Changes are coming for Starbucks and Tim Hortons customers in Canada – and some are not happy about it.
Starting on Monday, Starbucks said it will be updating its rewards program, increasing the number of points needed to redeem free items.
Rewards members in the U.S. and Canada were first notified about the changes by the American coffee chain in December 2022.
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“To ensure the long-term sustainability of the Starbucks Rewards program and to meet the changing needs of our members, we occasionally need to make changes to the program,” Leanna Rizzi, a spokesperson for Starbucks Canada, said in a statement to Global News Friday.
“And while some items may require additional stars to redeem for, other popular items like iced coffee and packaged coffee will need less stars to redeem for and be easier for members to be rewarded.”
Meanwhile, Tim Hortons is also making it more expensive to claim that free coffee for its loyal customers.
Those changes were announced in December and go into effect starting Feb. 21.
In a statement to Global News Friday, Tim Hortons said its rewards loyalty program is “evolving to make every dollar count,” adding that “those who spend more, will earn more.”
The changes come as decades-high inflation has surged everyday expenses for Canadians, with grocery bills through the roof.
Coffee and tea prices were up 13.2 per cent year over year in December, according to the latest inflation report by Statistics Canada released last month.
Rewards programs are a way for companies to retain loyal customers who in turn can save money by collecting more points.
What is changing?
Starting Feb. 13, Starbucks customers will need to earn 100 stars to redeem items such as brewed coffee or a bakery product for free. Under the current program, 50 stars are required. So that means you’ll have to spend double the amount to get the same items.
Additionally, the cost of handcrafted beverages such as a latte or frappuccino and hot breakfast items is going up to 200 stars from 150.
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A lunch sandwich or packaged protein box will now cost you 300 stars, up from 200.
The new changes will make it slightly cheaper to get a packaged coffee item, costing 300 stars, down from 400. A free packaged snack item will require 100 stars as opposed to 150 under the old program.
However, there is no change to how members earn stars. Starbucks reward members can earn one star by spending $1 with cash, card or mobile wallet and two stars using a Starbucks card.
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Tim Hortons announced on Dec. 14 that it was shifting its rewards program from a visit-based system to a spending-based one.
Under the new program, Tims rewards members will earn 10 points for every dollar spent rather than a fixed 10 points per eligible purchase — a minimum of 50 cents — under the current program.
Customers will have to spend at least 10 cents to earn one point, the company said. Existing points will carry over to the new program.
But just like Starbucks, you will have to bag more points to redeem free goodies at Tims.
For instance, brewed coffee, tea, bagels and baked goods cost 70 points right now, but under the new program, they will cost you 400 points.
Rewards Canada said this is a “massive devaluation” from the program for the most popular option from the chain.
“With the current program it takes seven visits to earn the 70 points needed for a free coffee or tea,” Rewards Canada wrote in a blog when the changes were first announced.
“At 10 points per dollar that means you have to spend $40 instead of $15 to get the same reward.”
More fancy espresso drinks, iced cappuccino, frozen beverages and a box of 10 Timbits will require 800 points, going up from 140.
If you’re looking for free doughnuts, cookies and hash browns, you need 300 points versus 50 on the old program.
How do customers feel?
The watered-down rewards systems are not going down well with some customers in Canada.
Cody Schiltroth from Spruce Grove, Alta., said he was “not happy with the changes” coming at Tim Hortons and would prefer to see the program stay as it is.
He said he would get six free drinks a year with the old program, but that would now go down to two drinks.
“Those who buy breakfast each week or multiple coffees a day will benefit, but I will not,“ Schiltroth told Global News in an email.
Steve Namislo, who is a regular at Tims, said the switch to points per dollar from points per purchase was a “lot more profitable” for him.
“I can now see gaining enough points for a free coffee in less than half the time it took me under the old policy,” he said.
Some said they will turn to other cheaper options, like McDonald’s, for their caffeine fix.
“I’ve put up with the rising prices, pumpkin spice lattes and disappearing points. Now time for me to disappear from their line-up,” said Jamie Hanlon, who described himself as a loyal Starbucks fan for over 25 years.
Gordon McCallum, another Starbucks loyalty member, said “changing the amount of stars to get a free coffee seems like an unfair way to increase profits.”
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Meanwhile, others were not really bothered by the changes.
“I’m just glad we get a chance to get free stuff,” Laurie Tomkins said in an email.
Ashley Junkin from Peterborough, Ont., said the Starbucks rewards program was “always very generous.”
“I think it was a long time coming considering they never increased during COVID.”