Almost all the airlines (and a couple hotels) have dining programs that offer 3 miles or so per dollar spent (+ bonuses). All appears to be run by the same outfit – rewardsnetwork.com. I use them occasionally and so know which of our local restaurants are onboard with them.
Last night I ended up at one with a friend but didn’t have time to register a card in advance. So here are the tips:
- Sign up when there are bonuses available for doing so. E.g. a quick search for “delta dining sign up bonus” shows that Delta offers 1200 bonus miles on your first dine. Not unusual at all.
- Use a naming convention for the accounts, e.g. jdoeDL, jdoeAA, etc. It’s ok that you register them all with the same email address. Record accounts/passwords somewhere.
- A card can only be registered to one program. That said, since Amex issues different numbers for addt. card holders, your spouse could register with one airline while you register with another. You will still only get one bonus but this can occasionally be useful if you’re working together on an Amex SPG card for example.
- Don’t go for VIP status unless you really dine a lot at these places. Instead, hop around among programs and grab bonuses. Last night, I registered my Amex Prepaid (not a gift) card with my AA account where I earn 3 AA/$ and will get 300 bonus AA for each $100 spent. That’s 6 AA/$ in addition to my base earnings on the card.
- I’ve consistently registered a card AFTER the dine actually occurred but only a few hours later. Seems to work fine. I wouldn’t do it the next day though.
- When you register, grab a pen and write something like “JD AA DINE” on the signature strip where JD are your initials (to distinguish from your S.O.) since if you share a MC/Visa card, the same number is used and thus both you and they are registered.
- Almost all bonuses require you to fill out an easy survey within 30 days. Usually you can’t do this for 4-5 days because it takes that long before the dining site knows you dined. You do get a notification email when they pick up the visit though so it can be better if you use a real email rather than an unmonitored junk email address.
- Don’t forget that you can buy gift certificates too. Suppose the bonus requires $50 of spending and you aren’t likely to do that naturally. Instead of overspending to get there, just buy a gift certificate to bring the charge up and return at a later date. One warning though – restaurants fail regularly so buy the GC and use it. I’ve got one worthless $40 piece of paper sitting here after making that mistake. I keep it as a reminder.
- Oh, and by the way, there are no coupons, not need to talk to the server, nothing you need to say to the restaurant at all.
This is pretty small potatoes stuff in the big picture. Nonetheless, it adds up. With 8 travel partners (and a few others), assuming a low sign up bonus of 1000 bonus points each and a $30 minimum dine at 3 pts / $, one could pick up 17,440 miles/points this way. In reality, that estimate’s a bit low I think since I’ve seen sign up bonuses of 2000. I bet 25k is possible over time. That’s not insignificant but it’s not something that I actively work either.
One very good use of these dining bonuses is to grab a few extra miles to reach an award or to create some activity in an account that’s been dormant and might expire.