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.

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Five Deals for Your To-Do List This Week (and Beyond)

As your sort through your summer to-do list, here are some deals you may want to know:

  • This Tuesday, July 21st, Starbucks is giving a free pastry from opening until 10:30am with the purchase of any beverage.  Of course this is a good deal for those who usually purchase a coffee and/or pastry on your way to work [if all you want is a pastry, you could theoretically get a discounted pastry by buying a coffee that is cheaper than the pastry].  Check out the official announcement for more information.
  • When we first wrote about Borders Rewards, we noted that the rewards program itself is quite skimpy though the coupons that come with it are great.  Well, until the end of this month, Borders is making up for it – through July 31st, they are giving $5 in Borders Bucks for every $50 you spend in-store or at borders.com.  That’s essentially 10% back, which you can redeem and use in any future purchase.  This should be a good time to restock your summer reading books!
  • A while back we also wrote about the GapCard, which can be a great deal for those of you who shop at the Gap frequently.  It gives you 5 points per $1 you spend at Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and piperlime.com, and you receive a $10 gift card for each 1,000 points you earn (basically 5% back).  If you were waiting for the right time to sign up, this may be it: until August 9th, besides the standard 500 bonus points for being a new member, you also get 20% off your first purchase online and double points until the end of the promotion period.  If you are already a GapCard or Gap Silver member, you are also eligible to earn double points through August 9th.
  • If you are a United Mileage Plus member and frequently shop at Safeway, Dominick’s, Vons, Genuardi’s, or Pavilions, register your store card (get one if you don’t have one yet!) with Mileage Plus to get 125 miles for every $250 miles you spend.  Once you register your store card, all you have to do to earn miles is use it when shopping – a pretty easy process to bring you closer to a free trip!  Click here to register.
  • With the recession, more people are going to movie theaters.  As you get ready to check off some new summer blockbusters from your list, you may want to sign up for the Regal Crown Club if there’s a Regal Cinema close to you.  It is a free membership program that awards 1 credit per dollar spent on ticket purchases (up to 15 credits per day) and another 2-4 credits for concession purchases.  And even if you use a corporate discount ticket such as the Super Saver you can still get credits when you redeem them for admission.  With this membership, you can participate in offers such as $1 candy on Mondays and $1 popcorn on Tuesdays as well as earn free popcorn, soda, and movie ticket rewards (rather than redeeming points, you get a reward as you reach each tier).  Click here to see the rewards schedule and sign up.

While not all deals are for everyone, I expect that participating in some of these deals has gotten on your to-do list, maybe next to repotting the plants and visiting local museums.  Good luck!

Habits That Pay

Humans are creatures of habit. We visit the same coffee shops, clothing stores, and movie theatres, because we are familiar with the products/services and know what to expect. And in turn, these places become part of our routine. Think back on the purchases you have made or take a look at your credit card statements from the last few months and you might notice that the same few merchants appear over and over again. Last week, we blogged about signing up for free loyalty cards to grocery stores and pharmacies, but this principle also applies to other places depending on how often you visit and how much you spend. The following are just a handful of options available:

  • BananaCard/GapCard/OldNavyCard – Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy are some of my favorite places to shop for work and casual attire. As a result, I have a BananaCard, which I can use at any of the above stores (as well as piperlime.com and athletica.gap.com). For every $1 I spend, I get 5 points, and once I have accumulated 1,000 points, I receive $10 off my next purchase. This is the same as a 5% cashback.  In addition, I get an extra 15% off my first purchase and free standard shipping over any purchases over $100. Once I have spent over $800 in a calendar year, my BananaCard gets upgraded to Luxe status, which entitles me to even more benefits, such as free basic alterations and a 15% off personal shopping day.  Even though I can use my BananaCard at any member of the family of stores, it does matter which card I have, because my BananaCard only entitles me to special promotions at Banana Republic. The GapCard, for example, is offering an extra 10% off on Tuesdays, to which I cannot participate.  I would recommend waiting for special promotions before signing up so you can get even more benefits. For example, when I signed up for my BananaCard, I actually received an extra 20% off my first purchase due to a special promotion. Currently, it is offering a bonus 500 points reward for new cardmembers.
  • Sephora Beauty InsiderAmericans spend over $7 billion a year on beauty products, which is why I suggest signing up for Sephora’s Beauty Insider. You get a point for every $1 you spend. Once you have accumulated 100 points, you can receive a deluxe sample, or you can save your points and redeem 500 points for an exclusive product (options change each month). You will also have access to special events, as well as a gift during your birthday month.
  • Starbucks Gold – Perhaps you are an avid coffee drinker and need your venti non-fat soy latte with extra foam every morning. Starbucks Gold has a $25 annual membership fee, but if you spend more than $250 a year on coffee, then this would more than pay for itself because Starbucks Gold offers 10% off every purchase (drink, coffee beans, mug, espresso machine, etc.). Other benefits include a free first drink, a free drink on your birthday, 2 hours of free Wi-fi every day (after you have registered your card), and special coupons.

My point is not to sign up for a card at every place we spend money, but that we might be able to get something extra, however little, from our shopping habits. So give your purchases a quick evaluation and see if your habits warrant a reward.