- Basic members earn 1 American Airlines AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent if you elect to not receive email communication from AAdvantage DiningSM.
- Select members earn 3 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent if you elect to receive email communication from AAdvantage DiningSM.
- VIP members earn 5 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent if you elect to receive email communication from AAdvantage DiningSM AND have already completed 11 qualified transactions in the calendar year. (Members start earning at the VIP level on their 12th qualified transaction.)
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Dining programs are a great way to earn extra points and miles every time you eat out. Unlike many of the most lucrative ways to earn points, dining rewards programs require almost no effort. Just pick a program, register the rewards card you use to pay at restaurants, and watch the points pile up.
While this strategy isn’t likely to make up a huge percentage of the points you earn, a family that spends around $500 per month at restaurants could easily earn enough rewards for a domestic one-way or even a round trip with a clever redemption. Here’s our complete guide to top dining rewards programs.
How do Dining Programs Work?
Dining programs earn a commission from participating restaurants when they refer customers, and they rebate a portion of their revenue back to members in the form of points or miles. With most of the programs listed in this guide, spending is tracked when a credit card that has been registered with the program is used to pay at a restaurant in the network.
This makes dining programs among the easiest ways to earn extra points because you don’t need to keep track of anything. Just register your rewards card, and you’ll get extra points with every meal. The restaurants are hoping you will choose them over a competitor when you see they participate in a rewards program. But even if you don’t plan your meals around the rewards, you’ll still pick up extra points automatically if you patronize a restaurant in the network.
American Airlines has its own dedicated dining program, AA Rewards Network, which has plenty of participating restaurants. What you earn depends on your level of membership. As of July 24, 2019, the three levels are Basic member, Select member, and VIP member:
Alaska's Mileage Plan Rewards Network normally comes with a 1,000-mile signup bonus. Similar to AA's program, it has three membership levels where you'll earn at different rates. Those are also Basic member, Select member, and VIP member. They earn as follows:
- Basic member – You have not provided Mileage Plan Dining with a valid, deliverable email address and/or marketing permission, so you will earn one mile per too dollars spent
- Select member – You elect to receive emails from the Mileage Plan Dining program and provide a valid, deliverable email address, so you will earn three miles per dollar spent
- VIP member – You elect to receive emails from the Mileage Plan Dining program and provide a valid, deliverable email address. Plus, you have already completed 11 qualified transactions in the calendar year (Members start earning at the VIP level on their 12th qualified transaction.). Five miles per dollar spent
Needless to say, Delta Airlines also has its own dining program, the SkyMiles Rewards Network. The program also has three membership levels. As of July 24, 2018, the rate you earn depends on your membership level:
- Members earn one mile per two dollars spent if choosing not to receive email communication from SkyMiles Dining.
- Select Members earn three miles per one dollar spent if you choose to receive email communication from SkyMiles Dining.
- VIP Members earn five miles per one dollar spent if you choose to receive email communication from SkyMiles Dining AND have already completed 11 qualified transactions in the calendar year (Members start earning at the VIP level on their 12th qualified transaction).
JetBlue’s TrueBlue dining program is simpler than the previous three, in that it does not have membership levels. The JetBlue program offers just ONE level of earning effective 8/1/2018:
- Members earn three TrueBlue points for every dollar spent at a participating location.
Southwest’s Rapid Rewards dining is an excellent program from Southwest Airlines. Members earn points depending on which option they choose:
- Share your email and sign up for notifications and earn three points per dollar spent
- Opt-out of sharing your email and you will earn one point per two dollars spent
The United Airlines MileagePlus Dining is very similar in structure to Delta's Skymiles Dining. United Airlines has three levels with different earning rates depending on what information you are willing to share and how frequently you use the program:
- Basic member – member has not provided a valid, deliverable email address and/or marketing permission. Earns one MileagePlus award mile per two dollars spent
- Select member – member has elected to receive emails from MileagePlus Dining and provide MileagePlus Dining with a valid, deliverable email address. Earns three MileagePlus award miles per dollar spent
- VIP member – member elected to receive emails from MileagePlus Dining as well as provided a valid, deliverable email address. Plus, has already completed 11 qualified transactions* in the calendar year (Members start earning at the VIP level on their 12th qualified transaction). Will earn five MileagePlus award miles per dollar spent
Not to be outdone by its competitors, Spirit Airlines has its own program: Free Spirit Dining. The program is very similar to other airlines’ programs; there are three earning levels, which are determined by your use and how much information you share:
- Members do not need to share their email or any other information and will earn one mile per two dollars spent
- Online members need to share their email and opt to receive emails from Free Spirit Dining and will earn three miles per dollar spent
- VIP members are online members with 12 or more qualifying transactions and will earn five miles per dollar spent
Hawaiian Airlines does not have its own unique dining program. Instead, they have created a “Marketplace,” which is a collection of retailers (including restaurants). Here is the alphabetical directory of Hawaiian partners that earn extra miles. While not every restaurant listed returns the exact same amount of miles, the majority of them seem to return 2.5 miles per dollar spent with no requirements or restrictions. Furthermore, this program may be able to be stacked, given there doesn't appear to be any ties to Rewards Network.
We covered the Marriott dining program in more detail in our post: Earn 8x Points from Marriott Bonvoy with the Eat Around Town Promotion. However, the basics are as follows:
- Effective 11/12/19, Marriott Convoy members will receive four Marriott Convoy Points for each eligible U.S. dollar spent.
- Any member holding Elite status (Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium, or Ambassador) will earn 6X points (50% percent more) after November 12.
Acting more like the airline award programs, the Honors Dining program offers varying levels of rewards depending on your interaction level:
- Earn two bonus points per one dollar when you don't opt-in for email notifications.
- You can earn five bonus points per dollar when you dine 10 or fewer times a year, and opt-in for email notifications from Hilton Honors Dining.
- Earn eight bonus points per dollar when you dine 11 or more times in a year, and opt-in for email notifications from Hilton Honors Dining.
The Caesars Rewards Dining program varies from the others, since it has two levels based on whether you are a credit-card holder or not:
- Earn one Reward Credit for every one dollar you spend at participating restaurants.
- Register your Caesars Rewards Visa® card and earn 3X Reward Credits at Caesars Rewards Dining locations.
Online Travel Agency
After you've joined this rewards program, you'll find the earning structure fairly simple. There are no complicated earning tiers in Orbitz Rewards Dining. Pick one of the 11,000+ restaurants in the network, and you'll earn 5% cash back.
Shell Fuel Rewards
If you aren't already saving in one of the other programs and are still paying for fuel, Shell Fuel Rewards is another alternative. Earn a 10 cent-per-gallon discount (on up to 20 gallons) for every $50 spent dining out. You can add to your earnings by linking your one of the top cards for spending at restaurants, such as the Citi Prestige® Card (5X), American Express® Gold Card (4X), or Chase Sapphire Reserve® (3X). Since Shell limits fill-up discounts to 20 gallons, that's two dollars (four percent) for every $50 spent. You can earn 50% more rewards (three dollars or six percent) when earning Gold status. Additional Terms & Conditions apply:
- Dine at our participating restaurants and pay with a linked Mastercard®, Visa® or American Express® card.
- Earn 10¢/gal for every $50 you spend across all participating restaurants, bars and clubs.
- Rewards earned while dining out will post to your account within 10 days.
- In order to earn Fuel Rewards savings while dining out, be sure to opt in* to receive emails about our participating restaurants.
- The Dining program is powered by Rewards Network®.
Located within the Dosh App, you can earn cash rewards on dining purchases. Once you've loaded the cards you intend to spend on, the earning structure is very simple. Pick a restaurant listed on the map, and you'll earn a percentage back in cash. There is no fixed amount, but a quick survey will show that most restaurants range between three and five percent. Even though this is part of Rewards Network, some have suggested this will stack with other airline dining programs.
One of the more exciting events of 2019 was Rakuten's (formerly Ebates) new partnership with American Express Membership Rewards program. While Rakuten is typically known as a cashback portal, this new partnership allows members to earn Amex points instead of cashback—as long as they have a Membership Rewards earning card. We've covered the Amex option in more detail in our post: Rakuten Adds Option to Earn Membership Rewards for Existing Users.
The example above shows that almost 55,000 points were earned. That could have been $550 in cash! However, the idea is to get better value for your travels. A Delta One business-class flight to Europe booked with Virgin Atlantic is just 50,000 points one way. Personally, I've never redeemed Membership Rewards points for less than three cents each, so while you might redeem these for cash, $1,700+ in travel sounds more appealing to me!
While Rewards Network lists many other programs such as Visa, Acorns, Upromise, and ShopYourWay, some of these are difficult to locate or may not be worth chasing when compared to many of the options listed above.
For most travelers, the ideal strategy is to pick one or two programs and let the points earning work on autopilot. If you truly want to maximize, it could make sense to keep an eye out for signup bonuses and create each new account when there are extra points for joining and meeting a modest spending requirement. It's worth noting that Rewards Network manages the dining programs for many of the airlines and hotels. You can't register the same credit card for more than one dining program at a time, so it isn't possible to just add your card to all the programs and stack your earning.
Since points and miles from dining aren't likely to add up to a round-the-world trip, it makes sense to focus your earning on a program you know well and use often. However, points from dining can also be a useful tool to stop your miles from expiring. If you have a significant balance to protect and don't generate account activity from flying or credit-card spending, you may be able to reset your expiration date with points from dining.
If you plan to set up an account with one or more of these dining programs, be sure to review our post on the best rewards cards for restaurants and dining. You can earn 4-5X points with every dining purchase just by paying with the right card. Register that card with a dining program, and your next trip will be in reach before you know it.
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