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What Are the VIP Member Benefits of Airline Dining Programs?

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TPG reader Kevin sent me a message on Facebook to ask about dining programs:

“Dining programs list special benefits for VIP members, but don’t provide many details. Do you have examples of what extra perks one can expect?”

Airline and hotel dining programs are an easy way to boost your rewards for dining purchases. Once you sign up and register your credit card, you’ll earn points or miles for each dollar spent at participating restaurants. Many of these programs offer sign-up bonuses to new members, as well as “VIP” status when you meet certain requirements. However, as Kevin points out, little information is given about what being a VIP member really gets you.

The one clear benefit is that VIP status equals a higher earning rate. General members usually start off earning 1 mile per dollar (or worse — SkyMiles dining gives you just one mile for every two dollars). You can boost your earnings to 3 miles per dollar by becoming an Online Member, which requires providing a valid email address and electing to receive email communications.

You can earn bonus points for dining with VIP status.

Finally, you can become an Elite Member by completing a certain number of qualified transactions (usually 12 or more in a calendar year). Once you’ve done that, you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar spent, which is a pretty good return considering you also earn rewards from whichever credit card you use to pay your bill. Those rates aren’t consistent across all dining programs (for example, Hilton HHonors offers 2, 5 and 8 points per dollar at the three membership levels, respectively), but 1/3/5 miles per dollar is the default setup for most of the major airlines.

In addition to the higher earning rates, dining programs advertise elite perks like special VIP-only offers, exclusive advance communications and “more bonuses and benefits.” The VIP-only offers are much like the sign-up bonuses you can get for joining — you’ll earn bonus miles after you complete a certain number of qualified transactions. For example, you might get an offer for 3,000 bonus miles after three transactions of $25 or more at participating locations.

VIP offers also sometimes target a specific city or venue (e.g., earn 500 bonus miles when you dine at a newly added restaurant in your neighborhood). All of these bonuses are in addition to the points or miles you normally earn through the program, so again there are good opportunities there to pad your frequent flyer account.

Alaska Airlines is one of the few programs left that will match your status from another airline outright.
Once you have VIP status, you can earn up to 5 miles per dollar with dining programs from Alaska and other major airlines.

The exclusive advance communications are mostly just notifications about new restaurants joining the program in your area, or new bonus offers like the ones discussed above. VIP members supposedly get these notifications before other members, but that doesn’t amount to much. Finally, “more bonuses and benefits” just means you’ll receive promotional offers more frequently — there are no additional perks available to VIP members.

To summarize, the main benefits of VIP status are a higher earning rate and bonus offers. Rewards Network (the company that operates these dining programs) doesn’t offer discounts or other perks at participating restaurants, but I recommend signing up for the extra points and miles. For more on dining programs and how to maximize your spending at restaurants, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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