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Starbucks Offers Fast Track to Gold in New Program

In February, when Starbucks announced it was converting its frequent-drinker program to a revenue-based scheme, there was a collective groan from the caffeinated crowd. As with similar conversions by the major airlines, Starbucks’ new earning rules would mean fewer rewards for most customers.

Under the old scheme, program members earned one Star per visit, and attained Gold status after 30 visits. Having reached Gold status, members received a free drink or food item after every 12 visits. (Sub-Gold members receive little beyond a free birthday drink.)

Under the new scheme, which took effect on April 12, members earn two Stars per $1 spent, but need 300 Stars to reach Gold status. And a free drink or snack will require 125 Stars.

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So before the transition, a Gold member could earn a freebie after spending as little as $24, for 12 $2.00 cups of coffee. With the new spend-based system, the same freebie requires at least $62.50 in purchases. And the freebie calculation is moot unless you can qualify for Gold status, which requires $150 in purchases during a calendar year.

Time to Redesign the Redesign?

Likely in response to drinkers’ displeasure with the program’s devaluation, Starbucks this week announced a limited-time promotion, providing Rewards members with a fast track to Gold status.

Through May 2, Rewards members will be awarded Gold status for a year after just a single Starbucks purchase. And current Gold members will have their status extended an extra year after a single purchase.

Gold Rewards members will still have to spend at least $62.50 to earn enough Stars for a free drink. But at least the initial hurdle, of qualifying for Gold status, has been effectively obviated.

The very fact that Starbucks has launched this promotion suggests that the company suspects the new requirements for Gold status are too high, and will be a disincentive to many prospective program participants. No doubt many Rewards members would agree.

Time for another program redesign already?

Reader Reality Check

Is Starbucks’ new program, with its high hurdle to attain Gold status, meaningful for you?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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