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Going to a restaurant is generally more expensive than cooking at home, but if you like to eat out, signing up for a dining rewards program can help make the extra expense worth your while. These programs offer cash back or bonus rewards with your favorite travel loyalty program.
Picking up takeout or getting delivery directly from your favorite restaurant? Good news, because those count too.
Even better news is that these dining rewards programs are easy to use. For the most part, you can “set it and forget it” and rack up extra rewards automatically when you eat out. Usually, all you have to do to collect rewards is register any credit or debit card with your dining rewards program of choice, then use that card to pay for a meal at one of the thousands of participating restaurants. In some cases, you can earn extra points by writing a review.
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Many dining rewards programs are linked directly to . If you’re not interested in travel or you want more flexibility to earn general , check out the following dining programs the next time you go out with friends or family.
In contrast to most of the dining programs we’ll cover, Neighborhood Nosh (formerly called iDine) has a rewards structure based on how much you spend over a year, rather than whether you reach a certain status level. More specifically, you earn:
You must opt in for email notifications from Neighborhood Nosh to qualify for these bonuses. You receive your rewards as an American Express gift card once your rewards balance reaches $20. The gift card includes all the rewards you receive through the end of the month in which your account reaches the minimum. You can then use the gift card wherever American Express is accepted.
If you’ve got your eye on future college expenses for your kids, the Upromise Dining Program can help pad your education savings.
Members earn a flat 2.5% cash back on every purchase at one of the program’s participating restaurants. Just link any debit or credit card you have to the program, and pay for your meal with that card.
The rewards are deposited into a Upromise account. Using the Upromise Mastercard at eligible restaurants bumps the cash back bonus up to 5%. Account holders can also earn an additional 15% bonus on all cash back every year when linking the card to an eligible .
While the rewards potential is less than what you’d receive through Neighborhood Nosh, keep in mind that many states offer tax benefits to those who contribute to a 529 plan. Plus, your contributions can be invested and used later for qualified education expenses.
If you like to travel but don’t want to restrict yourself to a single airline or hotel chain, is a good option. You’ll earn 5% in Orbucks per $1 spent at participating restaurants. You can then use your Orbucks to book part or all of your next trip.
Like Upromise, Orbitz Rewards Dining won’t give you the same potential return as Neighborhood Nosh. But it does make redemption on Orbitz easy.
Formerly eBates, Rakuten doesn’t just give cash back on retail shopping. It also has a dining rewards program, where you can earn 5% cash back when you use a linked credit card at participating restaurants.
You’ll have to go to the Rakuten app to see the dining offers in your area:
When you set up your Rakuten account, you have the option of earning either cash (1 cent per dollar spent) or (1 point per dollar spent). This is exciting news for travelers who can often get more than 1 cent per point in value for their AmEx points.
You won’t get your cash back (or Membership Rewards) right away; Rakuten sends payments only once per quarter. You’ll get a check in the mail if you choose cash back, or your Membership Rewards points will be deposited directly to American Express around the 15th of February, May, August and November.
Like Rakuten, Dosh is an app that offers cash back for both retail and dining purchases. Just link your credit or debit card in the app, and whenever you dine at a participating restaurant you’ll automatically get a percentage of your bill back. You’ll see the cash back appear in your Dosh account quickly once you pay for your meal with your linked card.
You can choose to get your cash back transferred into your bank account, your PayPal account or Venmo.
Airline dining programs frequently offer up to 5 miles per $1 spent; the value of each dining program is based on how you value its sponsor airline’s frequent flyer miles. If you live near an airline hub, that airline’s dining program is likely to be more valuable to you, because you’ll be more likely to use the miles. Here are the top three:
If you fly Delta Air Lines often, SkyMiles Dining offers the best value. Watch for for new members when you sign up for the program. SkyMiles Dining will regularly offer deals giving new members extra bonus miles when they join, dine and complete a survey. Here’s how the reward tiers work:
As you can see, being a bottom-tier member is hardly worth it. Becoming a select member is as easy as checking a box agreeing to receive emails from the program. If you eat out regularly, it won’t take too long to reach VIP member status either.
As with SkyMiles Dining, United Airlines’ MileagePlus Dining offers three tiers of membership, and the faster you can scale the status ladder, the better:
Watch for periodic special promotions to earn even more rewards when you dine.
For those looking to score more American Airlines AAdvantage miles, this dining program offers the same tiers as Delta’s and United’s programs:
Delta, United and American aren’t the only airlines that have dining rewards programs. Here are some other airlines worth considering:
While many hotel loyalty programs give discounts at select restaurants, here are two that offer bonus points for eating out:
If you’re loyal to and its wide selection of brands, you can earn up to 8 points per $1 with its dining program:
Like Hilton’s dining program, IHG Rewards Club Dining — from — offers up to 8 points per $1 spent:
Marriott is the newest hotel player to get into the dining game with their Eat Around Town program. It offers up to 6 points per $1 spent:
Once you’ve selected your dining rewards program of choice, you need to create an account and sign up. These dining programs are separate from any hotel or airline rewards program you may already be a part of, so you need to create a new account.
For example, you might already be an American Airlines AAdvantage member and earning points on flights, but you need to head to the to create a dining rewards account and register your credit card of choice to begin earning miles. This is true for all of the dining programs listed.
At this point, you may be wondering whether you can just sign up for all of the dining rewards programs and watch the rewards roll in — earning points in multiple programs for the same meal.
As exciting as that would be, it’s not an option. Most of these dining programs are administered by a company called , which doesn’t allow you to have your credit card number registered with two separate dining programs at the same time.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to maximize your rewards. Because Rewards Network lets you register any credit card with any of its dining programs, you can choose a . Here are some credit cards that offer big bonuses on dining:
Or you can use your airline or hotel loyalty program’s co-branded credit card, though they typically don’t offer anything more than 1 mile or point per $1 spent on dining.
All information about the and has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The , , and are no longer available through NerdWallet.
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