Starbucks' rewards program changes prompts complaints from fans

Hell hath no fury like a steamed Starbucks shopper.

Beginning in April, the coffee chain is changing its loyalty program, making it harder for small spenders to score freebies and brewing outrage among its legion of fans.

Right now, Starbucks rewards shoppers with a star for each purchase. After 30 purchases, they get to the coveted “gold” level, which includes frequent free drinks and extra coupons. That’s ending, with Starbucks rewarding two stars based on the each dollar spent, increasing the number of stars needed to hit gold status to 300 stars.

That doesn’t sound too bad until you do the math: Under the new plan, a customer has to spend more than $60 before hitting the gold level. That’s bad news for people who stick to $3 coffees since it’ll soon take much longer to achieve gold status, but good news to those who spend $5 or more since it’s now faster.

Here’s a before and after tweeted from a self-appointed “Starbucks Geek:”

For Starbucks, it’s a move to improve its bottom line, since it incentivizes people to spend more on their expensive sandwiches and tchotchkes. It also cuts down on the line because people won’t ask for separate transactions to beef up their star status.

Starbucks admitted in an investors call that it will be a disadvantage to a “small minority” of low-spending customers. Apparently that “small minority” are all on Twitter, loudly complaining at the chain:

On Starbucks’ Twitter account, the chain is comforting flustered people telling them it plans more “Double Star Days” and more ways to earn stars:

Starbucks’ competitors have remained silent so far online, but Eight O’Clock Coffee is making it well aware that it’s cheaper to brew coffee at home:

Ya burnt. Update 2:40 p.m.: Looks like Dunkin’ Donuts has slyly responded: