Dining for Miles: Eat Your Way to a Trip

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Chocolate and Peanut Butter. Hall and Oates. Scylla and Charybdis. Certain things are just that much better when they go together.

Such is the case with miles and restaurants. True, you can always earn points by paying for a meal with your credit card, but many people, beginners and experts alike, do not realize that there is a second way to pick up points when you dine out: Join a dining rewards program. It’s easy and, more importantly, it’s free.

HOW IT WORKS

The restaurant schemes are simple: You go to website of the program from which you want to earn currency (or use one of the links at the bottom). Sign up using the link and enter the number of the card you wish to use. Whenever you eat at a participating restaurant and use that card, you’ll earn miles or points based on your spend. Many of the partners also have VIP options, which give you extra points for opting in to get emails or visiting restaurants a certain number of times per year. Each partner will list how much you will earn per visit. For example, at American Airlines, you’ll earn anywhere between 0.5 and 5 miles per dollar spent.

Even their dining program offers elite status.
Even their dining program offers elite status.

The points program is offered by the company Rewards Network (RN), which also operates as iDine (which simply offers cash back) and was formerly known as Transmedia. Most of the affiliates are small, independent restaurants that are having trouble getting funding. RN gives them cash up front to purchase a certain amount of food credit at a discount. When you use your enrolled card there, a portion of the bill goes to pay back that loan. For instance, a restaurant might receive $80 and be on the hook for $100 in food to RN (I have no idea what the actual percentages are.). The company uses the $20 spread to purchase points from loyalty affiliates and keeps the difference as profit. I pulled up the restaurants near me by zip code and had 27 restaurants within three miles, many of which I already go to. In other words, the miles require no extra effort from me.

WHAT TO WATCH

Be careful of days of the week. While most restaurants offer benefits every day of the week, some of them are weekdays only or have limits on how much you can earn. The website will give you all of the details on who offers points when.

Plaza Azteca is hopping on the weekends. No points for you!
Plaza Azteca is hopping on the weekends. No points for you!

After you dine, you need to fill out a survey. RN says that it is because they want consumers to be able to share experiences and let the restaurant know how they did. It’s not really for your benefit, though, it’s for the restaurant’s. One of the reasons that restaurants partner with RN is to get marketing exposure. Thus, a customer who would have come anyway does them no good. The survey is an extra “check,” which allows them to know who went because of RN and who would have gone, anyway. You’ll get a link for the survey emailed to you, so keep an eye out for it.

There’s a “one per person” limit. In other words, you can only sign up one loyalty program per credit card. If you sign up a second, it will delete the first. So if you want to get miles/points for more than one credit card, be sure to sign up with different cards.

There are always sign-up bonuses for the various programs. Make sure you take advantage of them, and enjoy dining for miles!

LINKS

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This is what’s available.

There are a number of airlines, hotels and other programs that associate with Rewards Network. Here are the links to many of them:

Alaska Airlines
American Airlines
Delta Airlines
JetBlue
Southwest
Spirit Airlines
United

Hilton
Intercontinental

 

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