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New Starbucks Rewards System Punishes Thrifty Coffee Drinkers

Starbucks' (SBUX) new rewards program has some customers rethinking their daily coffee habit.

The company announced Monday that starting in April it will institute a new rewards program where customers will receive two “stars” for every $1 they spend.

Currently, customers earn one star per visit, and customers with “gold” status receive a free drink or food item after 12 visits. The new system will require customers to rack up 125 stars in order to get a free reward.

To put it simply, in order to get rewards, customers will have to spend more money. (Starbucks has a special site explaining the new system here.)

For example, if a customer goes to Starbucks every day and orders a $3 latte, they'll get a free reward after spending $36 and visiting 12 times.

Under the new rules, getting to the free reward will cost Gold members more time and money. That same customer who regularly orders a $3 drink would have to visit Starbucks 21 times and spend nearly $63 to earn a reward.

On the flipside, a customer who regularly spends more than average $5 per visit will earn stars faster. So if you're not one to add a breakfast sandwich or muffin to your order, the new system isn't so rewarding

As you'd imagine, plenty of customers took to social media channels to broadcast their outrage.

On Facebook, Starbucks drinker Sue Augustin claimed she’d stop going to Starbucks all together. “Will start taking coffee from home instead of buying a venti mocha,” she wrote. “Great way to save some money and calories! They can keep their new program.”

In stores, Starbucks employees are already feeling the heat. “People have come in here angry at me,” an employee at a Times Square area store told Yahoo Finance. “I’m like, I just work here.”

Starbucks executives are standing by their decision to revamp the program. “The new program reflects the #1 request we heard from members: more Stars awarded based on what you buy, no matter how often you visit,” they wrote on the company’s website.

It’s no secret that the previous system had flaws. A customer who ordered 10 coffees during one visit received the same amount of stars as someone buying one green tea. This led to longer wait times, as customers split their purchase to earn more stars and game the system. According to Starbucks Chief Stragety Officer Mattthew Ryan, this accounted for about 1% of all transactions.

For rewards program member Nicole Young, the new system won’t change her daily habit. She will continue to buy coffee every day, and looks forward to the extra stars she'll earn when buying coffee for a large group. “I’m sure it evens out, because if I do a coffee run for a bunch of friends or coworkers, now I’ll benefit from it,” she told Yahoo Finance."

In addition to the change in how stars are counted, the company also announced changes in the rewards levels. The current system has three levels: Welcome, Green and Gold. The new system will have just Green and Gold, allowing users to get to the Gold status faster.

The coffee chain will also have monthly double star days where Gold members will receive 4 stars for every $1 they spend at Starbucks, instead of the two star for every $1 spent.

If you’re a current member enrolled in the program, you won’t lose anything when the company transitions to the new system. Ryan confirms that each star in your account will be converted to 11 stars in the revamped program, which will work in the customer's favor.

Still, feelings about Starbucks new reward system remain as personal as how much milk you like in your coffee. But for Young, there are bigger things to worry about. “With everything going on in the world, this is very low on the totem pole.”

Do you like Starbucks' new rewards system, or have questions about it? Email us at yfmoneymailbag@yahoo.com