Should I pay for free dining & golf?

Free DiningOn Saturday, Nick posted “Wow – GREAT deal for golfers / diners!”  He summarized this ClubCorpTravel deal as follows: “for $50 per month, you get free golf, free club borrowing, a couple of free meals a month (excluding alcohol/gratuity), and a number of other interesting benefits.”  I was intrigued.

I don’t golf, but the idea of getting two four course dinners per month for $50 per month sounded good.  The trick is that you can’t use these benefits within 100 miles of your home.  So, as any good (AKA bad) travel hacker would do, I wondered what would happen if I registered with my father’s address in North Carolina.  That would let me use the benefits close to home in Ann Arbor.  I’ll cover this topic in detail further down in this post.

I clicked the link that Nick provided to see what dining options were available in my area and in places I’m likely to go.  The Detroit area had a large selection of dining options including one in Ann Arbor (The Polo Fields):

The only other Michigan area in the list is Grand Rapids, with 4 dining options in that area:

The great thing about Grand Rapids is that it is just over 100 miles from home.  If I decided to play this straight-up, Grand Rapids would be a legitimate option for “free” dining for me.

I then checked areas that we visit fairly frequently (or would like to): Asheville, Chicago, Orlando, NYC, Austin, Seattle…  Other than Asheville (which had just one option), each had pretty good lists of high-end restaurants.

International options that I checked were less compelling.  One dining option appeared in London.  None in Munich, Johannesburg, Paris or Tokyo.

Important Dining Update (Update 1)

Free dining is limited to clubs that explicitly show “Dining – Complimentary Offers”.  I drilled down into each of the dining options in the Detroit area and only one showed a free dining benefit (look for “Dining — Complimentary Offers”):

In other words, the dining benefit is significantly less rewarding than I thought when I first authored this post.

Important Dining Update (Update 2)

The once per month dining benefit appears to be “once per club per month”.  If I’m reading this right, this means that you could theoretically dine free many times per month as long as you find a different participating club each time.  So, while update 1 (above) makes the dining option less appealing, update 2 makes it more appealing.  I still think the overall conclusion of the post was correct, but it’s worth re-evaluating if you frequent areas that have multiple free dining options.

Is it worth doing for dining?

My wife and I travel at least once a month, usually more.  Based on my survey of dining options, I’d guess that “free” dining would be available to us about 10 months out of the year without us going far out of the way to make it happen.  So, is it worth it?

Let’s start with the premise that we would use the benefit every month.  The two of us would dine once every month for $50 (the monthly membership fee) plus service charges and drink charges (charged by the restaurant).  Is that a good deal?  No, not for us.

We would have to dine once per month at a limited selection of restaurants.  Even if all of the available restaurants are very good we would be limited to those particular restaurants.  That means there’s an additional cost to this deal: for one meal a month we would have to give up the freedom to eat out wherever we want.

There is also a mental toll to all of this.  Each month we would have to make sure to use this benefit or regret having spent $50 for nothing.  Who needs that added stress?

And, most importantly, even if we happily used the benefit every month, we wouldn’t really be saving much money!  When we eat out, we usually each order a main dish and sometimes share an appetizer and a salad.  Our favorite “nice” restaurants price most meals in the $25 to $35 range.   If you add on a salad and appetizer you may be looking at another $20 or so.  In total, not including drinks, taxes, and tip, we might spend about $80 for a very nice meal.  So, let’s say that by using this benefit we avoid $80 of spend per month.  In that case, we would save a “whopping” $30 per month.  In my judgment, that amount of potential savings doesn’t even come close to making up for the lack of freedom and the mental effort required to ensure that the benefit was always used.

Golf would be another story

If I was a golfer, and often golfed far from home, I believe I’d be excited by this deal.  I don’t think it would require many rounds of golf each month to turn the $50 per month investment into huge savings.  And the free dining then would be a great additional perk.

Listing a different home address

As I pointed out above, I don’t think this club makes sense unless you’re an avid golfer.  Even then, it would only make sense if you frequently had occasion to golf 100+ miles from home.  I know that many readers therefore are wondering if they can register a different home address so that they can golf for free near home.

Obviously registering with a different address is against the rules and ethically questionable.  Plus, there’s always the risk of being caught and booted from the program.

There are also practical concerns: Will you need to receive mailed membership materials?  If so, do you have a way to handle that?  That one may be easy: a relative may be happy enough to forward this stuff to you.  Will the club check public records?  Even if you have a second home that you can list as your address for this purpose, you may get caught when someone sees that you also have a home in the area where you’ve been golfing.  And, Golfingboy adds the following concert on View from the Wing’s post: “… they also do ask for your billing address, so if your primary address and billing address are different with the billing address being close to a “home” club this might raise a flag…

Conclusion: Even if the ethical considerations don’t bother you, the practical considerations make this hack less desirable.  I don’t recommend it.

Conclusion

On the surface, the “free golf and dining” deal sounds incredible.  In reality, I think it only works well for those who travel often and golf during their travels.

One caveat: the club also appears to have other travel benefits, but it is not clear to me exactly what they are.  For example, when looking at different locations through the club’s website I saw that they listed some St. Regis, Omni, and Kimpton hotels, but the benefits were usually unclear.  For example, with Kimpton hotels you get “preferred rates, amenities and/or upgrades.”  It’s possible that these benefits are worth a lot, or close to nothing.  I don’t know.  Meanwhile, the Omni Hotels benefit gives you a “12% discount off Omni’s Best Available Rate”.  That might be attractive if it will really give you a 12% discount off the best rate you can get otherwise, but I’d bet that it merely brings the rate down to AAA rate range.  If anyone has experience with these club travel benefits, I’d love to hear from you!  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. I don’t know if there are other states, but when I clicked “join today” and selected my state (Iowa), the cost is only $25/month.

  2. UPDATE: Dining benefit worse than I thought…
    richard engelhardt pointed out that the free dining benefit is only for ClubCorp properties, but it appears to be even worse than that. I drilled down into each of the dining options in the Detroit area and only one showed a free dining benefit (look for “Dining — Complimentary Offers”)

    I’ve updated this post with this update and a picture showing what to look for to identify the free dining benefit.

  3. UPDATE 2:
    The once per month dining benefit appears to be “once per club per month”. If I’m reading this right, this means that you could theoretically dine free many times per month as long as you find a different participating club each time. So, while update 1 (above) makes the dining option less appealing since it is available in far fewer locations than I first thought, this update makes it more appealing. I still think the overall conclusion of the post was correct, but it’s worth re-evaluating if you frequent areas that have multiple free dining options.

  4. Also forgot to mention all the T&C it seems:
    *Benefits valid at participating clubs outside of a 100-mile radius of Member’s place(s) of residence and business, as determined by ACI, and are subject to the ClubCorp Travel Terms & Conditions and Membership Policies. THIS MEMBERSHIP IS FOR TRAVELING BENEFITS ONLY AND DOES NOT INCLUDE A HOME CLUB BENEFIT. Golf benefits valid anytime Monday – Friday and after noon on weekends and holidays. Tee times are required. All benefits are subject to availability, including any black-out dates or other restrictions imposed by the participating club. Participating club list subject to change.

    They determine home address via ACI and blackouts on green outings and post noon on weekends.

  5. From my two experiences looking at lodging options the rates were in line with the cheapest you could find elsewhere. Bottom line…I didn’t book the hotels with clubcorp. That being said I’m a golfer and happily pay more than $50/month for the golf benefit, the dining is the piece that allows my wife to tolerate the extra expense.

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