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Maximize Monday: The Best Ways to Earn Points on Dining

by on January 14, 2013 · 25 comments

in American Express, Chase, Citi, Credit Cards, US Bank

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It’s a well known fact that you don’t need to step onto a plane to earn miles and points. The credit cards you carry and what you use them to buy are just as important, if not more so, than how and where you travel. Making the most out of your everyday expenses is one of the best ways to maximize your points – and for a lot of people, eating out is an everyday expense. Whether you enjoy fine dining or fast food, there are four key ways both to save money and rack up points with dining.

Dining out can mean tons of bonus points depending on which credit card you have.

Dining out can mean tons of bonus points depending on which credit card you have.

1) Use the Right Credit Card
There are four key rewards credit cards that offer lucrative bonuses on dining spend:

Citi Forward Card / Forward for College Students: 5 points per dollar on dining, up to a total amount of 75,000 points earned per calendar year on all spend.  ThankYou points can be redeemed for 1 cent apiece or 1.33 if you have a ThankYou Premier card. No annual fee. Net rebate on dining: 5-6.65%.

Chase Sapphire Preferred: 2 points per dollar on dining with no limit. This card also has a 7% annual dividend on all points earned, which means a net haul of 2.14 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on dining. I value Ultimate Rewards points at around 2 cents each (they can be redeeemed for purchasing travel at 1.25 cents each, but I get more value from transferring to partners like United, Hyatt and Southwest). $95 annual fee, waived the first year. Net rebate on dining: ~4.2%, more or less depending how you value Ultimate Rewards points and their transfer partner redemption opportunities.

Chase Sapphire: 2 points per dollar on dining and if you have an Ink Bold or Ink Plus card, you can transfer those points to Ultimate Rewards transfer partners, thus valuing the points at 2 cents each. This is an option for people who don’t want to pay the $95 annual fee on the Sapphire Preferred and instead leverage the strengths of Ink Bold/Plus. Net rebate on dining: 2%-4%.

Capital One Sony Card MasterCard credit card: 3 points per dollar on restaurants. No annual fee. Points earned are Sony Rewards points, which can only be redeemed for items from the Sony Rewards Catalog at 1 cent per point. Net rebate on dining: 3%.

Amex Blue Sky Preferred: 2 points per dollar on US restaurants and you can redeem points for travel purchases at 1.3 cents per point. $75 annual fee. Net rebate on dining: 2.6%

Hyatt: 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants and you can redeem points at 1.9 cents each. $75 annual fee. Net rebate on dining: 3.8%

Marriott Rewards Premier: 2 points per dollar at restaurants. $85 annual fee, waived the first year. I liberally value Marriott points at .7 cents a piece, so this is only a ~1.4% net rebate on dining, though the card comes with an annual free night at a category 1-4 property, which can more than cover that fee.

Overall winner: I put most of my dining spend on the Sapphire Preferred because it doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees (and I travel internationally quite a bit) and the sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after $3,000 spent within 3 months is the most lucrative out of any of these cards. That ~$800 in value from the sign-up bonus will pay for the $95 annual fee many times over and in the meantime I’m earning 2.14 Ultimate Rewards points on not only dining, but also travel (airfare, hotels, taxis, parking, etc).

2013 bonus

Earn 1,500 bonus miles for your first dine when you join SkyMiles Dining.

2) Join the Right Dining Program
Even if you don’t have a credit card that gives you bonuses for dining (see below) you can still rack up miles and points for eating at hundreds of restaurants across North America. The main two dining programs are Rewards Network (stand-alone restaurants) and Thanks Again (mostly airport eateries). Both programs are free, so if you haven’t done so already, link all of your credit and debit cards to their programs so you automatically get miles and points for spending money at a participating venue. Here are links to the major ones: American, Alaska, Delta, Southwest, United, US Airways, Hilton, Priority Club and RBC Rewards

Restaurant.com

Through restaurant.com you can purchase gift cards to restaurants near you at a discounted rate.

3) Use Restaurant.com Discounted Gift Certificates
Restaurant.com sells gift certifcates to many restaurants, often at ridiculously cheap rates. So even though you won’t earn a dining bonus on a restaurant.com purchase (since it isn’t coded as a restaurant), you can click through a mileage portal to purchase your gift certificates and often at very lucrative earning ratios. The American AAdvantage shopping portal is currently offering 10 miles per dollar at restaurant.com. For example, you can purchase a $50 gift certificate for $20, earning 200 AAdvantage miles. The restrictions state that it can only be used on a purchase of $75 or more , so you can put the remaining balance on a dining bonus credit card to maximize both the discount and points/miles earned on the cash spend. Before you purchase a gift certificate, always check for discount codes – there are often codes for up to 80% off available – and also make sure that the terms of the gift certificate work for you- some are only good on Sunday-Thursday dines.
Opentable.com

4) Make Reservations on OpenTable.com
Open Table is a free restaurant reservation website that gives points for each reservation you make, up to 1,000 points per reservation. You can then redeem points for gift certficates: 2,000 points = $20 off a future dine. It is possible to combine a Rewards Network restaurant that allows restaurant.com gift certficates and reservations over Opentable – and any balances paid on a dining bonus credit card for a nice quadruple dip! For more on maximizing OpenTable.com, check out this post.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • TheOtherSobeBrian

    @TPG what about the Chase Hyatt card? You get 2pts per $1 for dinning as well. Do you value Hyatt points similar to Marriott? With the 6k room upgrades I would think they would be a little more valuable.

  • GoInk

    you shouldn’t use any of these cards if you have the Chase Ink Bold and then just pay for your meals with Visa Gift Cards you’d purchase at Office Depot…

  • Shingu

    If you have chase sapphire plus, you can transfer ultimate rewards to hyatt, 1:1. You’re better off using the sapphire.

  • Shingu

    Sapphire preferred*

  • Nick O

    Can’t you only link your card to one Rewards Network program at a time?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NQEEHDIWLRBMZJNAU6GKH4IYBU jvontai hanserd

    yes you can only link it to one at a time

  • James

    I know you can only link a card to one loyalty program at a time, but can you get all of the signup bonuses for each program and then switch, or do they only give you a signup bonus once? For example, can I sign up for AA, spend $40, get 1,000 points, then switch to United and do the same thing?

  • Mahjestics

    Interesting… So if I use my Amex Hilton Surpass card to buy a Visa Gift Card at a drugstore (Walgreens), then I’m earning 6 Hilton Honor points per $1 spent on dining, right?

    If so, which has more value? 6 Hilton Honor points vs. 2 Ultimate Rewards points?

  • Adelphos

    Amex Zync used to be a good dining card when
    1) You added the Restaurant pack for $25 and got double points for restaurant spending
    2) Earned full Membership Rewards points instead of Express by linking the card to another Amex Charge card (green, gold, platinum)

    Unfortunately, Zync caps the double points for Restautants to the first $5000 in spending, and Zync is no longer available.

    Nevertheless, I will keep using Zync (up to 5,000 in spending) on restaurants an likely will add a Sapphire Preferred this year

  • Elaine

    Thanks for this post. I especially appreciate the reminder about Open Table – I am a member but did not know or perhaps remember about the points. Thanks again.

  • H Wagner

    Hi, Just to let you know that the arriott Rewards Premier card comes with a free night at a catagory 1-5 hotel after you renew your membership.
    Also, Open Table does not always give you points for making reservations through them. There are many restaurants that welcome reservations made through Open Table but, do not give Open Table reward points.

  • Rob P

    Many of us do as GoInk suggests to get 5X UR points. 6 HH points roughly equals 3 UR points, though some will debate that.

  • David B

    I’m curious why you only value Marriott point at .7 cents. If you consider that as part of a travel package you can transfer up to 120,000 points to United or Southwest (same as Sapphire Preferred) So for 270,000 points, you can stay 7 nights in a category 5 hotel (probably worth at least $1,000), plus get two coach tickets from the US to Europe on United (worth another $2,000) or $2,000 of tickets on Southwest and a Companion Pass (Marriott transfers are companion pass eligible while Chase Ultimate Rewards Points are not) Thus, I would value the Marriott points nearly as much as the Ultimate Rewards points, especially if you are trying to obtain Companion Pass status. Here is a link to the travel packages: http://www.marriott.com/rewards/usepoints/morepack.mi

  • Mahjestics

    Cool. Thanks for the info!

  • jamarparris

    The Citi Fort

  • jamarparris

    The Citi Forward card does not have a 75K limit anymore as of September 1, 2012. It’s now unlimited. See here -> https://www.citicards.com/cards/wv/copy.do?screenID=2115

  • Rick

    I have used the gift cards from amex and visa to purchase dinner but when I checked the balance a few weeks later it didn’t show the tip to be added on. I feel the waitress is now being stiffed because they couldn’t add the tip on like a normal charge card. I refuse to use these at restaurants unless you put down a cash tip. Has anyone else had this problem, I feel terrible for the waiters.

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  • David

    Get 15% cash back from Restaurant.com purchases through ebates…Here is a link and they give you $5 with your first purchase to get you started. http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=i%2BMzfvG%2FCe3u6bWusAJZDg%3D%3D

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