Starbucks tightens rewards program rules

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp on Monday announced changes to its North American loyalty program that will mean some customers will have to spend more money at the coffee chain to earn free food and drinks.

Under Starbucks' current rewards program rules, customers earn redeemable points for every purchase. The new program will award points for every dollar spent, a change that is sure to spark complaints from customers who are used to accumulating points with frequent purchases of drip coffee and other lower-cost items.

The widely anticipated change from the Seattle-based company comes as airlines and other companies have been tweaking their rewards programs to make them generally less generous to consumers.

Starbucks customers now earn one "star" per purchase and may redeem 12 stars for a free food and drink item. Starting in mid-April, customers will get two stars for every $1 spent and need 125 stars to get a free item.

Matthew Ryan, Starbucks global chief strategy officer, said the change was not a way to weaken Starbucks' rewards program.

However, he acknowledged that 1 percent of the chain's total transactions now come from customers who request two or more transactions to earn stars more quickly.

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Starbucks tightens rewards program rules
A woman walks into a Starbucks Coffee, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
People walk past the first Starbucks to open in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. The three-floor coffee house in Bogota is the first of 50 that the Seattle-based company plans to open here in the next five years. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Baristas Truong Nguyen, left, and Ben Ruthruff, right, talk with customers near a display of special Seattle Seahawks Starbucks cards on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, at a Starbucks store in Seattle. The Seahawks began a one-week fund-raising campaign Wednesday with Starbucks to benefit Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll's A Better Seattle program, which seeks to reach at-risk youth and prevent gang violence. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz poses for the photographer before a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, May 13, 2013. Schultz, visiting Bangkok this week to mark the coffee giant's 15 year anniversary of opening in Thailand, said Monday the coffee chain's first stores in India and Vietnam have been received positively and it might soon be time to give Myanmar a shot too. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Two customers sit outside a Starbucks vandalized by angry protestors in opposition to Mexico's newly sworn-in president, in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. Protests began early Saturday morning with violent confrontations in the streets and protest speeches from opposition parties inside the congress, where Enrique Pena Nieto took the oath of office. Protesters continued vandalizing downtown businesses, smashing plate glass windows and setting office furniture ablaze outside. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Pedestrians walk past a branch of the Starbucks cafe chain in west London, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. A committee of British lawmakers says the government should "get a grip" and clamp down on multinational corporations that exploit tax laws to move profits generated in Britain to offshore domains.The committee says major multinationals including Starbucks, Google and Amazon are guilty of immoral tax avoidance. Starbucks announced it is reviewing its British tax practices in a bid to restore public trust. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
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In this Feb. 14, 2010 photo, a sign outside a Starbucks hangs over the Riverwalk with the Navarro Street bridge in the background in San Antonio, Texas. Starbucks plans to begin paying a 10-cents-per-share cash dividend to investors.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
FILE - This file photo made Nov. 2, 2009, shows a Starbucks coffee shop in Arlington, Mass. Starbucks releases quarterly earnings after the close of the market Wednesday, July 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
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A worker cleans the sign outside one of many Starbucks outlets in Beijing Friday April 27, 2007. An Internet campaign was started in January calling for the removal of a Starbucks coffee shop from Beijing's famed Forbidden City. Critics say its presence in the former imperial palace is a smear on China's historical legacy. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
** FILE ** South Korean tourists queue up to buy coffee at an outlet of Starbucks at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, in this Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007 file photo. A member of China's legislature has revived calls for the removal of a Starbucks coffee shop from Beijing's Forbidden City, saying its presence was a smear on China's historical legacy, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday March 11, 2007. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
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