How Much Do You Have to Spend to Get a Free Coffee?

If you're a regular coffee drinker the cost can quickly add up, so what's the best way to earn yourself a free coffee?

Coffee cup with orange lid on a yellow desk.
(Image credit: Getty)

The coffee business is a thriving industry in the UK, according to Nescafe, there are currently almost 26,000 coffee outlets nationwide. So not only is the British public spoilt for choice, but they also take advantage of it, the Centre for Economics and Business Research claims that the UK drinks 95 million cups of coffee every single day! The British Coffee Association estimates that 80% of people who visit coffee shops go at least once a week and 16% of us visit on a daily basis.

 So if you’re not fully awake without a cup of joe or can’t make it through your day without a coffee then you’ve probably got some loyalty cards in your wallet and purse to earn yourself a free one. But how much do you have to spend before you get yourself a free mug of java? Well, we’re here to find out.

 We’ve looked into the loyalty schemes for some of the biggest coffee chains or places where people like to grab a quick coffee to see how to get a free drink and how much you need to spend to do so. But first, how does each loyalty scheme work?

A bird's eye view of a cup of cappuccino with latte art on the table.

(Image credit: Getty)

So how much do you need to spend for a free coffee?

 Not content with just explaining how the reward schemes work, we’ve gone one step further. Coffee shops don’t tend to put their prices online so we hit the mean streets of Bath, dodging the dual terrors of tourists and early morning shoppers, to find out how much exactly you have to spend. Whilst you more than likely won’t be ordering the cheapest option whenever you go in to grab a coffee, it’s an easy way of comparing the relative prices of one chain to another.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
RetailerTotal Cost
Caffe Nero£18.45
Costa£15.60
Starbucks£50
Greggs£9.20
Pret A Manger£15 (or £25 a month for 5 free drinks a day)
McDonald's£4.45
Marks and Spencer£12

Caffe Nero

Caffe Nero offers a loyalty card where you earn a stamp for every handmade drink you order. So whether you prefer a coffee, hot chocolate, or iced drink you’ll earn yourself a stamp. You won’t earn any stamps for water or any drinks like orange juice. Once you’ve earned nine stamps, you’ll get your next one will be free. The free drink can be any size so make the most of the freebie! 

The cheapest qualifying drink that we could find was £2.05, which was either a ristretto, macchiato, or espresso. So to order the required amount of drinks to earn your stamps, it’s going to set you back a grand total of £18.45 before you get yourself a free one.

Costa

Costa’s loyalty scheme works similarly to Caffe Nero’s. Costa’s loyalty scheme worlds similarly to Caffe Nero’s but instead of needing to purchase nine drinks, you only need to order eight to earn your free coffee! But does this work out cheaper? The short answer is yes. The cheapest drink you can order from Costa is espresso at just £1.95. So you’ll need to spend just £15.60 to get your free drink. So a full £2.85 cheaper than Caffe Nero!

A paper cup of hot coffee in coffee shop with someone using their phone in the background.

(Image credit: Getty)

Starbucks

Starbucks has opted for a different approach to its loyalty programme. Whenever you order at Starbucks you’ll collect Stars depending on how much you spend. You’ll collect three Stars for every £1 that you spend and you can collect Stars however you choose to pay. Once you’ve collected 150 Stars you’ll be able to claim a free drink. 

So you’ll need to spend a hefty total of £50 before you get yourself a free drink, so not quite the reward compared to the previous two. However, if you’re loyal to the brand and prefer its drinks then it’s better than nothing!

Greggs

Not only are they one of the country’s go-to destinations for sausage rolls, pastries, and other baked goods but Greggs is also a great choice for more affordable coffees and hot drinks. Greggs’ loyalty scheme works by collecting a stamp for every product you buy from a certain category. So not only can you get a free coffee but you can also earn free sweet treats and bakes! You’ll get a stamp for every product you purchase from each category and once you’ve purchased nine of a category, you’ll get the tenth free! The cheapest hot drink that we could find was a small tea for £1.15, so you’ll end up spending £9.20 before you get yourself a free drink.

Pret A Manger

So while Starbucks’ loyalty scheme worked a little differently, Pret is even more of an odd one out, with two ways of getting free drinks. The first way is customers will earn a star every time they spend money in-store or online. One star is earned per transaction in-store and through click-and-collect orders. There's no minimum spend to earn a star and you’ll need 10 stars before you get a free one. You can earn yourself a star every time you spend money in a Pret-A-Manger. So if every time you go in you order yourself a hot drink and would like to get a free one, the cheapest option is a filter coffee for £1.50. To get your 10 stars for your free perk you’ll need to spend £15.

Pret A Manger also offers a subscription where customers can enjoy up to five barista-made drinks a day for £25 a month which offers regular customers the opportunity for incredible savings.

A woman paying for her items in a coffee shop with her mobile phone.

(Image credit: Getty)

McDonald's

McDonald’s also offers a loyalty scheme for coffee and hot drinks. You’ll collect a stamp for every hot drink you order and once you’ve collected five, you can get your sixth for free. You can collect McCafé loyalty stamps using the McDonald’s app. 

Not content with being one of the big names in fast food, McDonald’s has also moved into the coffee and hot drinks market too in recent years with their McCafé range. To get your free drink you’ll need to collect five stamps. The cheapest hot drink is a single espresso for just 89p, making the total cost before you get a free one an incredibly tempting £4.45.

Marks and Spencer

As part of their Sparks rewards scheme, Marks and Spencer offer customers a free coffee or hot drink after they’ve previously purchased six. To take advantage of this scheme you’ll need to download the M&S app and use the Sparks section of the app when visiting an M&S Café.

The cheapest coffee or hot drink available from Marks and Spencer is a £2 filter coffee. To earn your free one you’d need to purchase six of these, costing you £12. This puts Marks and Spencer in the middle of the pack when it comes to the cost of a free coffee.

Waitrose

Waitrose is the most generous scheme and the instant winner of this little investigation. Waitrose goes one step further and offers a free coffee or hot drink with any purchase. All you’ll need is a myWaitrose card and a reusable cup and you’ll be enjoying free hot drinks from one of their self-service Nero Roasting Company machines in no time. So the cost of a free coffee is just the cost of a reusable cup and the cheapest item you can find in your local Waitrose!

Overhead shot of hands holding a cup of coffee with latte art at a table.

(Image credit: Getty)

So what’s the cheapest free coffee?

So if you’re looking for a coffee place that offers the chance to get regular freebies without spending too much money then McDonald’s could be your new coffee of choice. Whilst out of dedicated coffee chains, Pret offers the cheapest return of a free drink.

Jordan Alexander
Food & Drink Editor

I’m Jordan and I’ve been working at MyVoucherCodes since the summer of 2021. Outside of money-saving, I’m a keen musician and guitar player and can regularly be found in a dingy venue somewhere in Bristol or perched in front of my laptop recording. When I’m not doing this you’ll find me exploring the city, watching cult B movies, reading a Stephen King or Murakami novel, or guiding the mighty Bath City to Champions League glory on Football Manager. All the cliches, I know.