Starbucks may brew trouble with rewards program changes

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Frequent Starbucks customer David Morrison may become less frequent once changes to the coffee giant’s rewards program take effect. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

A watered-down rewards program is giving some Starbucks customers grounds to complain.

“They’re making a big mistake,” said longtime Starbucks coffee drinker David Morrison as he picked up a cup of coffee Tuesday morning at a Starbucks in the Logan Square neighborhood at California Avenue and Logan Boulevard.

“I think they’re trying to go the way of the airlines. The airlines now give you points for money spent instead of miles flown. And now at Starbucks they’re awarding points on money spent instead of visits made.”

An email sent to customers enrolled in the Starbucks Rewards program on Monday afternoon outlined the changes, which take effect in April and will shift the program to an emphasis on dollars spent, not number of visits, and mean customers will have to spend a lot more to earn that occasional free cup of coffee.

“In April, we’re launching a new Starbucks Rewards program to reflect the #1 request we heard from members: more Stars awarded based on what you buy, no matter how often you visit,” said the email, signed by Aimee Johnson, whose title was given as senior vice president of Starbucks Rewards.

STARBUCKS: Rewards program changes penalize small spenders

The company may have said it was responding to customer demand, but Morrison and some other customers weren’t happy.

“If they take away the incentive to come here, why should we pay the prices they charge? This is expensive coffee,” said Morrison, 52, a tech consultant who lives in the area.

“Starbucks is trying to force me to buy something I don’t want,” he said.

“There are three or four other coffee spots nearby.”

Under the new plan, the “stars” that are stockpiled to earn free drinks and other rewards are awarded at a rate of two stars for every $1 spent. Currently, customers earn one star per visit. But it will take 300 stars to get to the company’s Gold status, up from 30 stars, and it will take 125 stars for a reward, instead of 12.

Deb Creedon feels the revamp will create a sense of urgency to buy more to get more.

“It’s a lot of pressure now I feel,” said Creedon, laughing at her assessment as she bought a coffee Tuesday morning across from the Merchandise Mart. “But in the grand scheme of things this is not life or death. We’re talking about Starbucks rewards here.”

“I just hopped on board the rewards program and I feel like I’ve lost out on a couple of good years of nice bonuses and free drinks,” said Creedon, 49, who works in human resources for an advertising firm and commutes from the western suburbs.

Some customers vented their anger on social media.

Some hinted they might change brands.

The response came from outside the United States; this person is in Australia:

And of course, greed was blamed, which led to this:

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