money myself (while I was in line), but I don’t use a smartphone, and think many people would be better off not being tied to one.

Keep looking for loopholes

So while this might seem like a frivolous thought experiment, it highlights an important lesson that, again, has nothing to do with Starbucks: There are ways to benefit from a system, while staying well within its terms and conditions.

Just like the hotel promotion that promotes staying in its hotels but also has a loophole that allows you to earn points by mailing in entries, if you look critically at situations, there are usually ways to get around the parts that work against you.

This doesn’t mean that it is good to resort to scamming, even against those who would scam you. We can all be better than that, acting with integrity, looking for ways to work within the system, rather than smashing it down. Which admittedly doesn’t sound as sexy, but it’s more likely to work.

But enough about me. What loopholes have you found recently that can benefit you and others?

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