Some Loyalty Programs Aren't as Rewarding for Consumers as They Used to Be

Big companies from Starbucks to American Airlines are making it harder for consumers to obtain perks.

Have you noticed that your spending isn't getting you as many perks as it used to? In some cases, you're right.

Popular coffee and fast food chains like Starbucks and Chipotle have been tightening the deals on their reward programs, saying inflation is to blame.

This trend of raising spending requirements has carried over to large U.S. airlines, which have made it harder for frequent travelers to obtain perks like elite status and early boarding.

Here are some reward programs that have been impacted in recent months:


In October, the coffee company replaced its old DD Perks system with Dunkin’ Rewards.

The new program offers food as rewards for the first time and faster point accumulation, with customers earning 10 points rather than five for every $1 spent. Members can also unlock a “Boosted Status” that awards 12 points for every dollar spent for three months after they visit 12 times in a single month.

The downside: the redemption values have increased. 

Customers must spend $10 more — $50 instead of $40 — before earning a free cup of coffee. Signature drinks like lattes can be redeemed after spending $90, more than double what customers had to pay before the change.

“When we set out to improve DD Perks, we asked our members what they wanted to see in a new program. They told us three things: flexibility, variety, and recognition,” Scott Murphy, the president of Dunkin', said in an October press release. “And we did just that – we solved the three biggest constraints to bring a new and improved customer experience to Dunkin' fans.”

Here’s the breakdown of Dunkin’s point system:

  • 150 points: An espresso shot added to a drink, three Munchkins or six hash browns
  • 250 points: A classic donut
  • 400 points: A small, medium, or large hot or iced tea
  • 500 points: A small, medium, or large hot or iced coffee
  • 600 points: A wake-up wrap with or without meat, or a bagel with spread
  • 700 points: A small, medium or large hot or iced espresso, Cold Brew, Cold Brew with Cold Foam, or Dunkin' Refresher
  • 800 points: A breakfast sandwich with your choice of meat, egg, cheese and bread
  • 900 points: Any size frozen drink or Signature Latte — hot or iced

The company also got rid of its free birthday beverage perk. Instead, members can earn triple points when they purchase something on their birthday or the day before or after their birthday.


Starbucks recently updated its rewards program, increasing the number of “stars” customers must earn before getting a free drink.

The Seattle-based coffee giant made the changes on Feb. 13 in response to inflation that has already raised the prices of their highly popular drinks.

Previously, customers could redeem a free hot coffee, tea or bakery item for 50 stars, or points. Under the changes, those items will now cost 100 stars.

"We occasionally need to make changes to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Starbucks Reward program and to meet the changing needs of our members," a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News.

Here are the updated reward tiers, according to Starbucks:

  • 100 stars (previously 50 stars): one brewed tea or coffee, steeped tea, bakery item or packaged snack
  • 200 stars (previously 150 stars): one handcrafted beverage or hot breakfast item
  • 300 stars (previously 200 stars): one salad, sandwich, protein box or packaged coffee item

Some trade-offs exist: iced coffee and tea are now worth 100 stars instead of 150, and packaged coffee has shifted from 400 to 300.

Those who start their day with a drink from Starbucks have been met with a surprise when paying in recent days. And according to some comments across social media, the change has prompted criticism from employees and customers alike.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle has updated its rewards program not once, but twice in the past two years, increasing the point values for redeeming free menu items.

Since the most recent bump to 1,625 points last fall, loyalty members have to spend $162.50 to earn a free burrito. That's $37.50 more than a year ago.

But raising the threshold hasn't stopped customers from signing up for the program.

The company saw a 20% increase in reward memberships in 2022 compared to the previous year, Brian Niccol, the chief executive of Chipotle, said during an earnings call in early February.

In January, Chipotle launched a new perk, "Freepotle," which rewards members with up to 10 free sides or toppings of guacamole throughout 2023.

"In an environment full of pricey subscription programs, we're introducing a pass to our real food that is free to join and will provide more value to our community than ever before," said Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer of Chipotle, in a news release.

American Airlines

Starting in March, American Airlines travelers will need more loyalty points to reach the lowest tier in its AAdvantage frequent flyer program. Customers will need 40,000 points to earn Gold status, an increase of 10,000 points from before, CNBC reports.

The airline will end MileSAAver and AAnytime awards, both of which allow travelers to trade in frequent flyer miles for tickets. Travelers flying in a basic economy now earn two points instead of five per dollar spent.

“We’re creating a more meaningful travel rewards program for our AAdvantage members,” Vasu Raja, American’s chief commercial officer, said in December. “Only our members will have access to everything American has to offer. Achieving status will unlock an even wider world of unique experiences with the airline and our partners. With these and other innovations to come, we are continuing to deliver on our commitment that travel is better when you’re an AAdvantage member.” 

To maintain loyalty, American Airlines is offering limited perks like earlier boarding and coupons for some preferred seats to those who have yet to earn status or are in between levels.

Delta Air Lines

Delta Airlines is making access to its airport lounges more exclusive by raising membership prices and adding requirements.

The reason? Some travelers provided feedback about stressful crowds and lines at some Sky Clubs as credit card partnerships and memberships allowed more people to enter.

Previously, anyone could purchase a lounge membership. Starting this year, only Delta’s SkyMiles frequent flyer program members who have status can buy memberships, according to CNBC.

Dwight James, Delta's senior vice president of customer engagement and loyalty, told CNBC that the crowding does not represent what passengers typically experience.

“We want to invest in our customers who invest in us,” James said. “We have to evolve."

Last year, the airline enforced a time limit of three hours for lounge use and started a VIP line for members with high status.

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