How to get free coffee: save more than £100 on your takeout habit

The cheapest way to get a free coffee revealed

Close up of a hand holding a coffee cup on metal mesh table
(Image credit: Getty images)

Picking up a takeaway coffee might kick-start your morning, but at £2 - £3 a time it can rapidly put a dent in your bank balance. We reveal how you can get a free coffee every week, saving you more than £100 a year on your coffee habit. 

Most of us have probably got a half-used coffee shop loyalty card stuck in the back of our purse or wallet – but now it’s even easier to get your hands on a free coffee as you can get a freebie simply for downloading an app or signing up for a subscription.

According to Project Cafe, food inflation has driven the cost of a typical 12oz latte to rise by £0.33p (11.3%) over the past year to £3.25. 

This has also put pressure on coffee shops to hike their prices, with Pret increasing the price of its coffee subscription by an additional £5 per month to £30 (a 20% rise), equating to an extra £60 a year. 

With most of us spending hundreds of pounds a year on takeaway coffee, plus coffee prices continuing to rise, now is the time to do what you can to bag a free coffee. 

We look at how you can maximise loyalty schemes, what they are worth, and how long it will take you to get that free cup of coffee from your favourite barista.

How to get free coffee at Waitrose

Waitrose has brought back giving a free cup of tea or coffee to customers. But with one important change. 

  • You need to scan your myWaitrose card
  • You need to buy something in store
  • NEW - you need to bring your own reusable cup

How to get a free coffee at Costa

Joining the Costa Club via the app and bowling up with a reusable cup means you only have to buy 4 hot drinks to get your 5th drink free. If you don’t have a reusable cup, you’ll need to buy 8 drinks before your 9th is free. The freebie can be any ‘barista made’ drink of any size.

How to get the free Costa drink:

  • Download the Costa app and set up an account
  • You will earn one ‘bean’ for every drink you purchase
  • If you use your own cup, you will earn two beans 
  • You need to stack up 8 beans in total and your 9th drink is free

To claim your free drink, tap the rewards tab on the app, followed by ‘Free Drink’ and ‘Use Now’ and scan the QR code at the till.  

Once signed up you’ll also get a free cake on your birthday

How to get a free coffee at Pret

The Pret loyalty scheme has been renamed as ‘Club Pret’; you earn stars on purchases which all add up to perks. The scheme also gives you 10% off food and snacks at Pret stores (excluding some service stations). But, if you buy a lot of coffee, then Pret’s monthly coffee subscription deal means you can enjoy a daily Pret for less than 20p a day. 

  • Pret’s subscription costs £30 a month (up from £25 a month, a 20% rise in price), which gives you five barista made drinks per day - that’s 150 drinks a month, which includes coffees, teas and hot chocolate. 
  • But be aware of the small print, you can only go back once every 30 minutes for another drink, so you can’t use your subscription to treat colleagues or friends to free coffee.

How to get a free coffee at McDonalds

Buy five hot drinks and your sixth free one is on McDonalds using the McCafe loyalty scheme. While you don’t have as much choice with frothy coffees as some specialist coffee chains, you can still pick up a flat white, cappuccino or latte. 

To bag a free drink:

  • Download and use McCafe’s loyalty app (McDonalds has now stopped its ‘stickers’ loyalty scheme) to collect points every time you buy a hot drink. Your 6th drink is free.  
  • McCafe loyalty scheme is only for hot drinks – no milkshakes or cold drinks.
  • Your free hot drink is a regular-sized one.

How to get a free coffee at Greggs

Download the Greggs app and you can go in and get a free coffee, or any other hot drink simply for downloading the app. 

After that for every nine coffees you buy – your 10th one is free. 

You can also bag a free hot drink from Greggs once a week on the O2 Priority app if your mobile provider is O2. All you have to do is claim the offer on the O2 Priority app or website and show the QR code at the till. The deal is for a tea, coffee or hot chocolate any day of the week from 7am until closing time.  

How to get a free coffee at Caffe Nero

With Caffe Nero you need to buy nine hot drinks to get your 10th free. To get your free drink:

  • Download the Caffe Nero app or choose to have a paper stamp card if you prefer
  • You get one stamp per purchase, but two if you take your own cup
  • If you collect Nectar points, you can exchange 350 points to get a free hot or iced drink.  
  • And if you happen to buy  a ‘qualifying product’ with, you get the ‘Meerkat Meals’ deal; while it’s not a free coffee – you can save 25% on ‘barista made’ drinks at Nero as well as pastries twice a day every day of the week with this perk.
  • If you’re a Three customer, you can use the Three Plus rewards app and bag a coffee for £1 from Caffe Nero.  

How to get a free coffee at Starbucks

The Starbucks loyalty scheme is more complicated and not as good value as some of its rivals. You’ll need to pick up a card, which you then pre-load, in the store and register it to get going. Here’s how it works:

  • For every £1 you spend, you get 3 stars and once you’ve got 150 stars you’ll get a free drink. While prices in Starbucks can vary according to location, if you were paying £3 a coffee to get 3 stars, you’d need to spend around £50 on coffee – that’s 15 or more cups of coffee to reach the 150 points target and get a freebie.   
  • If you get to 450 stars – which is ‘gold’ level – you qualify for extras like another shot of espresso or syrups and whipped cream on your hot drinks. You can also get a free drink on your birthday at Gold level.

Kalpana Fitzpatrick, editor of The Money Edit, says: “The lure of free coffee here may sound great, but if you’re keeping money stored on a pre-loaded card, then remember, this is money that could be in your bank account earning interest instead.”

USE YOUR OWN CUP TO GET A FREE COFFEE - and save money… and the planet

As well as helping you stack up loyalty points, taking your own cup will save you money for each purchase - plus, it's good for the environment (and we’re all for that). 

Here’s what you can save:

  • Pret - get 50p off
  • Greggs - get 20p off
  • Starbucks - save 25p
  • Caffe Nero - double points
  • Costa - double points

You will however have to stump up the cost of a reusable coffee cup initially. If you purchased one for £20, you’ll have to buy around 40 cups of coffee at Pret to break even.

Sue Hayward

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound.  Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!