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Hey! You’re reading an outdated Free First Class Next Month series. Check out the latest version published in April of 2015 here.

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.

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