Is the $40 Starbucks January 2016 Refill Cup A Good Deal?

UPDATE 1/10/17: this is back at the Starbucks website, going for $28! Shipping is extra unless you participate in a free shipping promotion (eg orders over a certain amount or something else). Note that if you buy it, it will take a few days to arrive, so if you are doing the math on how many free drinks it gets you, factor that in.

This is not a bad cup, I would value it at least $10 on its own, it weighs about 12.5 ounces empty (without the lid on). It is a true 16oz cup, stays cool to the touch even if you have a hot drink inside, does a decent job of keeping a hot drink hot, fits well in smaller car cupholders as well…


The original post below is for the January 2016 $40 coffee cup which was available when the old Starbucks rewards program was running. The January 2017 cup is now available [as of late November 2016] to purchase at the Starbucks brick and mortar stores along with the Starbucks website. Now that we have the new rewards program, this is an even better deal, because you get 80 Stars (2/3rds of a reward) on the purchase of the cup ($40 times 2 stars) instead of the previous one star (which was 1/12th of a reward). Not only that but if you wait for a Bonus Stars promotion, you can get 160 Stars with the purchase of the $40 cup. That’s 1.28 rewards on the purchase price alone.

The reward math of the drinks have also changed in favor of the $40 cup. With the previous year cup, assuming you got one drink a day, by getting the freebie, you were not getting rewards for the 31 drinks. With the old system, the opportunity cost was around 2.58 rewards (31 divided by 12). With the new program, the opportunity cost is 152 stars ($2.45 per coffee/tea), which is 1.2 rewards. Slightly less if you use a reusable cup ($2.35 per drink). This paragraph is talking opportunity costs, so it is semi-academic in practical terms 🙂

I haven’t purchased the 2017 cup, but I saw it in-store, and the 2016 looks and feels nicer, and it is a more general-use cup. You can use it all year round without looking like a hipster running around with a Christmas cup in July 🙂 Having saod that, you can also get away with using the new one year-long, it kinda fits seasonal patterns (kinda spring, kinda harvest, kinda summer vines) 🙂

Without factoring in the reward math, the straightforward cut-off point is this: $40 divided by the price of a cup. $2.45 if you don’t bring your own cup, or $2.35 if you bring your own cup and get the 10c discount. $40 buys you 16 to 17 cups. So if you are going to be at Starbucks more than 17 different days in January 2017 AND buy a coffee or tea (no fancy drinks qualify), this is a no-brainer.

The above is before you factor in the value of the cup, which is probably somewhere between $10 and $20. Since the rewards program is a factor of the price paid, it tracks the other parameters above.


The PSL may be the most famous of the Starbucks Holiday promotions but it’s only one of many. One lesser known promotion that they run during the holidays is the January cup. You pay a fixed amount of money ($40 + tax this year) and you receive a coffee cup that entitles you to one grande (= 16oz) brewed coffee or brewed tea PER DAY during the whole month of January 2016. That’s 31 days of free 16oz drinks. This is only brewed drinks, you can’t get free lattes or mochas or fraps. Just good old coffee and tea 🙂 Customizations are extra, and Reserve coffees and Oprah Chai Teas are excluded.

As you can see in the pictures below, this is actually a nicely designed cup, modest and stylish at the same time, without it being obnoxious. You can easily use this all year round. It does not scream holiday cup. You get the cup, the lid and instructions.


The coffee plant pattern is on both sides. With the coloring trend continuing to build steam, one could perhaps pick up their favorite sharpies and color it (I haven’t tried that). One side has a mermaid face engraved, the other does not. I couldn’t get a good picture of her, lighting is tricky for engraved items:


To figure out whether this is a good deal, let’s do some old fashioned accounting. Costs vs Benefits!


You pay $40 for the cup. You also pay sales tax if your state collects it. This is a physical item, not food, so you will likely have to pay sales tax. The highest sales tax as far as I recall is around 10%, so let’s say $4 in tax to be on the safe side.

But we are not done yet! There is also a hidden cost to using this. If you are a member of the Starbucks Rewards program, you earn 1 Bonus Star per purchase. 12 Bonus Stars get you a free drink or free food item. If we assume that you will use your free item on one of their more expensive items (let’s say $6), the “value” of each star is 50c.

If you only buy a coffee/tea and don’t buy anything else with it, that means you will lose a bonus star per day. If you go every day, that’s a loss of 31 bonus stars. That’s the equivalent of $15.50~ in opportunity cost. If that’s so, add $15.50 to the virtual balance sheet as this is an opportunity cost of sorts.


The biggest benefit of course is one free 16oz coffee or tea per day. A 16oz coffee is around $2.25 while a 16oz tea (you get two tea bags instead of one with the 12oz) is around $2.45. If you go there every single day in January, you are getting a $70~ value if you are only drink coffee or a $76~ value if you only drink brewed tea. If you switch between the two, your value is somewhere in between.

This is an opportunity cost, not an actual cost: The above numbers are so if you typically use the disposable coffee cups at the store. If you typically take in your own reusable cups, you get a 10c discount per drink, so you would be paying $2.15 per cup of coffee and $2.35 per cup of tea. So if you are an environmentally-friendly cupist, deduct $3.10 (10c per day) from the above totals. So your free drink value is around $67~ for coffee and $73~ for tea.

The other benefit is a physical one. The actual 16oz coffee cup. This is a stainless steel cup, and it looks and feels nice. Whether you want to place any value to it, it’s up to you. I’m gonna venture a guess that you’d probably spend around $10 to buy something similar. But its actual value is up to you to determine.

This is the “view” inside the cup. This is as I purchased it, the picture was taken before I used it.



Now that we have the data, it’s time to do the math. Is this a good deal? If you visit Starbucks every day (or almost every day) in January 2016, the answer is a very obvious YES. You have between $44 and $60 in costs and you get $70+ in benefits.

If you visit Starbucks every other day, let’s say 15 times during January 2016, then things are closer. You pay $44 for the cup plus the $7.50 opportunity cost in lost Stars (if you only get coffee/tea and nothing else). Your benefit is 15 free drinks that’s about $35 in coffee and $38 in tea (deduct $1.50 if you use reusable cups). Plus the value of the coffee cup which is up to you determine. So if you only buy a drink and nothing else, you are losing on the transaction. If you buy something else as well, then it’s $44 vs $35/$38 – $1.50 if you typically use your own cup + value you place on the Starbucks cup. Assuming a reasonable $10~ value on the cup, you break even.

So, as you can see, this start becoming a possibility if you plan to visit more days than not. The more often you visit, the better value you get!

You can find more details about it at the Starbucks website. As of the time of writing, they are out of stock for online purchases. Check your local Starbucks stores to see if they have them.