TPG Contributor Nick gives us the in and outs about the dining reservation program OpenTable and how you can rack up the points with this program. Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?
When it comes to points and miles, one of the easiest ways to maximize value is to take advantage of earning opportunities for things you already do. This can involve online purchases, investment accounts, paying your utilities, and, of course, dining out.
Although joining your airline or hotel of choice’s dining rewards network is a no brainer, of my other personal favorite ways to earn points on my restaurant dining is OpenTable, a program that rewards members for dining out at participating restaurants. TPG actually mentioned this in an earlier post on earning points when traveling for work, but this post will go into greater detail and provide suggestions for maximizing this particular program. And the great thing? There are many restaurants that allow you to earn miles through traditional mileage dining programs as well as OpenTable and the regular spend from putting the expense on a credit card, like the 2x points when you dine with Chase Sapphire Preferred. A perfect triple drop opportunity!
Joining OpenTable and Earning Points
OpenTable is a free website that allows users to make online reservations at over 25,000 restaurants around the world. The theory behind the program is that the points incentivize members to visit a restaurant and enjoy it so much that they will return multiple times. Unlike booking directly with a restaurant, each online reservation made through OpenTable will earn you points that can then be redeemed for future dining certificates. The “standard” reservation will earn 100 points, while certain restaurants will occasionally offer 1,000 points specials on certain tables at specific times. OpenTable has access to each restaurant’s real-time reservation system, so any tables booked online should immediately appear to the maître d’. Upon arrival at the restaurant, be sure to check-in with him/her so your account can be credited.
Signing up for the program only takes a few minutes. Simply visit the OpenTable site and enter your personal information including email address and phone number. As soon as you’ve signed up, you can begin making reservations online. From the homepage, select your location from the list of featured cities or by navigating to a specific state/country:
From there, select a specific neighborhood within that area by using the drop-down box:
Notice that you can also enter an address to pull up restaurants closest to your location or just search by name:
Then, simply enter the date and time you wish to dine, and a list of options will appear. The 1000-point tables (if any are available) will appear at the top, and a list of the “standard” reservations are below:
Notice that you can sort by neighborhood, type of cuisine, or price range, and you can also display the results on a map. This is especially useful if you search by an address, since the results page shows the closest restaurants first:
When you click on a time, it will take you to the confirmation page, which will include a spot for special requests, ideal for celebrating a special occasion:
It is worth noting that one of the restaurants I frequent with my wife has been terrific at honoring our special request for a specific table. OpenTable is thus not only a boon for point collectors but can offer valuable data points of repeat customers for restaurants. This particular establishment has an easy way of tracking my “loyalty” and can thus “reward” me by honoring a special request, offering me a valuable incentive to dine there more frequently.
Keep in mind that certain restaurants will not offer OpenTable points when you don’t sit in the main dining area. I experienced this at a Kona Grill in Omaha, Nebraska, several months ago. I had made a reservation through OpenTable, but when I checked in, I asked about sitting in the bar area for happy hour. I managed to grab a seat but then got an e-mail notifying me that Kona Grill had cancelled my reservation. Be sure to double-check when you arrive to ensure that sitting in the bar/patio area will not cancel your reservation.
Redeeming OpenTable Points
The points you accumulate can then be redeemed for gift certificates valid at any OpenTable location. Every 100 points equals $1 in future dining credit, and your points can be redeemed in three increments:
2000 points = $20 OpenTable Dining Check (or CAN$26 / £15)
5000 points = $50 OpenTable Dining Check (or CAN$65 / £37.50)
10,000 points = $100 OpenTable Dining Check (or CAN$130 / £75)
In order to redeem, simply log in to your account and click on “My Profile” at the top of the page. Underneath your name, you’ll see a link to “Redeem Points.”
Simply select your denomination (only the ones for which you have enough points will be active), confirm your shipping details, and you’re done. Checks normally take 2-3 weeks to arrive, so if you have plans to use them, make sure to order them well in advance. In addition, the checks need to be used within 6 months of their issue date, so once you’ve redeemed your points, be sure to use them as soon as possible. I personally would love to see them offer better redemption values as you redeem more points, but the standard “100 points = $1” ratio offers no incentive to build up massive point balances, so once you get them, you might as well spend them.
So, what are the best ways to maximize OpenTable? Here are a few tips to get the most out of these points:
1) Check to see if your favorite restaurants are on there. Some of my regular dining spots are on OpenTable, including Village Tavern, where I took my (now) wife on our first date back in college. Many of these have multiple locations around the country. While the OpenTable points won’t induce me to dine at these locations any more than I already do, it’s great to earn points for an everyday activity without having to do any extra work.
2) Look for 1,000-point tables. Every time you can find a table for 1000 points, you are basically getting $10 in future dining credits. If you can find a 1,000-point table for lunch and order two $10 sandwiches, that is a 50% return on your “investment.” Note that in the sample above, these tables typically require at least 2 diners, and both must order an entrée to qualify for the bonus points. I have been able to make a reservation for two and just end up dining myself and still get the points, but as with all things miles and points “your miles may vary”.
3) Download the iPhone/Droid/BlackBerry app. OpenTable.com is a great resource, but the various versions of the OpenTable app make it even easier to earn points. You still have access to the same inventory and restaurant catalog, but the app allows you to search near your current location. If you’re in New York City, for example, you can search for a table near your current location, narrow the search down to only show 1,000-point tables, and then choose the most convenient!
4) Use your Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the OpenTable website and the program’s various apps all promote the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. With double points at restaurants, the card is an ideal complement to the points earned at OpenTable locations, allowing cardholders to “double-dip” with OpenTable points and Ultimate Rewards points.
5) Find restaurants on both OpenTable and the various Dining Rewards Networks. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to create an account with the Dining Rewards Network for your preferred airline/hotel chain and register all of your credit cards. Then, when you make a reservation through OpenTable at one of these locations and pay with a registered card, you will essentially “triple-dip” with OpenTable points, the points/miles of the credit card, and the points/miles of the Dining Rewards Network partner. There isn’t an easy way to search for restaurants that are on both sites, so it’s up to you to manually find those locations. I generally find restaurants I want on OpenTable and then cross-check for them on SkyMiles Dining (yes, I am still a sucker for SkyPesos!).
6) Take advantage of Restaurant.com. Every once in a while, I will come across a restaurant on OpenTable, Dining Rewards Network, and Restaurant.com. In fact, I found two of these locations over the summer when visiting Jacksonville Beach, Florida, for a conference: North Beach Bistro and Ocean 60 (the former of which offers plenty of 1,000-point reservations). For these restaurants and others like them, consider purchasing a Restaurant.com gift certificate before dining to get a further discount on your meal. Unfortunately (per this FlyerTalk thread), it appears that the days of 80-90% discount codes at Restaurant.com are over, but the “regular-priced” certificates can still offer some good value. Just be aware that these certificates often include minimum spend requirements and many restaurants exclude certain days/meals, so be sure to read the fine print very carefully before committing to purchasing one.
One important thing to keep in mind: do not get in the habit of making reservations and then not showing up. I was visiting Portland once for work and made a reservation at an OpenTable restaurant. I completely forgot about it and got a “no-show” inquiry from the program, which included the following warning: “OpenTable accounts with excessive no-shows will be automatically deactivated.” They don’t provide a definition for “excessive” but I certainly wouldn’t push it. Canceling an existing reservation takes no time (especially with the app!), so be sure to do so when your plans change.
Overall, it’s not a program that will give you valuable airline miles or hotel points, but its a free way to rack up additional points and earn a percentage back of your spend. If you are going to dine out, you might as well be savvy about it!