Starbucks is revising its stored-value affinity card programs, making it
easier harder to get free Wi-Fi: I've noted before that Starbucks doesn't offer free Wi-Fi in the sense that an indie coffeeshop with an open access point does, nor like airports that provide Wi-Fi at no cost. Rather, Starbucks ties two consecutive hours per day of no-cost Wi-Fi to purchases made using a stored-value card. The firm announced changes last week to its affinity program that require some teasing out of the details; the Web site appears to have been updated today.
[Update: Starbucks hid a detail in a pop-down window that says the same requirement for regular purchases to use Wi-Fi applies. This article has been revised to reflect that.]
Under the current system, Starbucks has two tracks: a free card that stores value for purchases, and a membership card, that can optionally hold a dollar charge. The plain stored-value card exists mostly for convenience and usage tracking by Starbucks, but includes a few extras, one of which is the daily dose of Wi-Fi. To earn that benefit for 30 days, you either make a purchase with the card or add value (min. $5).
Starbucks's soon-to-be-defunct membership program costs $25/yr, includes a 10-percent discount, some free and discounted beverages, and has the precisely identical terms for accessing Wi-Fi.
Starbucks is merging the two programs into one that will have no fees and no discount, but which offers a free drink on your birthday as well as a free drink for every 15 transactions after your first 30 transactions. You can use multiple cards, but they must be registered to an account you set up, and then one or another used for each transaction to accrue and claim benefits.
In this new system, called My Starbucks Rewards, you get the birthday drink just by registering. After five transactions, you're boosted into the Green Level--green being Starbucks' corporate color--and you qualify for the daily Wi-Fi allotment
with no further purchases.
Update: I was mistaken. You must be at the Green Level simply in order to qualify to get free Wi-Fi for 30 days following a purchase on the card or adding additional value on the card. This change thus makes it harder for new card users after 26 December--existing customers are grandfathered if they register.
The new card program's FAQ says that you remain active at the green level for two years following your last transaction.
So those that want the two-hours-a-day Wi-Fi without purchasing drinks need only prime the pump lightly. (The FAQ is insanely complicated. One would think the marketing department might have drilled this down into several bullet points, and then given the gory details later.)
Green Level patrons also get free brewed coffee refills, extras like syrup and soy milk, and advance marketing materials about new stuff. They also get gentle pats on the head. Good customer, good customer.
After 30 transactions, you get bumped into the Gold Level, at which plateau Howard Schultz personally thinks about you in his office for five seconds on your birthday. Also, you get a personalized gold card that says, "Hey, I spend a lot of money in this place." And that free drink every 15 transactions. And coupons. And a pony*. (*Pony not included.)
This program requires that you register a card, which is optional for stored-value usage, but obviously key to Starbucks understanding everything you do and when. Starbucks is foregoing the revenue from its hundreds of thousands of current paying gold card users in exchange for a vast increase in data collection.
Existing registered regular stored-value card users and Gold Card members are transitioned automatically into Green Level and Gold Level programs, respectively. Register before 26 December if you haven't already to preserve the benefits. This also offers a five-purchase bypass. Buy a Starbucks Card with $5 on it, register it, and you need make no additional purchases to get to the Green Level.