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Starbucks to change loyalty card program

SEATTLE Starbucks Coffee plans to change its loyalty card program in December to reward guests with various benefits based on their frequency of visits, the chain said last week.

Starting late next month, the coffeehouse chain’s two loyalty programs for U.S. customers — Starbucks Card Rewards and Starbucks Gold Card — will be streamlined into one program called My Starbucks Rewards.

My Starbucks Rewards has no annual fee and offers benefits at various levels:

— The Welcome Level offers users a free birthday beverage when the card is initially registered.

— Guests can achieve “Green Level” after using the card five times. At that point, they qualify for free brewed coffee refills; free flavor syrups and soy; a free tall drink of choice with the purchase of one pound of whole beans; up to two continuous hours of free Wi-Fi daily; and other special offers.

— After visiting Starbucks 30 times in a year, which officials say averages less than three visits per month, guests achieve “Gold Level,” which entitles them to the previously mentioned benefits, as well as a free drink after every 15 purchases.

Starbucks officials said current Rewards program, launched in April last year, has roughly 3.5 million members, and the Gold Card program, launched in November 2008, has more than 800,000 members, though many customers are likely registered for both and guests expressed frustration about having to carry two cards, officials said.

The current two programs have slightly different benefits. The Gold Card, for example, offers a 10 percent discount with every purchase but has a $25 membership fee, while Rewards offers no discount but also requires no membership fee. It provides offers for free perks like syrup and milk options, refills, and free WiFi.

“Our Starbucks Card Rewards and Gold Card programs have been successful, but the more than three million members have asked us to create a simpler, easier to access program that rewards them based on their frequency,” said Terry Davenport, Starbucks’ senior vice president, marketing. “We believe the new My Starbucks Rewards program, which is free at all levels, will help deepen our relationship with our most loyal customers while also encouraging more customers to join the program.”

For those who are not currently card holders, registration for My Starbucks Rewards will begin Dec. 26. Members of the two current loyalty programs will be automatically enrolled in My Starbucks Rewards beginning in January 2010 at their appropriate level.

That means Gold Card holders will automatically achieve “Gold Level,” for example, and all registered Rewards card holders will revert to “Green Level.”

Gold Card holders will still be able to use the 10-percent discount available with the card until 12 months after they initially joined, in addition to the new program benefits. Guests can also continue to load their Gold Cards to use as cash at Starbucks locations, even after the discount benefit expires, without incurring an additional annual fee, officials said.

Starbucks Coffee is operated or licensed by Starbucks Corp. of Seattle. It has more than 16,700 locations worldwide.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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