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I love dining out, and I love it even more when it helps pad my loyalty accounts. Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen explains how to combine strategies and earn travel rewards up, down, and sideways for every dollar you spend at restaurants.
I often tell friends and family that my award travel
addiction hobby is like extreme couponing. I take every opportunity to earn points and miles (even if I have no immediate use for them), and I love stacking offers on top of one another to extend my earnings even further. This ability to “double-dip” is a big driver behind programs like Delta and Starwood Crossover Rewards, and online shopping portals like Ultimate Rewards Shopping or Ebates.
However, you don’t need to be satisfied with just double-dipping. There are times when you can earn rewards three, four, or even five ways from a single purchase by leveraging various loyalty and discount programs. One of my favorite ways to do this is at restaurants. TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele wrote about How to Maximize Rewards and Discounts for Dining last month; today I want to build on his work and show you how to combine those options with specific examples to help you cash in when you dine out.
Let’s start with a quick review of each component of the quadruple-dip process (though some of the restaurants listed below will actually let you quintuple dip). The first step is taken before you even arrive at the restaurant by making a reservation through OpenTable. I wrote a detailed overview of this program back in 2012, but basically it allows you to earn points for each reservation you make (and keep) at select restaurants. The standard earning rate is 100 points per reservation, though certain spots occasionally offer 1,000-point tables. You can redeem points for dining checks starting at 2,000 points (worth $20).
The second component is also a pre-dining activity: finding a discount coupon. Sites like Groupon and Living Social give you limited-time discounts, but my personal favorite is Restaurant.com. This site allows you to purchase dining certificates at a standard discount of 60%, so you would only pay $10 for $25 of “credit” for use at the restaurant, with the requirement that you spend a certain amount. However, there are frequently promotions that offer an even greater discount; this FlyerTalk thread is my go-to resource for these offers.
To boost your earnings even more, use an online shopping portal when purchasing these coupons. At the time of writing, Restaurant.com is offering 10 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent, Groupon is offering 6% cash back from Mr. Rebates, and Living Social is giving 9% cash back from Big Crumbs. Just beware that most of these coupons have restrictions, so read the fine print carefully.
Next, be sure to sign-up for a dining program ahead of time, as you will automatically earn points or miles with your designated program after making a qualifying purchase at a participating restaurant. Many programs offer sign-up bonuses (like 2,500 miles from Delta), and with enough activity you can earn up to 5 miles for every dollar spent. You’ll need to register your credit card(s) that you plan on using, and you can have up to 5 on your account.
The last step, naturally, is to pay for your dining (and/or coupons) with a credit card that earns a category bonus for restaurant spending. My go-to card for this purpose is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers double points when dining out. There are many others out there that offer bonuses on restaurant purchases, including:
- Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express: 6x per $1
- Citi Premier Card: 3x per $1
- Chase Hyatt Credit Card: 2x per $1
For others, check out this post from last fall.
Let me give you an example of this. Last November, my wife and I decided to visit Carmine’s Original Ocean Grill & Sushi Bar in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. We made a 100-point reservation on OpenTable, purchased a $50 Groupon for $25 (with 5% cash back from Ebates), and used my Chase Sapphire Preferred for the remaining balance ($38.14), for which I earned 190 Delta SkyMiles. If you’re keeping score, here’s a breakdown of my earnings:
- 100 OpenTable points = $1 toward future dining
- Groupon = $25 off
- Ebates = $1.25 cash back
- Dining rewards = $2.28 (190 SkyMiles at 1.2 cents apiece, per TPG’s most recent valuations)
- Ultimate Rewards = $1.60 (76 Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cents apiece)
Total bill = $88.14
My net cost = $57.01
Discount = 35.3%
Granted, you may not find yourself in South Florida anytime soon, so I found some options for several other cities around the country. Check these out for a quadruple-dip bonanza!
If your travels take you to the Windy City, check out Bread & Wine, a local bistro in a converted laundromat just north of Irving Park. The menu includes tantalizing small plates (like the crispy semolina gnocchi) and heartier large plates (like tagliatelle with duck confit, pumpkin, radicchio, sage, brown butter, madeira, and parmesan). Restaurant.com has $10 and $15 certificates available; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
The Mile-High city actually only has one restaurant that fits the bill: Bar Red, located on Colfax Avenue in downtown. With a variety of upscale Italian bar food, happy hour, and regular live music, the restaurant is a great spot to get out of the cold and wind of winter. Restaurant.com has $10, $15, and $25 certificates available; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
If you need a break from the Strip, consider a trip west to Osaka, with a diverse menu of sushi, hibachi, and other Japanese favorites. Numerous happy hour specials and lunch specials are also available. Restaurant.com has $15 certificates; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
For great Italian food right on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, stop by Marco’s Trattoria. Open for lunch and dinner (and with many happy hour deals), Marco’s serves traditional Italian fare in a contemporary neighborhood bistro atmosphere. The West Hollywood location naturally comes with celebrity sightings; past visitors include Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, Grey’s Anatomy actor Justin Chambers, and former Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda. Restaurant.com has $25 and $50 certificates available; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
If you’ll be visiting Miami to get out of the chilly Northern winter, consider a stop at Bolivar Restaurant & Lounge. With a diverse menu of South American fusion cuisine, contemporary decor, and a location right in South Beach, you’ll be sure to enjoy the quadruple-dip here. Restaurant.com has $10, $15, $25, and $50 certificates available; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
The Big Apple gives you plenty of dining options, and one unique spot that allows you to quadruple-dip is Oda House. Located in the East Village and serving authentic Georgian food, the restaurant was actually voted best Mediterranean cuisine in the 2014 OpenTable Diners’ Choice Awards (it also got a terrific write-up in the New York Times in August 2013). Restaurant.com has $15 and $25 certificates available; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
When you’re finished touring the sites in the City of Brotherly Love and a craving for sushi hits, check out Zento. Located on Chestnut Street just a few blocks east of Independence Hall, the two-story restaurant serves Japanese cuisine and premium sake to satisfy all taste buds. Restaurant.com has $10 and $25 gift certificates available; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
The city by the Bay is well-known as a foodie destination, and one location that fits the bill (and allows you to quadruple-dip) is Kombu Kitchen. Chef Kristen Thibeault serves unique dishes sourced from local farmers and suppliers. Unfortunately, Restaurant.com only has $100 gift certificates (with a $200 minimum purchase), but a group of four (or a ravenous party of two!) should have no problem hitting that amount; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
Like Denver, Seattle only has one quadruple-dip option: That’s Amore Italian Cafe. Described as a “hidden gem” by Seattle Magazine, the restaurant serves traditional Italian fare with breathtaking views of the city and sunsets over Elliott Bay. Be sure to try the Wild Boar Ragu, inspired by a the chef’s trip to Tuscany. Restaurant.com has $25 and $50 gift certificates; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
Our final stop is our nation’s capital and the Ethiopian restaurant Meskerem. Enjoy the unique spices of this African cuisine with dishes like Watt, FitFit, and Nitter kebbeh, all served with injera, the traditional Ethiopian bread. Restaurant.com has $10, $15, $25, $50, $75, and $100 gift certificates available; visit their OpenTable page for reservations.
Dining out isn’t going to earn you an international business class ticket nearly as quickly as big credit card sign-up bonuses, but every point and mile you earn counts! Remember too that many other cities likely have at least one quadruple-dip spot for you to visit, and there are numerous other restaurants that allow you to triple dip (I found over 170 on both OpenTable and the Dining Rewards Network in Manhattan alone), so even if you can’t visit one of the spots on this list, there are plenty of ways to stretch your earnings!
What are your favorite restaurants for a triple- or quadruple-dip? Please share your suggestions in the comments below, and let’s keep the list growing! With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.