My Starbucks Customer Experience: Loopholes and Deals are Fun!

Loopholes can be great, particularly if you’re the one taking advantage of them. What’s even better is when the loopholes are pointed out to you!

Recently, I visited a local Starbucks in order to catch up on some things. There are random times when it’s just easier to get work done in that type of environment, without the distractions of home. This was one of those times, and I was looking to have something to drink while staying there for a few hours working.  As I shared in a story about a previous effort to do this, you do get what you pay for, so I made sure to go to a place that I knew would be conducive to getting things done.  Thankfully, no freaky customers at this place, versus that other place:)

My Order

This probably won’t surprise anyone who regularly reads Squirrelers, but I was looking for something that was:

  1. Reasonably healthy
  2. Inexpensive

So, I surveyed the choices and decided on hot, herbal tea as my selection.  In my renewed enthusiasm for making healthy choices, I decided against anything loaded with extra calories, or even super high in caffeine. With respect to the former – as a sidebar – it’s astounding how fattening some of those drinks can be, compared to what many people might think! So tea it was for me, healthy and cheap.

As I was ordering, the lady behind the counter asked me which size I wanted: Tall (small), Grande (medium), or Venti (large). I recall that Tall was $1.95 and Venti was $2.45, and don’t remember the price of Grande. Anyway, I thought “what the heck” and ordered a Venti. Thus, I spent $2.45 for the tea.

As they were preparing the tea, I chatted a bit with the lady behind the counter, and asked if I later I could get a refill of hot water. My idea was that I could get as much out of that bag as possible, of course! She said yes, that wouldn’t be a problem it get more water later. Cool! Extra glasses of tea for no additional cost, I like that!

The Loophole

Then she voluntarily told me about how there are customers that come in and try to game the system in other ways. What she shared is that there are some people who take advantage of the following loophole:

  1. Order a Tall (small) tea, and pay $1.95 – instead of the $2.45 I paid for the Venti (large).
  2. Ask for the Tall sized tea to be served in a Venti cup – which meant it was maybe 2/3 or thereabouts full.
  3. Immediately as for extra hot water
  4. Walk away with a large drink for the price of a small, saving $0.50!


Now, I recall hearing about other tricks people try when it comes to getting extra value at such establishments. But I’ve never really thought about it, perhaps surprisingly. This time, it actually took the lady behind the counter to tell me about it on her own :)

After hearing her tell me all about this loophole, I laughed and told her that if I come back there, I’m going to do the exact same thing. What was interesting is how she and another employee there who overheard the conversation were both telling me that I might was well. If others try this, why don’t you? They didn’t have a problem with it. Plus, it’s yet another example of how it doesn’t hurt to ask for a discount, or at least think out of the box to try to get a better deal.

My Squirreling

The thought definitely crossed my mind later that I should have asked them if they could change my order to a Tall, which was a mistake I made. I was busy talking with them about the whole idea, and trying that next time, that I didn’t think of asking for the discount right away. The order was complete anyway and they rang me up, and next time would be fine anyway!  However, I did manage to get something small out of the deal.

I realized that they use 2 tea bags to make your tea. Right away, I saw a small opportunity. I asked her if I could only use one tea bag for this order. However, I wanted to keep the other tea bag and possibly have it later.

She smirked, and said that it would be fine. No problem. I asked if other people do this, and she mentioned that very few people ask, but some have.  So, I took that extra bag of “Passion” tea and brought it home.  Hey, every little bit counts, right? I’ve picked up coins at a drive through before, so I’m not above saving a few nickels this way either :)

My Questions for You:

Has it ever crossed your mind to think of a loophole when buying something at a retail establishment? If so, please feel free to share.

Have you heard of other people pulling off other “arbitrage” opportunities like this, whether at a coffee shop or anywhere else?


  1. says

    Haha, that’s a good one. I don’t know if I would do it with people in line, but certainly worth a shot if you are alone in the coffee shop.

    The place where you can usually blow a cashier’s mind are the ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘buy one get one half off’ deals. The way they usually work is the highest priced items in the cart are combined with the lowest prices – so you get the discount on the lowest priced things you buy. Not good enough! Split it into multiple purchases from highest price to lowest – and get the discount on items that aren’t the lowest price.

    Simple, yet effective.

    • Squirrelers says

      PKamp3 – simple yet effective is a nice thing, right :) Yeah, I’m with you and would be cognizant of others when trying strategies such as that.

  2. says

    That’s not bad though they’re still making a huge profit margin considering the cost of hot water, a couple cups, and a tea bag that probably costs a couple of pennies.

    • Squirrelers says

      MB – true, they’re making a big profit margin. And you could probably save big by having the tea at home. However, to have the tea at the coffee, these other factors don’t impact the customer costs. Their margin matters little to us as consumers. Rather, we can focus on our own costs, and in that way these out of the box strategies can help a little bit. They can be fun too :)

  3. Darren says

    Probably one of those most dishonest things I have ever seen. Do the free refill (since it is honored), but don’t worry about the extra $0.50. This isn’t fugal, this is cheap.

    • Squirrelers says

      Darren – you’re wrong. The store employees themselves suggested it and said that others do it so you might as well. If the business itself encourages you to take advatage of the loophole, it’s not dishonest at all.

  4. says

    My boss is an ex-Starbucks manager, and he has shown me all of the tricks in the book. Like a iced latte? Just order 2 shots over ice in a venti cup, then go to the milk and sugar area, and pour your own milk over the top! Saves you about $2.

  5. says

    Haha, I hadn’t thought about the first loophole, but I do the second one all the time. I order a venti tea, one bag in one bag out. Sometimes they run low on tea bags amd give me a different variety for the left out bag. There is a price difference in some places between a venti and a grande (some places not) so if you order your venti tea with one bag, they’ll charge you for the grande (tip for the guy who thought the first loophole was immoral)

    • Squirrelers says

      MoneyCone – oh, I agree. They’re doing very well on margins on tea. There’s a price that’s paid for effectively renting table space, based on that premium vs. making it at home.

  6. says

    I don’t know man. This is why I don’t order tea at SB. It’s just 2 tea bags, a cup, and hot water. I’d rather order a latte since they have to do a bit of work. I think I’ve been to SB once in the last 5 years though so …. :)

    • Squirrelers says

      retirebyforty – it’s certainly way more expensive to enjoy a tea or coffee outside versus at home. You’re paying for the rented space, effectively. But if you’re going to spend some money, might as well use a loophole to curb the expenses a bit!

  7. says

    A similar trick works with less healthy beverages as well. Most fast food establishments will allow you to refill your soft drink as long as you’re not sharing with another person (and you don’t bring in your own cup). In this case, it makes sense to buy the smallest (and cheapest) size drink and refill it during your meal.

    • Squirrelers says

      pfstock – Agreed. Looks like you have the same strategy I have in those situations. If the drinks are unlimited, it shouldn’t make a difference what size drink you buy! Pay the least money, get a small drink.

    • Squirrelers says

      Hunter – nah, there’s no “theft” whatsoever. It’s a loophole that the store employees were actively encouraging me to take advantage of. But yeah, making it at home is certainly cheaper, that’s for sure!

        • Squirrelers says

          Hunter – yeah, it’s not something I would have thought to do. It does seem odd, I agree. Of course, when the store employees tell me about it, suggest I try it, and tell me that others do it so why shouldn’t I – it removes the doubts quite a bit. It’s out of my comfort zone, but it’s apparently done all the time and the business itself is good with it. It seems like a loophole that they may want to close, but that’s up to them :)

        • Squirrelers says

          I’ll also add that I totally get how such loopholes might be out of some people’s comfort zone. Definitely don’t recommend that anyone does something they aren’t comfortable with. Even if I’m personally ok with pushing things a bit, though I like to see that others have tried it first sometimes :)

  8. says

    I go to SB every other Sunday to meet with my writing group. I’ve been doing this for over 5 years. Here are some “loopholes” I’ve learned-
    1) Since I will be there for at least 2 hours, normally 3-4, I ask for a mug instead of a cup. They keep the mugs under the counter and give me the same discount they would if I’d brought in my own mug (I never remeber to bring in my own cup, most of the rest of my group does).
    2) With tea, I ask for only one tea bag. I have plenty of cheaper tea at home, and I don’t like my tea super strong, so I get a discounted price for that.
    3) If I’m getting a black or red tea, I ask them to leave a little room at the top, and then I go over to the coffee station and add a little milk. I don’t need a latte, I just like my tea in the British fashion.
    4) About half way into my time there, I do go back and ask for a refill of water- boom, second cup of tea.

  9. says

    Fascinating stuff. Do you consider yourself an exteme saver? I know every cent counts, but sometimes I think if I wanted a big cup of tea, I deserve a big cup of tea, even though it is 50 cents more. Who knows, maybe that’s why I’m not a millionaire…

    • Squirrelers says

      Buck – Ha! I’m actually not by any means an extreme saver. I just enjoy these types of tactics, or at least hearing about them :) As for the tea, the beauty of the loophole is that you can get that big cup of tea you fell you deserve, and pay 50 cents less for it!

    • Squirrelers says

      True, I do that too. Seems like something most everyone should do. With tea, it’s a little more of a true loophole. The small drink vs large drink is really a straightforward decision.

    • Squirrelers says

      Kris – it was totally fine with one teabag. Maybe getting a discount by paying for only one might work, as alluded to in another comment!

  10. hollyjane says

    aw, thats awesome they would let you do that ! i know where i worked, if you wanted a large cup you had to pay for it. didn’t matter if the cup was empty, you still paid for it. but that is so nice of them to fill you in :)

    here’s a good one, in canada anyways! go to 711 + look for whatever coffee is low or not made at all & ask the staff to make it for you. they will tell you if you’re willing to wait then you don’t have to pay : ) i seriously had the same people come in everyday asking me to make them a pot.

    same idea but they would take a sip of coffee already there , ask when it was made & of course i wouldnt know because i was just helping out on till. and they’d be like its old, can you make me a pot ?[only works if they dont know when it was made]
    & you cant say no so. =)

    • Squirrelers says

      hollyjane – now that’s interesting…asking to make coffee when they’re low, and then getting it free if you wait a few moments. Good tip!

  11. Sara Jordan says

    Clever one Squirrelers! Just order 2 shots over ice in a venti cup, then go to the milk and sugar area, and pour your own milk over the top! Split it into multiple purchases from highest price to lowest – and get the discount on items that aren’t the lowest price.

  12. Julie says

    Not sure if you we interested in knowing another little helpful tip… If you buy a coffee, iced coffee, tea, or iced tea you can get a .54 cent refill of any of those. So say I order a hot tea and drink it and then get extra water to make another, that’s two drinks and then you can pay .54 cents and get an iced tea/coffee/iced coffee or another hot tea to take with you. You get three drinks for fairly good price considering it is Starbucks. Plus if you do the whole hot tea venti with extra bag on the side thing you are sitting on the possibility of 4 drinks not that one would really need 4 drinks but you never know….

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