Double-Dipping at Starbucks

If you go to Starbucks once every two months or more, you should pick up a Starbucks gift card. And register it.

The Starbucks Rewards program is a hybrid between a store loyalty card and a store credit card. Just like a loyalty card, with each transaction, you accumulate points and make your way to earning more benefits. But similar to a store credit card, the benefits only accrue if you use the store card rather than your primary credit card to pay. In Starbucks’ case, however, there’s no need to give out your social security number and wait to get approved. Rather, to accumulate Stars (their version of points), all you have to do is pay for your drinks and food with a Starbucks gift card.

This is how the program works: first, you get yourself a Starbucks gift card. They come in several different styles and may even vary by city – any of them is fine. It can also even be the gift card that you receive when you redeem your credit card points. Then, you create an account in the Starbucks Rewards webpage and register that gift card. From that moment on, you will get one Star each time you make a purchase (no matter what you buy or how bill or small the bill) at Starbucks using that gift card. You can register as many gift cards as you want in your account.

The benefits increase with the number of Stars you get, and will be more or less meaningful to you depending on your drinking and loitering habits. Here are the benefits at each level, straight from the Starbucks Rewards website:

 

Starbucks Rewards Benefit Levels

 

It’s a little annoying that you need to reach 45 Stars to earn your first “free drink every 15 purchases”, but the good thing is that as long as you maintain your Gold status, you’ll keep earning this benefit. That is, provided that you make 30 purchases  at Starbucks every 12 months, you’ll continue getting a free drink every 15 purchases – you don’t have to go 2 rounds of 15 without earning anything again.

To Double-Dip

Now, because Starbucks Rewards requires that you use their gift card to pay for your purchases in order to earn Stars, it may seem like you’re giving up on earning whatever points or cash back you earn through your credit card – but you don’t have to. This is the perfect double-dipping opportunity: a Starbucks gift card can be re-loaded as many times as you want, so why not re-load it using your preferred credit card?

Suppose you go to Starbucks twice a week. Next time, rather than paying for your order on your credit card, you can pick up a Starbucks gift card right on the counter and use your credit card to load it with, say $20. Then use that to pay for your order and all your subsequent orders until the balance runs low again. Then just use your credit card again to re-load it. This way you earn your credit card points (loading a gift card will show up in your credit card statement just like a purchase and earn you the points or cash back accordingly) AND accumulate Stars.

If you have the CitiForward card, for example, this method will earn you 5 ThankYou points whenever you re-load the Starbucks card and a Star each time you actually use it. The Starbucks Rewards webpage even allows you to set up for auto-reload if you so prefer.

If you have a credit card with 5% cash back categories that rotate every quarter, this approach allows you to stretch that benefit even further. For instance, from July to September 2012, the Chase Freedom card is giving 5% cash back on gas station and restaurant purchases. Since Starbucks counts as a restaurant for that credit card, you could load your Starbucks gift card before September 30, 2012, with roughly what you would spend over the following couple of months. Then, even once October kicks in, you can continue paying for your drinks with your Starbucks gift card, essentially earning 5% cash back for drinks bought outside the 5% cash back window!

Also note that your Starbucks gift card can be used in various countries including Canada and the UK – even if purchased and loaded in the US – so no need to worry about foreign transaction fees or navigating local currencies just to get a cup of coffee. And you still get a Star.

Just Because Staples and Dell are Offering $100 Off Doesn’t Mean You Should Jump for these Laptops

While I was watching TV the other day, a Staples commercial advertising a $100 prepaid Visa card to students buying specific laptops caught my attention. Qualifying for the rebate card is fairly easy, as you only have to show a valid student I.D. or acceptance letter, and the prepaid card will be mailed to you eventually.[1]

This seemed to me like a great deal at first, so I decided to check out the eligible computers. There are only 4 models eligible for the prepaid card promotion, though to Staples’ credit they all come from different manufacturers – Dell, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba – and are of different sizes, giving buyers some options. However, they are all at least $579 without the rebate. I am not a computer expert and I can’t evaluate the specifications of each of the models in this promotion, but I think that while $499 (including the rebate) isn’t bad at all for a laptop, it doesn’t qualify as an amazing deal unless you are looking for exactly one of these 4 laptops. Even Staples is selling some other laptops for less than that, and I’m guessing most people don’t need more than a simple laptop for school or post-school work.

Along the same lines, Dell is offering $100 off its XPS 15 and XPS 17 laptops (promo code 932N$0ZCCHWZB9, sent to my inbox). These, however, are fairly advanced laptops with 3D capabilities and HD screens, starting at $799 without the discount. Chances are that, unless you work with graphics or are a computer aficionado, if you’re looking to save money these are probably not the computers for you – as enticing as a $100 discount may seem.

With all the back-to-school deals around, flexibility will likely save you more money than a $100 prepaid card or discount on these select laptops ever could. That said, if you’ve been eyeing any of the 4 laptops eligible for the Staples prepaid card, or Dell’s XPS series, this may be a good time to buy. Neither promotion has a published expiration date, but acting soon is probably better.

And if you do make a trip to Staples to check out their laptops, here’s another published offer that’s actually a good deal, albeit less flashy:  300 free printed labels with the coupon linked here. This could be useful for labeling your own stuff (including your new laptop!), or for making return address labels for job applications, thank you letters, and “please send money” requests sent to family.


[1] The terms and conditions for this offer seem to have been hastily written, and the exact timeframe in which the card will be mailed is unclear. Per the T&C: “Visa prepaid card will be mailed 15 days 4 to 6 weeks after submission of easy rebate.” Also, the webpage listed on the Staples website for the easy rebate redemption, http://www.StaplesEasyRebate.com, is incorrect and leads nowhere; the correct page is www.StaplesEasyRebates.com (with an “s” in the end).

Bring the Picnic Blanket: This Weekend, Last Call for Free Visits to National Parks

Visiting a national park is among one of the cheapest day-long recreational activities available, but this weekend it will be even higher up that list.  August 15-16 is the last of three summer weekends in which the National Park Service will be waiving entrance fees for over 100 national parks around the country.  Participating parks include Yosemite and Yellowstone as well as the Appomattox Court House in Virginia (visit the reconstructed McLean House, where General Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the Civil War) and the Eleanor Roosevelt and the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Sites, both in New York.  Several concessioners inside the parks are also participating, offering discounts and free items to visitors.  With good weather and longer hours, the summer is a great season to visit a national park, and getting in for free can only make it better.

Visit the U.S. National Park Service website for a list of participating national parks, and click here for concessioner deals.