Here Are the Best and Worst Deals at Starbucks
October 1st is the happiest day of the year for caffeine fanatics: International Coffee Day. And where’s the best place to celebrate? You guessed it: For many people, it’s Starbucks.
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Starbucks’ prices can be high, but with the right strategy, you can still get your caffeine fix without breaking the bank. To avoid wasting money at Starbucks, figure out what you should buy — and what you should skip. Click through to find out how you can save on drinks — and much more — at Starbucks.
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The Best Starbucks Deals
Despite Starbucks’ reputation for being overpriced, these deals can save you money without curbing your daily or weekly visits. From discount refills on the best Starbucks drinks to handy savings hacks, here’s how you can get the most coffee bang for your buck from Starbucks. See how you can optimize your Starbucks trip — like visiting during happy hour.
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1. Starbucks Rewards Program
If you frequent Starbucks, sign up for the coffee shop’s rewards program. For every dollar you spend on drinks and other Starbucks products, you earn 1 Star when you link a payment method and pay via the free Starbucks app or with a Starbucks card. You can earn double the Stars when you preload your Starbucks app or registered Starbucks Card with funds. As you accumulate stars, you can use them towards a free beverage or Starbucks product.
2. Free Refills
If you need a pick-me-up even after you’ve finished your coffee, get another for free by paying for your first brew with your registered Starbucks Card or Starbucks app.
If you get a coffee (hot, iced, or cold brew) or a tea (hot or iced and excluding lemonade) and enjoy it at Starbucks, you can get a second one for free using the same cup. The catch is you can only get a free refill at the same store during the same visit. If you don’t have a Starbucks card or app, you can still get a refill at a reduced price — but not for free, and this option doesn’t apply for folks buying via drive-through.
3. Starbucks Email List
Joining Starbucks’ email list can save you money. When you sign up you get 10 percent off your next order, though some exclusions might apply. If you sign up, you’ll also be in the know for exclusive Starbucks offers and discounts.
4. Seasonal Deals
Pay attention to Starbucks’ deals and promotions during the holidays to save money on seasonal favorites and score cheap Starbucks drinks.
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5. Free Add-Ons
It might seem trivial, but you can save money by skipping the flavor at the counter and instead opting for the free flavor add-ons Starbucks offers — like cinnamon, chocolate and vanilla, said Kerry Sherin, SEO and PR manager at Effective Spend, an internet marketing service. “Starbucks menu offers free half-and-half, cream, sugar and several spices, making it easy to spice up an inexpensive brewed coffee into a cinnamon-cream coffee for free,” said Kendal Perez of Coupon Sherpa, a website devoted to helping people find coupon codes and printable coupons.
6. Birthday Freebie
Like many stores and restaurants, Starbucks enables you to get a free birthday reward. For example, you can score a free drink or treat. Just remember to register your Starbucks card and/or use the app.
7. Split a Trenta
A good way to save at Starbucks is to go big — then split. When you go to Starbucks with a friend, order a trenta-size iced coffee — which is 31 ounces — and split it. Just ask the barista for two small cups. You’ll pay $3.75 for the biggest size drink, but you’ll save $1.15 this way versus if you both order talls at $2.45 each. This might turn out to be the cheapest thing at Starbucks.
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8. Order an Americano
Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping, a website that provides coupons for everything from clothing to wine, said ordering an Americano is one of the best ways to get your caffeine fix on the cheap. “It’s simply hot water poured over two freshly pulled espresso shots,” he said. And, it costs only around $2.65 for a tall and $3.45 for a venti.
9. Ask for Free Samples
The next time you go to Starbucks, see if you can get a free sample. “They’ll probably tell you to go ahead and take a seat, and they will bring it to you first, as they will make a tray of tasters for everyone in the store when they cut into that muffin,” said Teri Gault, a savings expert and author of the book “Shop Smart, Save More.”
10. Starbucks Online Sales
Have you always wanted a nice Starbucks tumbler but didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for one? Check out Starbucks’ “Sale” section online to see discounted Starbucks mugs, tumblers and coffee. Just remember to keep an eye out for Starbucks coupons to get an even bigger discount.
The Worst Starbucks Deals
Starbucks’ menu offerings might be your daily delight, but there are some deals you should skip. From Starbucks merchandise to Starbucks gift cards, here are some of the more notorious things you should avoid buying at the coffee shop.
1. Coffee Beans and Grounds
If you’re looking to brew some of the best Starbucks coffee on your own, don’t buy from the brick-and-mortar store. Starbucks sells 16-ounce packages of whole bean and ground coffee starting at $12.95, depending on the blend, said Perez, but you can find 11-ounce bags of similar blends at Target for around $7.50.
2. Starbucks K-Cups
Like Starbucks coffee beans and grounds, Starbucks K-Cups at Starbucks are generally not worth the purchase price. K-Cups are the small plastic pods your Keurig might use to make a serving of coffee. “Never buy these from an actual Starbucks location,” said James. “You can always find them for much cheaper at Costco.”
3. Travel Mugs and Drinkware
Starbucks-brand drinkware is another “deal” that isn’t a smart choice for your wallet. “Impressive displays of coffee mugs, tea kettles, French presses and other coffee and tea accessories are tempting for those waiting in line for drinks, but are best skipped,” said Perez. If you want to buy Starbucks drinkware, approach it like buying Starbucks coffee beans, said Sherin. “Shop other online retailers like Amazon, or find a coupon for the Starbucks store online to save even more,” she said.
4. Starbucks Gift Cards
Starbucks gift cards stare you in the face every time you reach the cashier. Although they are a great gift to receive, you can find discount gift cards online. “Buying gift cards can be a big mistake if you purchase through a retailer,” said Sherin. “Use sites like Raise and you can find discounts as much as 10 percent off.” When you do have a Starbucks gift card, follow these tips to check your balance and more.
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5. Goodies Located Near the Register
As tempting as it might be to grab a cookie, granola bar or even mints, ignore these impulse buys at the register. Chances are you don’t really need these times. And, you can usually find better deals at your grocery store.
6. Bottled Water
Bottled water is definitely not a Starbucks deal. Instead of paying $2 or more for one water, you can probably get a whole case for just a few dollars more at your grocery store — especially if there’s a sale or if you have coupons.
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7. Bistro Boxes
Need a quick lunch? You likely won’t find a good deal at Starbucks. If you’re in a hurry, stop by your favorite fast food joint for a value meal that will save you money. Even better: Make your own boxed lunches at home. “Five dollars for a few crackers, cheese cubes, grapes and a hard-boiled egg is not a good deal, given how inexpensive these items are at your local grocery store,” said Perez.
8. Prewrapped Sandwiches
Along with bistro boxes, the cafe’s expensive, pre-wrapped sandwiches are another item to avoid. “They display these nicely wrapped sandwiches that look nice and have quality ingredients as you wait in line to hook you,” said Mark Mazza, co-founder of PromoCodeWatch, a website that posts information about online coupons, promo codes and discounts. “Coffee is relatively cheap, so selling you an overpriced sandwich that costs as much, or more, than your drink order is an obvious score for them.”
9. Breakfast Sandwiches
Continuing on the sandwich theme, Starbucks breakfast sandwiches shouldn’t be on your list of things to buy. They look fresh in the display, but these sandwiches — as well as many other food items — are simply overpriced. You’re better off making your own breakfast sandwich at home.
10. Blended Crème Frappuccino
Unless you’re a child or watching your caffeine intake, it doesn’t make sense to spend your money on a Starbucks Blended Crème Frappuccino. A venti vanilla one will cost you $4.45. “It’s basically a $5 vanilla milkshake — and not a very good one at that. Way too much ice in this thing and not enough thickness,” said James. That said, be on the lookout for announcements regarding Starbucks’ next happy hour. You might just be able to score a Frappuccino for half-price.
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Nicole Spector contributed to the reporting for this article.
Last updated: Oct. 1, 2021