If dining out is a regular activity that brings you joy, your wallet is probably already equipped with the best cashback credit cards that earn you competitive rewards on restaurant purchases. What some gourmands aren’t as familiar with, however, is the benefit of dining rewards programs.
Participating in a dining rewards program is an easy way to earn extra points that can be redeemed for travel and other purchases just for doing what you already love to do. Here’s how it works.
What are dining rewards programs?
Dining rewards programs let you earn more points by using a linked credit card for your dining purchases at participating restaurants. Enrolling in programs is free — just select your preferred dining rewards program and enter the credit card information of the card you’ll use for dining purchases.
Once your card is registered through the program, you can search for participating restaurants in your neighborhood or in the area you’re visiting. You can earn rewards on dine-in and carry-out purchases, including any dollars spent for tax and tip.
After your purchase, you might receive a survey to share feedback with the restaurant about your experience. Depending on the program you enroll in, the survey may be required in order to receive rewards.
Where to find dining rewards programs
Many travel providers, such as airlines and hotels, offer dining rewards programs that help you earn points for future flights, hotel stays, and more.
Airline dining rewards programs
Alaska Mileage Plan Dining: VIP members receive five miles per $1, Select members earn three miles per $1, and Basic members earn one mile for every $2 spent. Currently, new dining rewards members can earn 1,000 bonus miles for spending $30 within the first 30 days.
American Airlines AAdvantage Dining: The highest-tiered VIP members receive five miles per $1. Online members who opt into emails earn three miles per $1, while Basic members earn only one mile per $1 spent. American also offers a bonus of 1,000 miles for the first $25 spend at a restaurant within the first 30 days of opening the dining rewards program membership.
Delta SkyMiles Dining: VIP members earn five miles per $1, Online members who opt into emails earn three miles per $1, and Basic members earn one mile per $2.
It offers a tiered bonus of up to 3,000 miles. Within the first 30 days of your membership, you’ll earn 500 miles for spending $30 at the first participating restaurant; 1,000 miles for spending at least $30 at a second restaurant; and 1,500 miles after spending $30 at a third restaurant.
SkyMiles Medallion members can earn up to 3,500 miles thanks to a 1,000-mile bonus for spending $30 at the first restaurant.
JetBlue TrueBlue Dining: JetBlue’s dining rewards program doesn’t include a bonus offer. But earning rewards is simple, with dining members earning three points per $1 spent at participating restaurants.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining: Southwest offers a new-member bonus of 1,000 points after spending $25 within the first 30 days and completing an online review. Its dining program also gives members many bonus opportunities, such as a 300-point thank you bonus each time you accrue 1,000 points from dining.
Aside from earning rewards through bonus offers, members who opt into email notifications earn three points per $1. Those who choose not to sign up for emails only earn one point per $2 spent.
United MileagePlus Dining: United MileagePlus Dining VIP members earn five miles per $1, Select members earn three miles per $1, and Basic members earn one mile for every $2 spent at restaurants.
Its new-member bonus offers up to 2,500 miles. Getting the full bonus requires you to do the following within the first 30 days: 1) visit the first participating restaurant and spend $25 to earn 1,000 bonus miles, and 2) make three additional visits to a participating restaurant and spend $25 during each visit to earn 500 miles per visit.
Hotel dining rewards programs
Hilton Honors Dining: The Hilton Honors Dining program is offering a limited-time bonus of 1,000 points if you opt into receiving emails, spend $25 at a participating restaurant within the first 30 days, and complete a review.
Thereafter, as long as you remain opted into email notifications, you’ll earn five bonus points per $1 when you dine up to 10 times per year and eight bonus points per $1 when dining 11 or more times at a participating restaurant each year. If you decide not to receive emails, you’ll only earn two bonus points per dollar spent.
IHG Rewards Club Dining: The IHG new-member bonus offer is similar to Hilton’s program. Spend $30 at a participating restaurant within the first 30 days, complete the review after your visit, and opt into email notifications to earn 1,000 bonus points.
Earning rewards outside of the bonus is based on your membership tier: VIP members earn eight points per $1, Select members earn five points per $1, and Basic members earn one point per $1 spent.
Caesars Rewards Dining: The Caesars Rewards Dining program offers one reward credit per dollar spent at participating restaurants. Members who use their linked Caesars Rewards Visa Credit Card for eligible dining purchases can earn up to three credits per $1.
5 tips for getting the most out of dining rewards programs
If you’re considering getting one of the best rewards credit cards for dining, there are a few ways to ensure you’re maximizing your rewards across the board.
1. Take advantage of welcome bonuses
As noted above, most programs offer a welcome bonus for new members, which is a useful way to accelerate your rewards earnings. Many programs only require a minimum spend of $25 within the first month to be eligible for the bonus, making these opportunities worthwhile.
However, instead of diverting your efforts by signing up for multiple programs just for the welcome bonus, it could be more useful in the long run to stick to one or two select programs.
2. Opt into emails
Some programs require you to opt into email notifications in order to receive rewards — but not all do. Signing up for emails, however, is a great way to earn more miles. These emails may contain information about bonus offers available to you, as well as new participating restaurants you might already enjoy.
When you actually receive the emails, make sure to open them. Some programs automatically downgrade your membership status to Basic if you automatically delete or don’t open the emails.
3. Stack rewards with a travel credit card
To double-dip rewards, link a travel credit card with high rewards on dining purchases. Incorporating this strategy allows you to earn rewards through your credit card’s rewards program — and earn extra rewards through the dining program.
4. Reach VIP dining status
Based on the earnings breakdown mentioned earlier, VIP members usually earn the highest rewards per dollar. Read the fine print to see how you can meet certain thresholds to be eligible for more rewards as a VIP.
For example, the Delta SkyMiles Dining program bumps you up to VIP status after you’ve dined at a participating restaurant 11 times before the end of the year.
5. Enter your card details into the program
Dining programs use your linked credit cards to track eligible restaurant purchases and send any earned points to your account. Before dining out, make sure you’ve successfully linked your preferred credit card to your dining rewards program so you’re not missing out on rewards.
Joining a dining program lets you accumulate rewards in a fast and easy way. And with so many dining rewards programs offered by major airlines and hotels, there’s bound to be one that aligns with your travel needs.