Free First Class Next Month: Keeping Miles Active with Dining Programs

This is the fifteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. 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. Previously Cancelling Cards.

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.

Not only will you get free miles for something you were doing anyway, but you’ll keep your valuable miles from expiring. Most loyalty programs have an expiration clause that says if you have no account activity for 12 or 18 months your miles disappear. But any activity resets the clock, so earning 30 miles from dining out could preserve 300,000.

Let’s go through the steps of enjoying 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 sign up for American’s dining program.

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.

American Airlines

Delta Airlines (Delta miles don’t expire and are worth less than all the others listed here in my opinion.)

Southwest Airlines

United Airlines

US Airways

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 the same 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 use 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 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.

Bonus

All the foregoing is based on my set-it-and-forget-it approach to dining programs. If you actually dine at participating restaurants frequently, you will get a far better deal by signing up for an iDine account.

iDine gives you 5% cash back on dines at participating restaurants. Spend $250 in a year, and that jumps to 10%. Spend $750, and it jumps to 15%.

iDine sign up

iDine FAQ

So which strategy is better for you: miles or cash back?

Start on the miles links at the top. If you find yourself getting a lot of miles from the dining programs though, that means you are better off switching to the cash. If you just see miles trickle in very infrequently, then you should stick with the miles programs.

Hat Tip to commenter greek2me on iDine

Continue to Shopping Portals.

9 Responses to Free First Class Next Month: Keeping Miles Active with Dining Programs

  1. thanks for the hat tip Scott. As you noted, if you frequent iDine participating restaurants then iDine 15% cash back crushes the miles versions of RN.

  2. Keep in mind, though, that once you get to the VIP level with any of the mileage versions, which comes after 12 dines and signing up for promo emails (which are pretty infrequent in my experience) , you start earning 5 miles per $. Then the value comparison is much closer with iDine. Let’s say you ended up with $1,000 of total spend, your blended iDine rebate would be 10%, or $100. At the VIP level, you would have received 5,000 miles. Of course, you would have needed to dine at least 12 times in the prior year to achieve VIP level, so iDine is more compelling in the first year. Definitely still worth considering the tradeoff though.

  3. I prefer to double/triple dip this one. First, if you dine 12x/yr at participating DR restaurants (even if your “dine” is purchasing a $3 coffee), you are elevated to 5x miles/$ earning level for the rest of the current year and all of the subsequent year. Next, search the list of dining rewards restaurants which you frequently visit anyway, and cross reference this list with gift cards available on restaurant.com. When restaurant.com runs a steeply discounted sale (~60% off), go through a cash/pts portal (20% cash back) to purchase a gift certificate for those specific restaurants. Added bonus if you can coordinate this certificate redemption during the Chase Freedom 5% quarterly promo for restaurants (Q2, 2013), and of course link your Chase Freedom acct to your dining rewards. Takes a lot of the bite out of eating out :-)

  4. my tips:
    1. Get the most tranasactions as possible. If you go to a burger place pay for the burger and shake seperate=more dines and quicker vip status

    2. Set one credit card per program even dead prepaid visa/amex cards will work out fine. Write all of it down so that you know which cards are associated with which programs

    3. Best time to sign up and get a new bonus is during amex small business saturday. Find a program which has a new member bonus(spend 25$ get 1k miles). Find a restaurant that is a small business and is also part of the reward network. Link your amex card to that program. Buy food or a gift certificate on small business staurday with this amex. Get the 25$ amex credit, plus the new member bonus credit.

  5. I see that the AA dine new account bonus is 1,000 miles and the Delta one is 1,500 miles. Which one is better in your opinion?

    Thanks
    Jon

    • Those are both worth about $18. I would choose whichever one you think you are more likely to redeem. For me, right now that would be AA, but your choice could be different.

  6. Pingback: The Complete Guide to Miles and Points Expiration | milevalue.com

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