Tims Rewards, McCafe or Starbucks—which loyalty program is best?

Tims Rewards, McCafe or Starbucks—which coffee loyalty program is best for you?

We put them to the test


(Photo credit: Marek Ślusarczyk, www.microstock.pl

In a move that took longer than expected, Tim Horton’s launched their loyalty program, Tims Rewards on March 20th, 2019. Canadians will be happy to hear this since it’ll allow them to earn rewards on coffee, tea, and baked goods at Canada’s largest coffee chain. But how does it compare to established loyalty programs such as McCafé Rewards and Starbucks Rewards?

Tims Rewards is good, but it’s got some quirks that may annoy some people. McCafe has the easiest rewards to earn and understand, while Starbuck’s Rewards’ program is going through some changes come April 20th, 2019 which has already seen an uproar on social media.

As things start to heat up, let’s take a look at the three coffee loyalty programs to see which ones give you the most bang for your buck.

Tims Rewards

  • Earn rate: 1 Tims Rewards “point” per purchase
  • Rewards redeemable at: After seven purchases
  • Reward earned: Any size coffee, tea, or baked good

To collect Tims Rewards, you need to download the app or get a physical loyalty card from one of their participating stores.

You can start earning your rewards right away, but there are a few minor conditions to be aware of. For a purchase to be eligible for your rewards, you need to spend a minimum of $0.50 and your purchase must be spaced out by at least 30 minutes. This may sound odd, but it’s clearly designed so people don’t do multiple transactions on a single purchase just so they qualify for a reward quicker.

Once you’ve made seven qualifying purchases, you can claim a free coffee or tea (no hot chocolate or other specialty hot drinks). Alternatively, you can pick a baked good that’s on display but Timbits and bagels don’t count.

In theory, you could spend as little as $3.50 ($.50 X 7) to earn a free coffee or tea in any size which is a good value, but the reality is that people will end up spending more than that for their rewards since Tim Horton’s loyalty program is based on purchases. For reference, a small coffee at Tim Horton’s is about $1.71, so you’d spend $11.97 to get your reward.

McCafé Rewards

  • Earn rate: 1 McCafé sticker per hot beverage
  • Rewards redeemable at: After seven purchases
  • Reward earned: Any medium hot McCafé beverage

McCafé Rewards which is McDonald’s loyalty program for their hot beverages is incredibly lucrative since you earn 1 McCafé sticker or 1 mobile sticker for every hot beverage you purchase. Best of all, you can double dip when you use your mobile app to make an order.

The McDonald’s app allows you to earn 1 mobile sticker per drink when you make a mobile order or when you scan your app at the self-order kiosk in-store. You would then get a physical sticker on your hot beverage cup so you’re essentially doubling your earn rate. This may not last forever, but it’s one heck of a coffee hack for now.

In theory, you would need to spend roughly a minimum of $11.83 ($1.69 per small coffee X 7) to earn a free reward, but since you can double dip, you’re technically only spending $5.92 to get a reward. Since you can earn multiple stickers on the same purchase, there’s no need to worry about spreading out your orders.

The reason people love McCafé Rewards is that the actual reward you get is quite generous. After your 7 purchases, you can claim any medium hot beverage which includes: coffee, lattes, hot chocolate, tea, cappuccinos, and mochas. This also applies to any limited time hot beverages they have.

Starbucks Rewards

  • Earn rate: 2 Stars per $1 spent
  • Rewards redeemable at: 25 stars
  • Reward earned: Syrups, coffee, baked goods, specialty drinks, sandwiches, salads, merchandise

The above doesn’t come into effect until April 16th, 2019, but Starbucks customers will want to know about the Starbucks Rewards changes now. The earn rate of 2 stars per $1 spent doesn’t change, but it’s the number of stars required to get something free and what you can redeem that’s changing.

Previously, it required only 125 Stars to redeem any eligible menu item but now it’s a tiered system. This will give you more choices, but will likely cost you more to get something free that you want. Here’s the new breakdown for Starbucks rewards:

  • 25 Stars – espresso shot, dairy substitute, syrup
  • 50 Stars – coffee, tea, baked item
  • 150 Stars – handcrafted drinks, breakfast sandwich, yogurt parfaits, oatmeal
  • 250 Stars – sandwich, protein box, salad
  • 400 Stars – select merchandise, bag of coffee

Starbucks will likely now point out that under the new rewards tiers, it only takes 200 Stars to get a handcrafted drink and a bakery item whereas it cost 250 before. However, since you could claim any eligible menu item including sandwiches that cost $8 for 125 Stars, there aren’t many people who will come out ahead after the changes.

50 Stars for a free brewed coffee, tea or bakery item seems to be the sweet spot, but higher cost items will now cost you twice the amount of Stars than it did before which will disappoint many people. Since it takes 50 Stars to make a redemption, you need to spend a minimum of $25 at Starbucks before you get something free.

Final thoughts

For most people, it’s unlikely they’ll stick to one specific coffee chain regardless of the loyalty program. When you need your caffeine fix, you’re just going to look for what’s closest to you. These rewards are just another way to keep customers happy.