What’s the best coffee loyalty card in Canada?

Comparing Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, Starbucks and other leading chains. Here’s who deserves your loyalty.

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On March 20, Tim Hortons announced that it was finally starting its own loyalty rewards club. Like every coffee chain in the country, Tim Rewards promises a user-friendly and generous program that’s totally worth the extra time and trouble of fumbling for the right card or app. But if you’ve got too far many cards clogging your wallet or hogging your phone data, which one should you choose? Maclean’s crunched the numbers on the return on investment (ROI) for a number of leading plans. The higher the ROI percentage, the better the deal for you. So, which one deserves your loyalty?

Tim Hortons’ Tims Rewards

How it works: Flash your red card (or mobile app) seven times for any purchase over 50 cents and the eighth visit is rewarded with any size coffee, tea or a baked good.

Pros & Cons: You can earn a free coffee within a week! But baked goods don’t include bagels or TimBits, which is probably what you want most. Guests also must remember to scan cards pre-purchase without a reminder.

Best Reward: Seven small coffees at $1.59 each is $11.13. But if you order an extra large freebie, which normally costs $2.19, that’s an ROI of nearly 20 per cent.

Read more: Tim Hortons is no longer Canada’s favourite coffee shop

Starbucks Rewards

How they work: Members collect two stars per every dollar spent, and more stars on bonus and Double Star days. You can redeem their first coffee for 50 stars.

Pros & Cons: Stars expire just six months after you acquire them—so no hoarding them for a bigger pay-off. Also, not all Starbucks participate in the program. Those that do, however, will gift you a free coffee on your birthday.

Best Reward: Assuming you’ve got a taste for something fancier—say the trendy vendi Pumpkin Spice Latte at $5.25—you’d need to spend $26.25 to get the sixth for free, an ROI of 20 per cent.

McDonald’s McCafé Rewards

How they Work: Collect seven stickers—either real or electronic—for each hot beverage and you earn a free medium hot beverage of your choice.

Pros & Cons: McD’s has now digitized its easy and familiar sticker-on-a-card system. The physical stickers still exists—yet somehow cannot be combined.

Best Reward: Shop during Mickey D’s promotion of $1 for any size coffee and $7 spent will earn you a free drink. Obviously order the most expensive McCafé option, a still-not-that-expensive $2.89 Caramel Mocha, to reap an impressive 41 per cent ROI. If you buy your small coffees for $1.49 each, that ROI drops to a still pretty good 28 per cent.

Country Style BonApp MTY Rewards

How they Work: Country Style is just one brand of more than 30 chains—among them, Mr. Sub, Manchu Wok, Thai Express and Mucho Burrito—where registered collectors earn 10 points per dollar. Each point is redeemable for one-tenth of a cent.

Pros & Cons: Never even heard these? That’s likely because there are just a handful of participating Country Style locations. Also there’s a minimum purchase price of $2.50, meaning even an extra-large daily coffee ($2.10) doesn’t count.

Best Reward: If you spend the $2.50 for 25 points, 10 trips to Country Style still only earns you 31 cents.

Second Cup Rewards

How they Work: Spend $1 and earn ten points; redeem 500 points for a beverage of your choice—or 1,000 for a half-pound bag a of coffee beans.

Pros & Cons: Points are easy to count and never expire! Hardcore collectors can get crafty with point multipliers and bonus points on certain products and days, while laxer folk can keep it casual with a physical card.

Best Reward: Fifty dollars spent earns you a standard beverage—max out with a $6.75 large latte, or ROI of 13.5 per cent. Better yet, save up for your bag of coffee beans ($12.95) —the ROI’s slightly less, but just think how many cups you might brew up at home!

Bottom Line

The new Hortons’ card offers roughly the same rewards as Starbucks, with a far cheaper per-day price tag. But the clear champion is McDonald’s—especially during their buck-a-coffee promotions.