Bet You Didn’t Know: Dining bonuses without expensive dining checks

By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate

 

Frequent Miler readers are likely familiar with the Rewards Network dining programs, which allow you to earn airline or hotel miles when you dine out at certain restaurants. These programs used to be significantly more lucrative than they are today, but it’s still useful to make sure all your credit cards are stored in at least one of these programs. That way you’ll be pleasantly surprised when a dozen extra miles pop up in your account once in a while.

However, the one way you can still pick up some significant miles in these dining programs are with the sign up bonuses. While the frequency varies, there are routine signup bonuses of 500-3,000 miles for each program. For instance, as of this writing, the Delta program is offering 2,500 Skymiles for your first dine, while American, US Airways, and United are at 2,000 miles each.

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However, the issue with the signup bonuses is that once you officially sign up, you only have 30 days to complete your first dine, which must total at least $30 in a single transaction (this is sometimes $25-$40 depending on the terms of the sign up bonus). That’s not an enormous amount to spend at a restaurant, but it’s not fast food money either. Also, since the list of eligible restaurants is limited, you have to plan ahead to have a substantial meal at a specific restaurant before you run out of time.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally schedule my restaurant outings 30 days in advance. Sure, on occasion I’ll plan a meal ahead of time with a group of friends, but more often our process of choosing a restaurant commences roughly 20 minutes before eating, usually with someone in the group asking “so… where do you guys want to eat?” If I informed my friends I was going to consult the Dining Rewards Network website before answering that question, I probably wouldn’t keep my friends too long. At the very least, they’d stop dining with me.

But here’s a simple trick you can use to pick up a few dining bonuses at your favorite restaurant while spreading that $30 requirement out into several small meals.

The answer is gift cards, but…

The Rewards Network never receives an itemized listing of your meal. Rather, the system tracks your credit card usage and flags when it sees a charge at a restaurant on its list. As long as the charge covers the minimum amount required for the sign up bonus, you’ll get the bonus miles.

Therefore, the key is to find restaurants on the Rewards Network lists that carry gift cards. Of course, the problem is that Rewards Network restaurants are often local establishments and your favorite neighborhood dive bar “Angry Hogs” might not proudly issue gift cards with their logo of two drunken pigs embossed on them.

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These guys are blasted out of their snouts!

The good news is there are also usually more than a few chain restaurants on the dining networks and finding them is relatively easy.

How to find eligible chain restaurants

Since many chain restaurants are places with cheap meals, we can simply use the filtering function of the dining website to restrict our search to restaurants with an average bill of under $10.

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Trying a search like that in Los Angeles gives us, among other choices, a series of Wendy’s restaurants…

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The results will vary from city to city so you’re not going to find a half dozen Wendy’s in every locale. But there’ll be other options. Here’s a Denny’s in Dallas…

dining rewards

Or if we’re in the Miami area, we can come up with some Cold Stone Creamery locations….

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The simple process

Once you’ve found a restaurant that sells gift cards, head on over and buy one for $30 (or whatever is the minimum amount required to release your sign up bonus). A few days after you’ve purchased your gift card, the Dining Rewards Network will send you an e-mail informing you that it tracked your dine and reminding you to write a review of the restaurant. It is important that you complete the review. You will not get the sign up bonus unless you also complete the review in a timely manner.

But that’s all you have to do.  Within a week after completing the review, you should see the bonus miles appear in your frequent flyer account, along with the miles for the actual dine as well.

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Note that some restaurants only count one dine per month and others restrict the days they offer dining miles or cap the monthly amount they will credit to dining programs.  So be sure to click through the restaurant name on the list to check their terms and conditions.

Also, sometimes dining programs will offer large targeted bonuses, such as 10,000 miles for ten dines of $40 each within a specific timeframe. This gift card trick will work for those bonuses as well, though it means you’d have to buy $400 worth of gift cards which might be more trouble and expense than it’s worth. But it can be a better option than trying to complete ten $40 dines in a short span of time.

With at least half a dozen dining mileage programs, this trick makes it easy to pick up several thousand extra miles across multiple programs.  Just a small bit of effort will get you a gift card that can be used anytime at any location in the chain and a few extra miles in your loyalty accounts.

Did you know how to buy gift cards to accumulate dining signup bonuses?

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About Devils Advocate

The Devil's Advocate learned the ins and outs of travel loyalty programs while flying more than 200,000 miles a year as a TV producer and director for World Wrestling Entertainment (and yes, of course it’s all real). He now splits his time between New York and Los Angeles and loathes New York winters only slightly less than Los Angeles traffic.

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  1. The only problem is that I dont eat fast food or at most chain restaurants. On top of all this, 99% of the restaurants in my area that participate in the program are absolute garbage. I love the little bonuses from dining programs, I just wish the participating restaurants weren’t crap.

    • I agree, I wish there were some really awesome restaurants on the list. That said, if you can find just one restaurant that works for you, you can pick up each of the sign up bonuses over a period of months.

      • Almost by definition any restaurant in these crummy programs is a crap restaurant you should never eat at. If they were good, their food would attract customers.

      • I’ve lucked out with the dining programs because out of the dozen restaurants in area, my favorite local pub happens to be on the list. Also works to conveniently get VIP status with the different programs (it takes 12 visits I think in most cases?) when you can pop in, have a couple of drinks, and have it count as a visit.

        Otherwise, I completely agree. Out of the other restaurants within 30 miles of me, there’s only one I’d ever even both to go to, and even then maybe only once or twice a year.

  2. There are a couple of our favorites on the local list, but only a couple. I’d like to hit the big dine 10 get XXXX bonus, but I did one earlier this year and still haven’t used up all of those gift cards. In my case it’s a 7500 mileage plus bonus. I hate to see that pass me by, but I also feel guilty every time I see the pile of gift cards in the kitchen that I haven’t used yet.

    • Yeah, that happens sometimes, but the next time you travel somewhere, it could be worth taking a look at the list and buying a gift card on your travels to nab a sign up bonus. Especially if you can find a chain that has locations near your home so the gift card would be useable when you returned.

  3. In the case of the $400 for 10,000 you can also try to sell the GCs back on the open market. A small loss for 10,000 miles is like buying cheap miles anyway. Depends on the deal. Some of the restauranta even throw in additional GC value for a minimum GC amount purchase.

  4. I use this program a lot
    There are phone apps that tell you what restaurants participate, but one must be careful because they are not updated.
    I usually go out and splt bills and pay, lets say a bill of $47 including taxes and tip, $42 on the CC link to UA (I got VIP) and $4 on a credit card of AA and IHG. Thus I acumulate, for very little $, Dines @ IHG and AA to become VIP, as VIP you receive X5 instead of X3 and the promotions are better.

  5. not only that. At my work they like to bring food or to go out so I always volunteer to choose places and pick the food. Tonight we are 47 people going to a restaurant, each person pays $43. We had to secure the place with $400 and I manage to delay that to end up doing it on the 1st Friday of Dec and used my Sapphire. That was an easy 400×8=3200 UA mailes, the rest will be only x7. 1621 x7=11347. total 14547 UA miles

  6. Well, I hadn’t done the $10 screen before, but looking at various locations I travel to in California I’m really not finding anything. No Denny’s or Wendy’s here. Just lots of restaurants you wouldn’t want to eat at.

    • Sometimes that’s the case, but check out the dining list the next time you travel outside of California and see if there’s a chain restaurant near your destination where you can grab a gift card to use back at home. There’s dining locations in most of the 50 states.

    • Yes, I was going to ask the same/similar thing: will it work with Southwest if I got in on this latest signup bonus offer with the Chase SW Premier and the Plus version too?

      • My understanding is that the sign up offer is tied to your frequent flyer number — one bonus per loyalty number. So if you had separate American AAdvantage accounts for, say, yourself and your wife, you should be able to get the bonus on both. But make sure you set up two completely different Dining Rewards profiles with different e-mail addresses.

  7. Can’t do the same bonus multiple times unfortunately 🙁 My strategy is to have some idea of what restaurants in my neighborhood participate. If I’m not sure, I look on my phone for 30 seconds after sitting down for dinner. My wife plays along because she benefits from the trips!

  8. Right now some restaurants are offering “20% back” deals (example – Black Angus is offering “buy $50 gift card, receive $10 bonus card”). A great opportunity to “stack” bonuses.

  9. Can one register the same credit with different programs and get miles on all programs registered? For example, AA, UA, and Delta with one credit card. How does the reward network work?

    • Yes and no. When you add your credit card to any Dining Rewards Network account, if it’s already in another Dining Rewards Network account, it will be deleted from the old account. So you can’t double dip off several dining accounts at the same time. However, you can reuse the same credit card for consecutive sign up bonuses, meaning you sign up with one dining portal (say American), do the spend, get the bonus, and then sign up with another dining portal (say United) and do it again with the same credit card. Just be careful not to go over the individual restaurant restrictions for the number of dines or monthly totals allowed at any given restaurant, as I believe those restrictions are enforced across all dining portals combined.

  10. What an intriguing, great idea…! At least in my home area, chain restaurants that sell gift cards were not on the…. menu. (participating restaurants) Yet as I have some travel pending to bigger market areas, will definitely give this a second look. Thanks for the post.

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