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Maximizing Restaurant Spending With Dining Rewards Programs

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Dining Rewards Programs are often an overlooked strategy for maximizing points. Many people already have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card, which offer double points on dining, but often you can double-dip and easily earn more points simply by enrolling a program and paying with your registered card when dining.

The programs are pretty simple — register your card and you’ll earn points and miles when you eat at participating restaurants. Moreover, some programs offer a sign-up bonus to further bolster your account, and the earnings can be as high as 8 points per dollar spent (not including points you earn through other methods). Note that there are some variables in the program, such as which days are available to earn points, so be sure to check online if you want to guarantee your earnings.

Almost all of these programs have a similar structure (in fact, the same company seems to operate most of the services below). There are three tiers of membership, and reaching the top tier is relatively easy — sign-up to receive emails from the service and have 12 or more qualified transactions within a calendar year. To earn the sign-up bonus, you must also maintain status in the top tiers. Unless otherwise noted, this rule applies to all of the programs. To find restaurants that are members of the program, use the search tool to see what’s near you.

Airlines

American-featured

American: Members of the AAdvantage dining program can earn up to 5 miles per dollar spent at participating restaurants. You can also earn 1,000 miles as a sign-up bonus when you spend $30 in your first 30 days. Members of the lowest tier earn only 1 mile per $2.

Delta: Delta’s program is almost identical to American’s. You can earn up to 5 miles per dollar, though it offers 3,000 SkyMiles as a sign-up bonus. The requirements for the bonus are a bit different, however. Within the first 30 days, you earn 500 bonus miles for your visit to a participating restaurant, 1,000 for your second visit, and 1,500 for your third visit. However, if you’re a SkyMiles Medallion member, you can earn 1,000 on your first visit rather than 500, bumping your total bonus to 3,500 miles. Members of the lowest tier earn 1 mile per $2 spent.

UnitedUnited’s program is also the same as American’s and Delta’s with a potential of up to 5 miles per dollar. United also has a 3,000-mile sign-up bonus — you get 500 instantly for signing up and an additional 500 miles on your first five visits (up to 2,500 miles total) within the first 30 days. Lowest tier members earn 1 mile per $2 spent.

Alaska: Alaska also offers up to 5 points per dollar over three tiers, though the airline only has a sign-up bonus of 1,000 miles when you spend $30 within the first 30 days. Members of the lowest tier earn 1 mile per $2 spent.

JetBlueJetBlue’s program is a bit different than the other airlines — general TrueBlue members will earn 1 point per dollar spent, while Mosaics will get 2 points per dollar. There’s also no sign-up bonus.

SouthwestSouthwest’s program is similar to the others, although there’s only one tier of membership that yields 3 points per dollar. You can also earn an extra 10 points for submitting reviews. Southwest has a 750-point sign-up bonus for when you spend $25 in the first 30 days. Southwest also has two additional bonuses — one that awards 500 points when you’re dining points balance reaches 1,500 points, and another 300 points each time your balance reaches 1,000 thereafter (with no limit).

Hotels

Hilton New York Midtown exterior featured

Hilton: Hilton members can earn up to 8 HHonors Points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. The hotel chain also offers a 2,000-point sign-up bonus within the first 30 days. You earn 1,000 points on your first visit, and 500 on each of your two subsequent visits. Members of the lowest tier earn 2 points per dollar spent.

IHG: IHG allows members to earn up to 8 points per dollar spent and a 1,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $30 within the first 30 days. Members of the lowest tier earn 1 point per dollar spent.

Other Programs

OpenTable: OpenTable is a bit different than the other options. Most reservations made through the service typically award 100 Dining Points, although 1,000-point reservations are available at select restaurants. Dining Points can be redeemed for gift cards at participating restaurants as well as Amazon gift cards. 2,000 points is enough to redeem for a $20 Dining Rewards gift or a $10 Amazon gift card.

Bottom Line

Overall, dining rewards programs are a great way to passively earn points and miles for your rewards accounts. Combined with rewards credit cards that offer bonus earning on dining, you can earn quite a bit extra just by having the right strategy in place before spending. If you’re having trouble choosing which airline to assign your cards to, take a look at our monthly valuations to get a sense of what your points and miles are really worth. And remember, you can participate in more than one program simultaneously — you just need to register different cards with each one.

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  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
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Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
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