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Guide to dining rewards programs

Last Updated, October 28, 2020

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Whether you prefer to dine in or get takeout, restaurant purchases can be an easy way to boost the balance in your favorite airline or hotel rewards account. Many frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs offer dining rewards, and earning points is as simple as registering your credit or debit card and using it to pay at participating eateries.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about dining rewards programs as well as the highlights from some popular options.

BASICS OF HOTEL AND DINING REWARDS PROGRAMS

Since it's simple and free to join a dining rewards program, there really is no reason not to take advantage of this points-earning opportunity.

To earn points, first sign up for the corresponding hotel or airline loyalty program. For instance, if you're going to join the AAdvantage Dining℠ program, be sure to first sign up for AAdvantage, which is American Airline's frequent flyer program. Joining a hotel or airline loyalty program is free and can be done online.

Once you've signed up for the dining rewards program, link your credit or debit card. Then, every time you make a purchase at a participating restaurant, you will automatically receive points or miles. There is no need to save or submit receipts. Everything is done automatically.

The terms of dining rewards programs vary so be sure to read the fine print when signing up. Points and miles may never expire in some programs so long as your account is active while others may reset after a period of time. For instance, balances in the Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program will return to zero if you do not complete a dining transaction within 365 consecutive days.

Your entire account could also expire if left inactive. Generally, most programs will close an account that hasn't had any dining activity for 36 months.

HOW TO MAXIMIZE DINING REWARDS

You may be thinking you can maximize rewards by registering the same credit card for multiple programs. However, that won't work. Airline and hotel dining programs are all part of Rewards Network, which only allows a credit card to be linked to one program. If you plan to sign-up for multiple programs, you'll need a separate credit or debit card for each one.

Still, there are several ways to earn additional rewards. Most, but not all programs, award miles and points based on three membership levels:

  • Basic members are those who have opted out of email communications from the program.
  • Select members have opted into email communications from the program.
  • VIP members have opted into email communications from the program and have completed 11 qualified transactions within the calendar year.

What's more, many airline and hotel dining rewards programs have welcome offers that provide bonus points or miles to new members who spend a certain amount within a specified period of time.

Finally, using the right credit card can reap extra rewards. Airline and hotel loyalty programs typically have co-branded credit cards that offer their own dining bonuses. By combining the credit card rewards with the dining program rewards, you can maximize how many points or miles you receive with each purchase.

TOP DINING REWARDS PROGRAMS

While all dining rewards programs operate in a similar way, their details can vary. Here's a look at each one.

AAdvantage Dining℠

New member bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus miles by spending $25 within the first 30 days.

Offered by American Airlines, the AAdvantage Dining℠ program earns AAdvantage Miles. They are awarded in the following ways based on your membership level:

  • Basic: one mile per dollar spent
  • Select: three miles per dollar spent
  • VIP: five miles per dollar spent

To maximize rewards, link the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® to your account. It awards two miles per dollar spent on dining for a total of up to seven miles per dollar spent when combined with the AAdvantage Dining℠ program. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser.

Delta SkyMiles® Dining

New member bonus: New members earn bonus miles for making three purchases within 30 days of joining the program. An online review of each restaurant within 30 days of the visit is also required. Bonus miles are awarded as follows:

  • 500 bonus miles (1,000 miles for SkyMiles® Medallion members) for first purchase of $30 or more at a participating restaurant
  • 1,000 bonus miles for second purchase of $30 or more at a participating restaurant
  • 1,500 bonus miles for third purchase of $30 of more at a participating restaurant

Affiliated with Delta Air Lines, the SkyMiles® Dining program awards SkyMiles® to participants based on the following levels:

  • Basic: one mile per two dollars spent
  • Select: three miles per dollar spent
  • VIP: five miles per dollar spent

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is a good choice to link to this program. It offers two miles per dollar spent on restaurants, including takeout and delivery. That means you could earn as much as seven miles per dollar spent when combined with SkyMiles® Dining. American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

United MileagePlus℠ Dining

New member bonus: New members of United MileagePlus℠ Dining are eligible for the following bonuses for purchases made within 30 days of joining:

  • 1,000 bonus miles for spending $25 or more at a participating restaurant
  • 500 additional bonus miles on first visit for MileagePlus Premier members and/or MileagePlus cardholders
  • 500 bonus miles on next three subsequent visits in which $25 or more is spent at a participating restaurant

If you regularly fly on United Airlines, the United MileagePlus℠ Dining program can help you quickly earn miles that can be redeemed for travel. Miles are awarded based on the following membership levels:

  • Basic: one mile per two dollars spent
  • Select: three miles per dollar spent
  • VIP: five miles per dollar spent

The United℠ Explorer Card offers two miles per dollar spent at restaurants, making it a good choice to link to the United MileagePlus℠ Dining program. When paying with this card, you have the potential of earning as many as seven miles per dollar spent through the dining program.

Alaska Mileage Plan™ Dining

New member bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus miles by spending $30 and writing an online review within 30 days. Members must remain opted in to email communications to receive the bonus miles.

Alaska Airlines offers the Alaska Mileage Plan™ Dining program. It awards Mileage Plan miles based on the following membership levels:

  • Basic: one mile per two dollars spent
  • Select: three miles per dollar spent
  • VIP: three miles per dollar spent

While Alaska Airlines doesn't have a co-branded credit card that specifically offers dining rewards, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card does provide one mile per dollar spent on all purchases (and three points on Alaska Air purchases). That means you could receive up to six miles per dollar spent at participating restaurants if you link the card to the Alaska Mileage Plan™ Dining program.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining

New member bonus: There are two new member points earning opportunities through the Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining program:

  • 1,000 bonus points after spending $25 and writing an online review within 30 days
  • 500 bonus points after accruing your first 1,500 points from dining and completing online reviews

Southwest Airlines offers the Rapid Rewards Dining program which awards Rapid Rewards points for its loyalty program. Unlike other dining programs, points are not awarded based on basic, select and VIP memberships. Instead, the Rapid Rewards Dining program is structured as follows:

  • One point per two dollars spent for those who opt out of email communications
  • Three points per dollar spent for those who opt into email communications
  • 300 points for every 1,000 points earned from dining and completing online reviews
  • 10 points for each review completed within 30 days of a visit to a participating restaurant

To earn even more Rapid Rewards points, link this program to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card which offers two points per $1 spent on Southwest® and participating Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases, and one point for everything else. That means you can earn up to four points per dollar spent at participating restaurants through the dining program.

Hilton Honors Dining

New member bonus: Earn 5,000 bonus points by spending $25 and completing an online review within the first 30 days. Members must remain opted into email communications to receive the bonus.

As a hotel dining program, Hilton Honors Dining awards Hilton Honors points that can be redeemed for overnight stays and other rewards. Dining purchases earn points based on the following membership levels:

  • Basic: two points per dollar spent
  • Select: five points per dollar spent
  • VIP: eight points per dollar spent

Link a Hilton Honors American Express card to your Hilton Honors Dining account to get up to 15 points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card awards seven points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants. Meanwhile, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card earns cardholders six points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, and the Hilton Honors American Express Card earns five points per dollar spent on these purchases.

IHG® Rewards Club Dining

New member bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus points by spending $30 within the first 30 days of opening account and completing an online review within 30 days of visit.

With the IHG® Reward Club Dine & Earn program, you'll earn Rewards Club points that can be redeemed at hotel properties such as Kimpton, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. Points are awarded for eligible purchases based on the following membership levels:

  • Basic: one point per dollar spent
  • Select: five points per dollar spent
  • VIP: eight points per dollar spent

Pair this program with the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. It offers two points per dollar spent at restaurants, for a total of up to 10 points per dollar when used as a linked card in the IHG® Reward Club Dining program.

Eat Around Town by Marriott Bonvoy™

New member bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus points by spending $30 within the first 30 days of opening account and completing an online review.

Eat Around Town by Marriott Bonvoy™ awards points for the Bonvoy loyalty program. The number of points you earn depends on your elite status with Marriott Bonvoy and the card you use to pay. Your points will be awarded in one of the following ways:

  • Four points per dollar spent for Marriott Bonvoy members
  • Six points per dollar spent for Marriott Bonvoy elite members
  • Six points per dollar spent for those registering a Marriott Bonvoy co-branded card

Those using a co-branded credit card get six points per dollar spent plus whatever rewards normally come with the credit card. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card awards three points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants. That means cardholders can receive as many as nine points per dollar spent at participating restaurants if they register their card for the Eat Around Town program.

DO I HAVE TO LINK A CO-BRANDED CREDIT CARD WITH A DINING REWARDS PROGRAM?

While linking a co-branded credit card with a parent dining rewards program is a great way to quickly rack up rewards with that particular brand, you do not have to use a co-branded credit card in order to earn rewards. You can use any debit card or credit card, even a credit card that doesn't earn bonus rewards on dining purchases; however, a credit card that earns rewards on dining will be your best bet for accumulating rewards quickly.

Take the Chase Freedom Flex℠ for example. It isn't a co-branded card, but it offers 3% cash back on restaurant purchases, plus bonus rewards on a number of other categories, making it a great everyday card. Say you pair it with the AAdvantage Dining℠ program and dine at an eligible restaurant: you'll earn 3% cash back to your Chase account, plus up to five miles per dollar spent in your AAdvantage account. You're still earning the same amount of rewards as you would with a co-branded card, but the rewards are just divided up differently. See our best cards for dining out for more great options.

A card that doesn't earn bonus rewards on restaurant purchases is worth linking too, because most of the time, even these cards earn 1% back on non-bonus spend. The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express card, for example, is a great choice for those who eat at home more than dining out, with 3% cash back earned on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $6,000 spent annually, then 1%), and 1% earned in non-bonus categories. By pairing this card with a dining rewards program though, suddenly it becomes useful for both eating at home as well as in a restaurant. Pair it with Delta SkyMiles® Dining for example and earn 1% back to your credit card account when you dine out, and up to five miles per dollar spent to your Delta SkyMiles® account.

Remember, these programs are free to join, and earning rewards is automatic as long as your account is active and you dine at a participating restaurant. If you're looking for an easy way to boost your credit card rewards strategy, a dining rewards program is a tasty way to do so.

To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (See Rates and Fees); Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (See Rates and Fees); Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (See Rates and Fees); Hilton Honors American Express Card (See Rates and Fees); Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (See Rates and Fees); Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees)

Disclaimer: The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

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