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The Best Dining Rewards Programs

March 15, 2016
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
The Best Dining Rewards Programs
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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.

Usually, all you have to do to collect rewards is register any credit 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.

» Learn more: Best credit cards for dining out

Best general dining programs

Many dining rewards programs are linked to airline or hotel loyalty programs. If you’re not interested in travel or you want more flexibility with travel rewards, check out the following dining programs the next time you go out with friends or family.

iDine

In contrast to most of the dining programs we’ll cover, iDine’s rewards structure is based on how much you spend over a year, rather than whether you reach a certain status level. More specifically, you earn:

  • 5% back on spending less than $750 per year.
  • 10% back on spending $750 or more per year.

You must opt in for email notifications from iDine 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.

Upromise

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. 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 529 college savings plan.

While the rewards potential is less than what you’d receive through iDine, 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.

Orbitz Rewards Dining

If you like to travel but don’t want to restrict yourself to a single airline or hotel chain, Orbitz Rewards Dining 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 iDine. But it does make redemption on Orbitz easy.

Best airline dining programs

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:

SkyMiles Dining

If you fly Delta Air Lines often, SkyMiles Dining offers the best value. Here’s how the rewards tiers work:

  • Member: Earn 1 mile for every $2 spent if you choose not to receive promotional emails from SkyMiles Dining.
  • Select member: Earn 3 miles per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails.
  • VIP member: Earn 5 miles per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails and have 11 or more qualified dining transactions in a calendar year.

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.

MileagePlus Dining

As with SkyMiles Dining, United Airlines’ MileagePlus Dining offers three tiers of membership, and the faster you can scale the status ladder, the better:

  • Basic member: Earn 1 mile per $2 spent if you choose not to receive promotional emails from MileagePlus Dining.
  • Select member: Earn 3 miles per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails.
  • VIP member: Earn 5 miles per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails and have 11 or more qualified dining transactions in a calendar year.

AAdvantage Dining

For those looking to score more American Airlines AAdvantage miles, this dining program offers the same tiers as Delta’s and United’s programs:

  • Basic member: Earn 1 mile per $1 spent if you choose not to receive promotional emails from AAdvantage Dining.
  • Select member: Earn 3 miles per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails.
  • VIP member: Earn 5 miles per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails and have 11 or more qualified dining transactions in a calendar year.

Other airline dining programs

Delta, United and American aren’t the only airlines that have dining rewards programs. Here are some other airlines worth considering:

  • Alaska Airlines: Earn up to 5 miles per $1 spent.
  • JetBlue Airways: Earn up to 3 points per $1 spent at participating locations.
  • Southwest Airlines: Earn up to 2 points per $1 spent, plus 10 points per completed review. Also earn 500 bonus points when you earn 1,500 points through the program and an additional 300 bonus points with each subsequent 1,000-point increment.
  • Spirit Airlines: Earn up to 5 miles per $1 spent.

Best hotel dining programs

While many hotel loyalty programs give discounts at select restaurants, here are two that offer bonus points for eating out.

Hilton HHonors Dining

If you’re loyal to Hilton and its wide selection of brands, you can earn up to 8 points per $1 with its dining program:

  • Basic member: Earn 2 points per $1 spent if you choose not to receive promotional emails from Hilton HHonors Dining.
  • Select member: Earn 5 points per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails.
  • VIP member: Earn 8 points per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails and have 11 or more qualified dining transactions in a calendar year.

IHG Rewards Club Dining

Like Hilton’s dining program, IHG Rewards Club Dining — from InterContinental Hotels Group — offers up to 8 points per $1 spent:

  • Basic member: Earn 1 point per $1 spent if you choose not to receive promotional emails from IHG Rewards Club Dining.
  • Select member: Earn 5 points per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails.
  • VIP member: Earn 8 points per $1 if you choose to receive promotional emails and have 12 or more qualified dining transactions in a calendar year.

How to sign up

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 official AAdvantage Dining Rewards website 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.

How to maximize your dining rewards

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 Rewards Network, 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 card that offers bonus rewards on dining out. 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.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Dining out? Don’t leave credit card rewards on the table
Find the best travel credit card for you
AmEx Gold’s inconsistent dining rewards are frustrating foodies