Getting free stuff can be a high for some of us, especially when it comes to food and drink.
Because who can resist getting a tall, skinny,
non-fat mocha with extra whip – all for free?
And to get the most free coffee, let’s do a comparison of the top 3 food and drinks rewards in Canada:
Three different fast food reward programs...But which gives you the most cuppa?
The Skinny on Starbucks Rewards
You might say, “how can I possibly save money at Starbucks?”...
True, it’s not a place you go to ‘save money’, but it’s a place that if you’re going anyway – you might as well get some rewards, right? That’s where Starbucks Rewards comes in. Here are the goods:
- When you sign up, you immediately start working towards free food and drinks.
- You get 2 stars for every dollar you spend (unless you’re an employee, they earn 3 stars for every dollar spent).
- You actually get free refills (on brewed coffee and tea available in store during same visit).
- Stars expire 6 months after they are earned, so if you don’t use them, they will go away.
Starbucks Bonus Stars
As you’re building up your stars, you’ll notice in the mobile app (available on iOS and Android) that you can get “challenges” to complete that give you bonus stars. This will accelerate you on your way to being a gold member, but it will also normally constitute you visiting more.
That said, using a strategy like buying a lower cost item to help you offset a higher frequency can be one way to tackle things.
At 300+ stars (as long as they are earned within 12 months), you become a gold member. While you get sent a nice looking gold card, chances are (if you’re like me) – you’ll just keep using the app on your phone. Easier that way.
When you’re a gold member, you’ll enjoy the following in addition to the previous benefits:
- monthly double star days (where you earn 4 stars for every $1 spent), and...
- a reward every 125 stars.
In addition to buying items in store, you can earn stars online and in grocery stores.
Reading the Fine Print
Here’s probably the most important paragraphs from the terms and conditions. In short, you have to continue to spend around $150 per year at Starbucks if you want to keep your gold rewards:
To maintain all benefits of the Green Level, you must earn at least one (1) new Star during each consecutive 12-month period following your enrollment date. If you do not earn at least one (1) new Star in each 12-month period, your Star balance will automatically reset to zero (0) and you may no longer be eligible to receive Starbucks Rewards benefits. If you do not earn at least three hundred (300) new Stars in each consecutive 12- month period, your Stars will expire and your Star balance will automatically reset to zero (0), unless otherwise required by law. To maintain the Gold Level, you must earn at least three hundred (300) new Stars during each consecutive 12-month period following the date you reached the Gold Level. If you do not earn 300 new Stars in 12 months, you will be placed at the Green Level of Starbucks Rewards and your Star balance will automatically reset to zero (0). If you fail to requalify for the Gold Level, and you have between 125 and 299 Stars in your account, Starbucks will add one (1) free food or drink Reward onto your account (subject to the Gold Level exclusions and restrictions described below).
$150?! That’s quite an investment in caffeine but not that hard to do if you’re a regular and if you take advantage of bonus star promotions.
And here’s a table
So, where does the rubber hit the road?
Here are some working numbers for your consideration (assuming no bonuses or star challenges are completed and no extra offers are given):
|Reward Level||Required Spend||Rewards Achieved|
|0 - 300 stars for green level||$1 to $150||
|300 stars for gold level||$150+||
Now, you might be thinking, “that’s not worth it!”...
Yet, if you are already consuming coffee, tea or buying a sandwich elsewhere, it may not be astronomically different after you calculate the costs. Also as Stephen pointed out in this article, if you’re using Starbucks in lieu of an office, spending $6-$10 a day for the free WiFi and to have an office might be considerably cheaper than holding court in a proper office.
McDonald's McCafe Rewards
McDonald’s launched McCafe Rewards back in late 2013 as a way to entice customers to try their then new line of coffee (and likely to lure customers away from the once-dominant Tim Hortons).
Customers can now enjoy a medium McCafe hot beverage when you buy any 7 hot beverages using stickers you get that are attached to each hot beverage you purchase. Dollar for dollar, that’s quite competitive when looking at both Starbucks and Tim Hortons.
Ultimately what this means is that one out of every 8 drinks you buy is free. Which is like a savings of 12.5%. But, if you collect stickers on cheaper drinks (say $2 each) and redeem for more expensive beverages as a treat (say $5 each), then your savings go up to 26% if you would have purchased one $5 drink out of every 8 purchased anyway
Another way of looking at it is return in rewards based on spending. Buying 7 drinks at $2 each means you’re spending $14. If you redeem for a $2 drink, your return on spending is 14.3%. If you redeem for a $5 drink, your return on spending is 36%.
While there are some exclusions to the program (single espresso and double espresso drinks are excluded from the purchase, but are available for the redemption), the terms and conditions on this are actually pretty simple.
McDonald’s also recently launched its own app (Android, iOS), and while not explicitly a rewards app, you can receive offers for your mobile order, so there may be some savings opportunities there. It’ll be interesting to see how (if at all) they combine their mobile app and rewards in the future.
So, back in 2014, Tim Hortons launched a partner no-fee credit card with CIBC aimed at helping you earn Tim Hortons rewards fast. While years ago, Tim Hortons only accepted cash and then, for a period of time, only accepted Mastercard, things have been evolving:
The card offers:
- A $20 Tim Cash Welcome Bonus (after you spend $200);
- 1% Tim Cash on all purchases which can be instantly redeemed at Tim Hortons locations; and,
- Free treats for being a cardholder on the weekends.
There are also 3 additional cards available at no charge, with an interest rate of 19.99% and 22.99% for cash. To be eligible, you have to have a minimum of $15,000 annual household income.
On its site, Tims offers a handy-dandy calculator to give you an indication of what you can expect as a result of using the card. So, a couple of use cases:
- If you spend $300 a month on your credit card, you’ll earn $3.00 in Tim Cash per month. With your $20 welcome cash, that’ll net you $56 in Tim Cash for the year, or approximately 28 large coffees.
- If you spend $1,000 on your credit card each month, you can expect $140 in first year cash (with your $20 bonus and your earnings of $10/month).
So, as you can see, this gives you a cash-back reward of 1% for usage, but only on Tims. Yet, if you go there frequently, this is not a bad deal, especially since it is all spending and you don’t have to wait until once a year to get your money as you do with some cash-back credit cards. There are no maximums, either, so you can see a lot of coffee and donuts back from this card, if you spend a lot.
Now, it does get a little tricky at times as Tims has a number of reward items (more on that in a moment). A review of the terms and conditions for both the Classic TimCard (A.K.A. a “gift card”), and the CIBC Double Double card discussed above shows that it’s actually pretty straightforward to use.
You can use features like automatic reload to reload a Classic TimCard (perhaps a way to solve, “Mom, where’s my lunch money!?”), by linking an approved credit card to your TimCard. If you want to do that, see this link for more details. Be warned, as it is treated like cash, owners are responsible for all transactions, including unauthorized transactions.
Tim Hortons Gets an App
Tim Hortons launched a mobile app back in 2017, which was mired in controversy as franchise owners wanted to block the app from coming.
The app, available for both Android and iOS, allows you to order and pay, all from the app. While it did offer free coffee for usage at one time in late 2017, it now appears to have no rewards built in at this time. Yet, the company is “constantly updating the app with new features”, according to the FAQ. As a consolation, you can, however, use this in lieu of toting around a gift card.
Additionally, as of January 2018, Josh Kobza has taken over as chief technology and development officer for Restaurant Brands International Inc. (the parent company of Tims), so time will tell what the future holds.
Fast food Loyalty Comparison Table
|McDonald's McCafe Rewards||
|Tim Hortons CIBC Double Double Card||
For my own purposes, the only program above that I currently use is the Starbucks app. It’s a place I go anyway ‒ and sure, I recognize I’m probably incentivized to spend more than I normally would without it…But, for now, I’m making a conscious decision.
As a non-coffee drinker, McDonald’s program doesn’t really interest me a lot, but perhaps if they make rewards broader in the future I will be swayed.
Back to You
So, what do you think of all this? Any surprises for you?
Or, should we all just stick to drinking?
Let me know what you think in the comments below.