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13 Things Starbucks Employees Won’t Tell You

If you're looking to save bucks on Starbucks, look no further: We've got the inside scoop from frequent customers and former baristas.

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SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - MARCH 12, 2016: worker at Starbucks Cafe. Starbucks Corporation is an American global coffee company and coffeehouse chain based in Seattle, Washington

Befriend your barista

Your Starbucks barista wouldn’t mention it, of course, but being friendly goes a long way toward getting free drinks, discounts, and the freshest and tastiest pastries. That’s what Amanda Ponzar, chief marketing officer for Community Health Charities, has learned. This loyal Starbucks enthusiast regularly shares social media photos of herself enjoying a Starbucks drink; it’s also her place of choice for business meetings.

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Homemade Gourmet Cakepops ready to be served
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Order two cake pops to get a secret discount

One of the first things Ponzar discovered from her Starbucks baristas is that if you order two cake pops at once, you get a discount (somewhere between 40 and 60 cents, she says). This is not the same thing as the cake-pop BOGO (buy one, get one free) sale, a rare event. Check out the Starbucks where they won’t write your name on the cup.

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Bangkok, Thailand - December 21, 2017 : Starbucks Hot chocolate with whipping cream in white paper cup on wooden table background with copy space.

Save money on hot chocolate

Ponzar also has a way to save money when you’re in the mood for hot chocolate. Instead of ordering an actual cup of hot chocolate, order a steamed milk with chocolate syrup. You’ll also save calories.

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CHIANG RAI, THAILAND- JUNE 23, 2017 : A Venti Starbucks coffee in Starbucks coffee shop.

The secret trenta size

“When I used to get one to two frappucinos every day, my barista would make me a trenta-size Frappuccino,” Ponzar tells Reader’s Digest. “It’s not even on the menu.” (That’s true for coffee drinks, although it is on the menu for fruit-flavored Starbucks Refreshers.) The trenta is 31 ounces and the unofficial price upgrade for a frappuccino is 50 cents.

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Bangkok, Thailand - Jan 29, 2017 : A cup of Starbuck Coffee Beverages. Chestnut white chocolate truffle frappuccino.

Don’t waste a single drop of that good stuff!

Blogger Joanna Faith Williams tells Reader’s Digest she couldn’t help but noticing something curious every time she ordered a frappucino: “The extra bit of my drink that didn’t fit in my grande cup would just be washed down the drain!” Williams came up with the following hack: “Order a grande in a venti cup. I get it all. It reduces waste. It seriously works, and it’s a win-win!” Ponzar seconds this but notes that befriending the barista and being a good tipper has meant that she often doesn’t even have to ask. Those Starbucks frappuccinos may be delicious, by the way, but you’re best off drinking them rarely or never for this reason.

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Bangkok ,Thailand - OCTOBER 11, 2016 : A cup of Starbucks hot beverage coffee on the table in the park. Starbucks is the world's largest coffeehouse company
Nixx Photography/Shutterstock

Go for a short

You won’t see it on the menu, but you can always order a “short” size, according to health and wellness expert (and Starbucks super-fan) Caleb Backe. It’s a smaller and less-expensive size with a decent hit of caffeine, Backe promises. Smaller sizes might save you from these things that happen to your body when you drink coffee every day.

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A little boy drinking from a plastic cup in the park on a sunny summer day
Alla Iatsun/Shutterstock


A babyccino is a cappuccino minus the espresso—in other words, frothy steamed milk. You might even be able to get it for free, although that’s not official policy. Backe and registered dietician and nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto both give the drink a thumbs up for your kid since it’s just milk with no sugar or caffeine.

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cute dog begging for food at the kitchen table


Both Backe and Rissetto mention the secret “pupaccino,” which is basically a cup of whipped cream for your furry friend while you wait for your order. It’s often free although as with babyccinos, there’s no official Starbucks policy on this.

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Plastic cup of water on round wooden table
Montri Thipsorn/Shutterstock

Free water

If you like to drink water with your coffee (coffee can be dehydrating, after all), don’t pay for bottled water: You can get filtered water for free at Starbucks.

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Close up of male's hand holding thermo mug with hot coffee driving in a car

Bring your own cup

Starbucks is committed to shrinking its carbon footprint, and in keeping with that, offers a reusable, recyclable cup for just $1, and every time you use it, you save 10 cents on your coffee order. As the Starbucks website notes, if you use the cup 10 times, it’s paid for itself. But you can actually bring your own cup and save the dollar while still getting the 10-cent discount!

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Chai tea latte withcranberry orange fresh scone for breakfast.
Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

Make your own discounted chai latte

You don’t need to pay for a chai latte when you can order a simple cup of tea and request a shot of steamed milk (which comes for free). Plus, this hacked-version of a chai latte has far less sugar. Of course you might not be able to get your favorite drink at all if you’re in this state which has the fewest Starbucks locations.

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BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 21, 2017 Iced Espresso coffee at Starbucks shop. Starbucks is the world largest coffee house.

Order light ice in your iced coffee

Less ice means more coffee: That means you can go down a size for an iced coffee, then ask for light ice. You’ll basically be getting the same amount of caffeine while paying less. Luckily iced coffee is pretty low in calories, but be sure to check out these Starbucks health-hacks that will help you save calories on your other favorite drinks.

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LAS VEGAS, NV - September 22. 2016 - Starbucks App On Apple iPhone Screen. Splash Screen Display. Selective Focus.

Take advantage of the Rewards program

Employees would happily tell you about this yet most customers still don’t use the program. “Many think Starbucks is expensive, but it’s actually NOT if you drink two cups a day and you join the Starbucks Rewards program, which gets you free refills, coffee marketer and aficionado Mathew Rincon tells Reader’s Digest. Plus, some stores allow you to get a refill even if you bought the first cup at a DIFFERENT location, according to Rincon. However, this is definitely not an official Starbucks policy, according to their site.

Refills are just the beginning when you join the Rewards program. Being a member means you’re eligible for a Birthday Reward (almost anything on the menu), which is redeemable up to two days before and one day after your birthday. Just make sure you’ve purchased something at any Starbucks within the last 12 months.

You’ll also receive emails from Starbucks offering you the opportunity to earn free credits toward free food and drinks by ordering a certain beverage, playing a particular game, or participating in some other activity or event (be sure to opt-in for these emails, the Starbucks website advises). If you level up to a “gold” membership, you can double your rewards (and thus earn your free stuff twice as quickly!). Next, find out why Starbucks coffee sizes aren’t small, medium, and large.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren has covered knowledge, history, the British royal family, true crime and riddles for Reader's Digest since 2017. Having honed her research and writing skills as an attorney in the 1990s, she became one of HuffPost's first bloggers in the early 2000s, graduated to reporting hyperlocal news in the 2010s and has been researching and writing news and features for a wide variety of publications ever since. Aside from Reader's Digest, her work has appeared in Mashed, Tasting Table, Eat This, Not That!, Grown and Flown, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, Insider, Business Insider and many others.