Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from March 2013 can be found here.
This is the thirteenth post in a monthlong series. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.
Dining programs are the set-it-and-forget-it of the miles world. Sign up all your credit cards for a dining program and go about your daily routine. Eventually you’ll probably eat at a restaurant that participates in the dining program, and you’ll notice a small mileage credit to your applicable account. Let’s go through the steps of exploiting dining programs.
First sign up all your cards with a dining program. The two best reasons to choose a particular program are that you have miles that are about to expire in a particular program or you value one airline’s miles the highest.
If you have miles that are about to expire from inactivity in, say, your American Airlines account, you should probably sign up for American’s dining program. The reason is that any activity in your mileage account restarts the expiration clock, so a few miles from dining out could preserve all your miles.
If mile expiration is not a concern for you, just sign up for the program whose miles you value the highest. Below I’ve linked to the dining program of the five US-based frequent flier programs I told you to sign up for in Post 2.
If you click multiple links, you will notice that all five programs are run by the same company, Rewards Network. Unfortunately this means you can’t sign up the same card multiple times and get a bonus in every program for the same dine. If you sign up your card again and again, Rewards Network will only credit the bonus miles from your dine to the most recent account you linked to your card.
Once you’ve signed up, you can take a look at participating restaurants. I don’t do that because I don’t want to be influenced by an extra 3 miles per dollar for dining, which is only about a 5% rebate. I prefer to exploit the dining programs passively by simply being pleasantly surprised when a few bonus miles post from the program.
Link all your cards. Now every time you go to a participating restaurant or bar, no matter which card
‘s bonus you’re clearing you’re using, you’ll get your 3 miles per dollar bonus.
That’s all there is to dining programs. Set it and forget it. Link all your cards to one program and see a few extra miles trickle in here and there.
Tomorrow marks a shift in Free First Class Next Month. So far, we’ve been talking almost exclusively about how to earn miles with credit cards. Tomorrow I’ll start to talk about traveling cheaply with cash, showing my tricks for finding cheap flights and hotels. Still to come, I’ll be telling you how to redeem your miles in every program and how to earn miles from sources other than credit cards.