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How to Maximize Rewards and Discounts for Dining

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New offer: The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card is a great way to pad your IHG balance with 70,000 points after $2,000 spent within the first 3 months.

There’s more than one way to earn travel rewards, and in some cases, there are many ways to earn all at once. Today TPG Senior Points & Mile Correspondent Jason Steele discusses strategies for leaving your next meal out with more than leftovers.

Dining out is both a travel expense and a regular living expense for most people, so it’s perfect for earning both rewards and receiving discounts. While most restaurant coupons state that they can’t be combined with other discounts, there are several ways to double, triple, and even quadruple dip coupons with other reward programs.

Here are the four ways that I try to earn discounts and rewards every time I go out to eat:

Use OpenTable to make reservations, even when you don’t need them.

1. The reservation:

There are several competing companies that supply reservations for restaurants, but OpenTable is the only one I’m aware of that offers rewards to diners. The standard reward is just 100 points, which is worth $1, but there’s always a subset of restaurants that offer 1,000 points, worth $10. Before I go out, I try to make an OpenTable reservation, even if I plan to arrive in just a few minutes and I know the restaurant is unlikely to be busy. Just be sure to inform the staff each time that you have a reservation, so you get credit and aren’t seen as a no-show.

When your account reaches 2,000 points, you can request a $20 certificate be mailed to you. The certificate is a real check made out to any OpenTable restaurant, and in my experience they’ll accept these checks just like cash. This means you can use an OpenTable check as a method of payment, in combination with any other coupons or discounts, and even another OpenTable reservation.

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Restaurant.com and other coupon sites offer big discounts on dining.

2. The coupon:

I don’t normally clip coupons for things like 10 cents off of peanut butter, but restaurant coupons that are worth $20 or more are definitely worth my effort. Here are my favorite sources of coupons and discounts:

Restaurant.com offers dining certificates that can be very valuable. Each one offers a discount off of a certain amount of spending; the sweet spot for me is the certificates that offer $25 off tabs of $35 or more, but the $50 off tabs of $100 or more is great at more expensive establishments or for larger parties.

The standard price for these certificates is 40% of the face value, but the key to buying them is to get on the Restaurant.com email list, which offers discounts of 50% or more (so you’ll get certificates for 20% of the face value or less). Also keep in mind that unused certificates are easily exchanged.

GrouponI find that most Groupon users subscribe to the company email list and scan the deals in their inbox. I prefer to just browse the website for restaurant deals in my area. There are plenty of participating restaurants, and 40%-50% off seems to be the standard deal.

Living SocialLike Groupon, this site offers plenty of restaurant discounts of around 40%-50%, but typically at lower price points.

Amazon Local is another competitor of Groupon and Living Social that tends to offer at least 50% off.

Your favorite restaurant’s website. Before you go out to eat, check the restaurant’s website for coupons or specials. Another strategy is to have everyone in your household sign up for their newsletter, which offers regular specials and virtually guarantees a free meal offer on birthdays. Often these free meal deals can also be used a week or two before or after your birthday.

You can boost your rewards even more by purchasing discount coupons through an online shopping portal. For example, you can currently earn 15x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at Restaurant.com, or 5x Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent at Groupon. Check EVReward.com to see bonuses currently available at whichever site you prefer.

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Airlines and hotels offer sign-up bonuses and rewards through dining programs.

3. Dining programs.

Many of the major airline and hotel loyalty programs offer dining programs that allow members to register their credit cards in advance and earn bonus points or miles for charges at participating restaurants. The best part is that you don’t need to do anything to get the credit; you earn automatically even if you’re unaware that a restaurant is participating.

The typical offer is for up to five airline points and miles per dollar spent, or eight hotel points. Currently, United, US Airways, and American are offering 2,000 miles when you sign up and dine at a participating restaurant within 30 days. Southwest is offering a 300 point sign-up bonus, along with additional bonuses for writing reviews.

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4. Credit card programs and rewards.

There are several ways to earn rewards and other discounts using credit cards, which can come in addition to all of the offers listed above. First, many travel rewards credit cards offer additional spending bonuses for dining.

Chase Freedom: Chase has announced that the 5x bonus category for the third quarter of 2016 (July, August, September) will include up to $1,500 spent at restaurants.

Barclaycard ArrivalWhile the Arrival Plus card earns 2X miles per dollar spent on all purchases, the no-annual-fee Arrival card earns 2X miles per $1 on travel and dining specifically.

Citi ThankYou PreferredThis card now offers 2X points per $1 on dining, and those points can later be transferred to airline and hotel partners if you have the ThankYou Premier or Prestige.

Citi ThankYou PremierThis version of the Citi ThankYou card offers 3x points on dining, which can can be transferred to airline and hotel partners.

Citi Prestige: This premium card in the ThankYou Rewards program offers 2x points on dining.

Citi Expedia+ Voyager Card from CitiThis card, recently launched in September, offers 2x Expedia+ points for dining out.

Hilton HHonors Surpass from American Express: Offers 6x HHonors points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants.

Hyatt VisaEarn 2x Gold Passport points per dollar spent at restaurants.

IHG Rewards Club card from Chase: Offers 2x points at restaurants.

Marriott Rewards Premier: Earn 2x points per dollar at restaurants.

United MileagePlus Explorer card for Business: Offers 2x miles at restaurants.

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Some credit cards have unique programs to make dining more rewarding.

Credit card dining programs:

Apart from category spending bonuses, some credit cards have benefits that offer special dining discounts or privileges.

Citi recently announced the Citi Table initiative, which offers perks at select restaurants, such as complimentary appetizers, free valet parking, or a bottle of wine included with your meal when you pay with your Citi card. At the moment, this program is only offered in the Los Angeles area, although it’s expected to roll out to other cities later soon.

The MasterCard Priceless Cities program offers access to exclusive events as well as offers for free drinks or appetizers at select restaurants in New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and Hawaii, as well as other cities around the world.

The Visa Signature Program also has a handful of dining benefits, such as a complimentary glass of wine or a discount at select restaurants.

Gift Card Buying Strategies

Another way to increase dining rewards is to purchase restaurant gift cards wherever you can receive additional credit card bonuses. For example, you could earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points when you purchase restaurant gift cards with your Chase Ink Plus at office supply stores (or 5% cash back with your Amex SimplyCash Business card). You might also consider buying gift cards at supermarkets with an Amex EveryDay Preferred, which offers 3x Membership Rewards points at grocery stores, and a 50% bonus when cardholders complete 30 or more transactions in a single statement period (so you can earn as much as 4.5x Membership Rewards points).

Putting it all together

I’ve found that many restaurants participate in more than one of these programs at once. It’s entirely possible to book a 1,000 point reservation with OpenTable, and then use a coupon from Groupon, Living Social, or Restaurant.com (that you bought through a shopping portal) at an establishment that participates in an airline miles dining program. Of course, you can still use a credit card that earns bonus points for dining. In total, you’re earning points in four different ways and getting a discount.

What’s your strategy for maximizing rewards on dining?

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