Advertiser Disclosure

Starbucks Rewards Visa Card Review: Worth a Shot for Coffee Lovers

For loyalists, the card's perks are well worth the annual fee. But casual customers may want to pass. Let our calculator grind the numbers.
Jan. 22, 2019
Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards
Starbucks Rewards Visa Card Review: Ideal for Coffee Lovers
At NerdWallet, we adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

The Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card features bold, Venti-sized ongoing rewards with an extra shot of loyalty benefits — and an annual fee of $49.

For dedicated fans of the coffee chain, it’s well worth the relatively steep price tag. The card’s rewards, redeemable for free food and drink items at Starbucks, could potentially save you plenty. But for less loyal customers, it’s probably not worth the cost. A card with more versatile rewards, such as miles, points or cash back, would likely be a more valuable pick.

Key features

Stars are worth 4 cents each, assuming you redeem them for food and drink items worth $5 each. You’ll get more value out of each Star by redeeming for expensive items, and less value for redeeming for cheaper items.

Here are some fast facts about the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card:

Sign-up bonus: 2,500 Stars after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Annual fee: $49

Extra bonus: 250 Stars when you use the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card to load a registered Starbucks Card in the Starbucks mobile app for the first time

Ongoing rewards:

  • 1 Star for every $1 digitally loaded to your registered Starbucks Card in the Starbucks mobile app using the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card; with the 2 Stars per $1 spent that you earn when paying with that registered card, that adds up to 3 Stars per $1 spent
  • 1 Star for every $4 spent on all other purchases

Other benefits:

  • Instant Gold Status, which comes with added benefits
  • Eight annual Barista Picks: These are free drink and food items selected for you

As a Gold member, you can redeem 125 Stars for a free food or drink item. Assuming each item is worth $5, each Star would be worth 4 cents each. That adds up to an effective 12% rewards rate on Starbucks purchases (assuming the membership card used is loaded with the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card) and 1% everywhere else, a solid deal.

Use the calculator below to see whether the value of the rewards would outweigh the annual fee of $49, based on your spending.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best cash-back cards

Benefits of the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card

For Starbucks aficionados, carrying the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card is like being part of a VIP club with all manner of freebies.

You earn frequent goodies and surprises. This card’s rewards program offers virtually instant gratification: After earning 125 Stars, you can redeem for a free food or drink item. Unlike with some cards, there’s no need to stockpile rewards for months to access these core benefits.

The card also offers eight Barista Picks a year, coupons for free pre-selected food and drink items that are loaded onto your account about every six weeks. These alone could be worth enough to make up for much of the annual fee. The catch: They expire in 30 days, so they need to be redeemed quickly.

The sign-up bonus is super-sweet. The sign-up bonus on the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card is worth 2,500 Stars. That’s worth 20 food and drink items. That could add up to:

  • 10 Frappuccinos and 10 turkey pesto paninis, or
  • 15 Caramel Macchiatos and five apple fritters, or
  • Seven pumpkin spice lattes and 13 Cranberry Bliss Bars at holiday time

For Starbucks devotees, this bonus makes the card far more attractive. 

Stars can potentially be quite valuable. If you redeem Stars for some of the most expensive food and drink items — namely, the items that cost $5 or more — you’ll get at least 4 cents out of each Star. That’s an excellent value, if you can manage it.

To be sure, if your favorite Starbucks item is drip coffee with room for cream, this card won’t be as valuable. But for those who want to venture into the more expensive parts of the Starbucks menu, it’s a big money-saver.

Drawbacks of the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card

For some, the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card just isn’t worth the cost.

Stars expire quickly and can be redeemed only for food and drink items. Because Stars expire six months after the month in which they’re earned, they need to be redeemed quickly. They’re also not very flexible. If you want to get something other than a free food or drink item, you’re out of luck.

For longer-lasting and more flexible rewards, consider the Chase Freedom®. It features rotating 5% cash-back categories on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter and has an annual fee of $0. And it comes with a big sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Rewards never expire, as long as the account is open and in good standing. In the past, these 5% categories have included spending specifically at Starbucks, as well as at restaurants in general (a category that typically includes Starbucks).

The $49 annual fee is relatively steep. Unlike most store credit cards, the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card charges an annual fee. To be sure, the free food and drinks you can earn with the card can make up for it — but not in all cases.

Participating in this card’s loyalty program is a huge commitment. For those who aren’t hardcore Starbucks fans, this card’s loyalty program has a bit of a “Hotel California” vibe: Once you get in, it’s hard to leave. Here’s why:

  • You have to fill up a separate membership card to earn bonus rewards. To earn bonus rewards on this credit card, you need to use it to refill a Starbucks membership card — a separate registered card — through an app. That takes more effort on your part and could wind up being a waste of money if some of the funds go unused. For example, if you loaded $100 onto your membership card, and used only $20, you’d be out $80.
  • Redeeming may come with indirect costs. Say you’re a big spender and earn several free food and drink items each billing cycle. Do you have time for all those free Frappuccinos? Will this card make you gain 20 pounds? Will it drive up your dental costs? If these sound like unusual questions to raise in a credit card review, well, it’s because this is an unusual credit card.
  • There’s probably never going to be a perfect time to quit. With other loyalty programs that no longer fit your spending habits, the best time to leave is after redeeming all or most of the rewards earned. With this card’s program, it’s more complicated. Ideally, to leave nothing on the table, you’d exit the program after redeeming all of the Stars you’ve earned, emptying your separate membership card balance, and redeeming all your Barista Picks for the year. Will those three things ever happen at the same time? Probably not.

If you’re not ready to commit to that many Starbucks-induced sugar highs, consider going with a simpler credit card — say, a flat-rate cash-back one. The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer might be a good fit. With an annual fee of $0, it offers 1% back on all purchases and another 1% back after paying off those purchases.

Should you get the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card?

The Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card isn’t about dollars and cents — it’s about coffee, pastries and emotional value. It’s not the most lucrative credit card available for everyday spending, but it’s a relatively affordable way to treat yourself on a regular basis, save some cash on your coffee runs and taste-test all the priciest items on the Starbucks menu. For enthusiastic Starbucks customers, its frequent freebies and surprises make it a steal, even with the $49 annual fee.

Information related to the Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

About the author