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11 of the most generous airline and hotel dining rewards programs

Sept. 24, 2022
15 min read
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Dining rewards programs have been around for years, yet they continue to be overlooked as an easy way to generate extra points and miles.

I don’t know about you, but I’m spending too much time cooking, butchering recipes and then ordering takeout to sustain myself. Takeout is a convenient option, and it helps some of my favorite local restaurants get back on their feet after the trials of the coronavirus pandemic.

With so many dining rewards programs, you may be wondering which is the best. While that depends on your preferences, I’ve summarized each program and offered a ranking based on earn rate, first-dine bonus and value of points earned.

How do dining rewards programs work?

ANDREW KUNESH/THE POINTS GUY

All the major airline and hotel dining rewards programs are part of the same network, operated by the Rewards Network. All you have to do is sign up with one (or all) of these programs, register a debit or credit card and use it at participating restaurants. You’ll earn at least 0.5 points per dollar spent – more if you opt-in to receive email notifications and work your way up to elite status.

You’ll often earn a first-dine bonus and additional bonus point opportunities. The first-dine bonuses often require you to spend a certain amount within a specific period and submit a restaurant review. With all of these programs, you can achieve VIP status after 11 transactions within a calendar year. You’ll start earning more points and get access to a broader network of participating restaurants where you can earn points.

Participating restaurants include popular chains and independent eateries alike. You can find out what’s available in your area by visiting one of the dining program websites and entering your zip code into the location field.

Remember that while you can join all of the dining rewards programs listed below, you can’t register the same card with more than one program at a time. Additionally, your membership expires if you have no account activity for 36 months.

With that being said, let’s dive into each option and figure out which one offers the most rewards.

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Related: Can I earn points and miles from 2 dining rewards programs at the same time?

Airline dining rewards programs

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

When it comes to dining rewards programs, you’ll get the highest return on spending through airline-affiliated programs. That’s because airline miles are worth more than hotel points.

American AAdvantage Dining

  • Earn rate: 1-5 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent.
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $25 within 30 days.
  • Join here.

One great thing about the AAdvantage Dining portal is that it will help you earn American elite status. Every mile you earn on dining — sans first-dine bonuses — also counts as a Loyalty Point. This means each dine gets you a little bit closer to your desired elite status tier.

And the points are valuable too. TPG values AAdvantage miles at 1.77 cents each, so you’ll earn a return of 1.4-7% on your spending. That’s pretty solid, especially when you stack that with a card that earns bonus points on dining, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which earns 3 points per dollar at restaurants.

If you opt-in for email notifications, you’ll earn 3 miles per dollar spent. And if you complete 11 transactions in a calendar year, you’ll get upgraded to VIP status, earning 5 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to American AAdvantage Dining

Alaska Mileage Plan Dining

  • Earn rate: 0.5-5 miles per dollar spent.
  • First-dine bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus miles after you spend $30 within 30 days of joining and write a review within 30 days of your visit.
  • Join here.

Alaska miles are the most valuable airline currency based on TPG’s valuations. Part of that is because of the program’s sweet spots and generous stopover policy on one-way awards. The fact that Alaska has no transfer partnerships other than Marriott Bonvoy also contributes to this. Alaska miles aren’t as easy as easy to come by as other airline rewards, making the Alaska dining program a great option.

Members who opt-in to receive notifications earn 3 miles per dollar spent. Those who earn VIP status by completing 11 transactions will earn 5 miles per dollar, starting on the 12th visit.

While American’s dining program offers a higher earning rate for those who don’t want to opt-in for notifications, Alaska miles are valued higher. Plus, if you want to earn more Alaska miles, this is one of the few ways to do it outside of flying the airline, the MileagePlan shopping portal and a cobranded credit card.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to Alaska Mileage Plan Dining

Delta SkyMiles Dining

  • Earn rate: 0.5-5 miles per dollar spent.
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 bonus miles for regular members and up to 1,500 for Delta Medallion elites when you spend $30 or more in your first 30 days of joining and write a review of your dining experience.
  • Join here.

Delta’s dining program offers the most generous first-dine bonus of any airline, including an extra 500 miles for Delta elites. The program is also one of only three that offer second- and third-visit bonuses.

If you decide to go for these bonus miles, you’ll also get closer to VIP status, which requires 11 transactions per calendar year. At this level, you’ll start earning 5 miles per dollar spent. In the meantime, you can give your earning rate an easy bump to 3 miles per dollar by opting in to receive email notifications from SkyMiles Dining.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to Delta SkyMiles Dining

Free Spirit Dining

  • Earn rate: 0.5-5 miles per dollar spent.
  • First-dine bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus miles by spending $30 within 30 days of joining and completing a review.
  • Join here.

Spirit Airlines may not be the most popular carrier out there, but their low fares are pretty tough to beat. Free flights start at just 2,500 Spirit miles, so the first-dine bonus from Free Spirit Dining can go a long way.

Beyond that, you’ll earn 1 mile per $2 spent if you opt-out of email communications, or 3 miles per $1 if you don’t. That means about $500 worth of qualifying dining charges during your first year will get you enough miles for a free Spirit flight.

If you manage to hit 11 transactions, you’ll earn 5 miles per $1 as a VIP member. The Spirit Airlines dining program is worth considering with low redemption rates for free flights.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to Free Spirit Dining

JetBlue TrueBlue Dining

  • Earn rate: 3 points per dollar spent
  • First-dine bonus: None
  • Join here

JetBlue’s dining rewards program offers 3 points per $1 spent to all members. On the flip side, the program doesn’t currently offer a first-dine bonus or the ability to earn elite status. With TPG valuing JetBlue points at 1.3 cents each, your return on spending isn’t quite as high as with the legacy carriers (assuming you opt-in for notifications).

JetBlue points are also easy to earn, thanks to transfer partnerships with every major transferable points program. While I wouldn’t recommend JetBlue’s dining rewards program if you spend a limited amount at restaurants, it’s fine if you want to earn TrueBlue points without thinking about it.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to TrueBlue Dining

Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining

  • Earn rate: 0.5-3 Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent.
  • First-dine bonus: Earn 1,000 Rapid Rewards points after you spend $25 within 30 days and submit a review.
  • First step bonus: Earn 500 bonus points after earning your first 1,500 points from dining and reviews.
  • Thank you bonus: Earn 300 bonus points each time you earn 1,000 points from dining and reviews.
  • Review bonus: Earn 10 bonus points every time you submit a review after a qualifying visit.
  • Join here.

Southwest’s dining program is unique in that it offers additional points for every review you submit. While it’s only 10 bonus points, it certainly adds up. Members who opt-out of email communications earn 1 Rapid Reward point per $2 spent. Opting in gets you 3 points per $1, which is a solid return considering how cheap Southwest award flights can be.

Best of all, points earned through Rapid Rewards dining count toward the Southwest Companion Pass. That makes the Southwest Rapid Rewards dining program substantially more valuable and worth focusing on.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining

United MileagePlus Dining

  • Earn rate: 0.5-5 miles per dollar spent.
  • First-dine bonus: Earn 3,000 bonus miles as a regular MileagePlus member after spending $25 within 30 days of joining.
  • Join here.

MileagePlus Dining offers the best first-dine bonus, awarding 3,000 miles so long as you spend $25 and complete a review in your first 30 days of joining. Like Delta and American dining, you can earn VIP status and earn 5 miles per dollar once you've dined 11 times in a single calendar year.

Learn more: TPG's compete guide to United MileagePlus Dining

Hotel dining rewards programs

KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

While the earn rates are higher with hotel dining programs, you should keep in mind that TPG values these currencies lower than airline miles. I wouldn’t recommend earning hotel points over airline miles unless you need a way to top off your account for a high-value redemption or to keep your points from expiring.

Choice Eat & Earn

  • Earn rate: 5 Choice Privileges points per dollar at restaurants, 2 points per dollar when you order online.
  • Summer bonus:
  • Earn 50 points every time you dine and complete a review.
  • Earn 2,000 bonus points every five times you dine.
  • Earn an extra 3 points per dollar when you order online, for a total of 5 miles per dollar.
  • This promotion ends Sept. 30, 2022.

Choice Privileges' Eat & Earn program is one of the newest additions to the dining program space. You'll earn 5 points per dollar when you eat at restaurants and 2 points per dollar when you order delivery or takeout online. The program is also offering an interesting summer promotion that's outlined above.

TPG values Choice points at 0.6 cents apiece, so there is value to be had while the summer promotion is still active. Otherwise, you're likely better off earning with a program that awards more valuable points, like Marriott's dining program which is discussed later.

Hilton Honors Dining

  • Earn rate: 2-8 Hilton Honors points per dollar spent.
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 Hilton bonus points when you spend $25 on your first dine within 30 days of joining and complete a review.
  • Join here

TPG values Hilton points at just 0.6 cents each, so you won’t get a massive return on your Honors Dining rewards spending – even as a VIP member. Instead, I would recommend signing up for a higher-value dining program like Alaska MileagePlan Dining. Then register your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card or Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card to get the best of both worlds.

The Aspire card earns 7x points at U.S. restaurants, while the Surpass card earns 6x, along with extra perks if you met annual spending requirements. For Surpass cardholders, that translates to an annual free weekend night after spending $15,000 in a calendar year. Using the card at restaurants can help you get there faster.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to Hilton Honors Dining

IHG Dine & Earn

  • Earn rate: 1-8 IHG points per dollar spent
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 bonus points after $30 spent within 30 days of joining
  • Join here.

IHG’s dining rewards program doesn’t offer the best return on your spending, but that shouldn’t stop you from signing up for the first-dine bonus. It’s also worth noting that IHG points expire after 12 months of inactivity and rewards earned from the dining program can keep your account active.

Other than those two reasons, I wouldn’t recommend using the IHG Dine & Earn as your main program for maximizing restaurant spending. You’ll get a much higher rate of return through airline programs and Hilton Honors.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to IHG Dine & Earn

Marriott Eat Around Town

  • Earn rate: 4-6 Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent
  • First-dine bonus: Earn up to 6,000 Marriott Bonvoy points:
  • 1,000 bonus points the first time you spend $30 or more
  • 2,000 bonus points the second time you spend $30 or more
  • 3,000 bonus points the third time you spend $30 or more
  • Join here.

Marriott has no shortage of ways to earn Bonvoy points and Eat Around Town is one of them. It has one of the highest-value welcome bonuses, worth just over $50 based on TPG's Marriott valuation of 0.84 cents apiece.

You'll earn at least 4 points per dollar with Marriott Eat Around Town. Marriott elite members earn 6 points per dollar, while all others earn 4 points per dollar.

Learn more: TPG's complete guide to Marriott Eat Around Town

Which credit cards to use with dining rewards programs

Pair a dining program with a rewards-earning card to earn even more points. MATT DUTILE/GETT IMAGES

You can register as many cards as you want with these dining rewards programs. Ideally, you should focus on the ones offering bonus points on dining at restaurants.

The information for the Capital One Savor has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The Amex Gold Card is popular because it earns 4x points on dining at restaurants and comes with up to $120 in annual dining credits. While these apply to food delivery apps, you can also use them at popular chain restaurants like Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar, and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment is required.

The best card for dining rewards programs comes down to the currency you value most. I recommend earning with a transferable points card like the Amex Gold. This way, you won’t be tied down to one currency and will have flexibility when redeeming them.

Related: 10 restaurant loyalty programs that are worth joining

Bottom line

Dining rewards programs are a great way to earn extra points and miles with minimal effort. Between the first-dine bonus and ease of earning points, it makes sense to sign up and earn points passively. Remember to use a credit card that earns bonus points on dining and time your registration so that you’ll meet the spending requirement to earn the first-dine bonus.

Featured image by THOMAS BARWICK/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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