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Is AAdvantage Dining Really Worth It?

AAdvantage is American Airlines’ loyalty rewards program. It’s free to sign up, and members earn miles for purchases they make with American Airlines, Oneworld Alliance airlines, and other partnering airlines. You can use your miles to purchase flights, seat upgrades, and even car rentals.

AAdvantage Dining is a special program within AAdvantage that earns members even more miles when they dine out. The program advertises a large collection of participating restaurants in many different cities. As well, members can attain elite statuses within AAdvantage Dining to earn even more points on their dining purchases.

However, this program may not offer all that it promises. The team at BestCards.com decided to investigate this dining program to determine whether those who live (and travel) to eat will benefit from joining.

How AAdvantage Dining Works

While it is technically part of the airline’s regular loyalty program, AAdvantage Dining operates somewhat independently. Members don’t automatically benefit from AAdvantage Dining features when they enroll in the regular loyalty program. Instead, you must sign up separately for this program.

As with the regularly loyalty program, membership in AAdvantage Dining is free. Additionally, you don’t need an American Airlines credit card to participate. You can link any credit and/or debit card to your account, and you can also register multiple cards.

The regular AAdvantage program earns you one mile for every dollar you spend on qualifying airline purchases. Adding AAdvantage Dining will allow you to earn the same number of miles per purchase on dining, as well.

Earning More Points

Now, there are distinct earning tiers with this program. If you opt to receive emails from AAdvantage Dining, you’ll receive three miles for every dollar you spend on dining. After you complete 11 transactions at participating restaurants within a calendar year, you’ll attain VIP membership, which earns you 5X miles per dollar spent.

Your VIP status will last a full calendar year in the year following the year you attained this status. Sounds confusing, but it’s kind of simple. If you pay for meals at 11 participating restaurants in 2020, you’ll have VIP status for all of 2021.

Currently, AAdvantage Dining is also offering a signup bonus. If you spend $25 within the first 30 days that you sign up, you’ll earn 1,000 bonus miles. This is in addition to the regular miles you earn.

AAdvantage Platinum Select Cardholders Earn More

What’s more, you can earn even more points if you register your Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select Card. Just register your American Airlines card with AAdvantage Dining and you can earn two additional points for every dollar you spend.

If you attain VIP status, you’ll be earning seven miles for every dollar you spend. If you spend $2,000 in a year, you’ll earn enough points to purchase a one-way ticket to Mexico or the Caribbean. For a foodie, that’s not a high spending requirement to meet.

In Reality

The team at BestCards.com was really excited about the opportunity to earn miles on dining purchases. The fact that it’s free to join and you can register any credit card made it that much more appealing.

You should keep in mind that you must dine at participating restaurants in order to earn AAdvantage miles. This requires some research. Fortunately, the AAdvantage Dining website is very user-friendly. Simply type in your location or use the GPS feature to locate restaurants in your area. You can filter results by type of cuisine, price point, and other criteria

Considering American Airlines’ global reputation, we imagined that there would be a lot to choose from. We looked at participating restaurants in three East Coast cities we’re familiar with: Miami, New York City, and Boston. The results were a little disappointing

Not Enough Fine Dining

Low prices can be great if you’re looking to save money. However, they might not be so attractive when you’re looking to maximize the points you earn on a meal.

In Miami, where BestCards.com is based, we discovered that the list of participating businesses included some of the city’s most inexpensive eateries. At first, we thought this was a major benefit of the AAdvantage Dining program as it could allow you to earn points on all sorts of dining experiences.

However, as we scrolled through the list, we noticed that most of the restaurants were lower-end establishments. A full meal for two at many of these businesses could come out to $30. The low spending requirement for earning the 1,000-mile signup bonus made a lot more sense after we discovered this.

The problem with this emphasis on inexpensive dining is that there are very few opportunities to earn a lot of miles on a single meal. A fine dining meal could easily earn a VIP member 1,000 points. But there just aren’t that many options to earn that through AAdvantage Dining. As such, you’d have to dine out more often at participating businesses to earn enough miles to qualify for any type of reward.

The Unpopular Crowd

The selection of food businesses that participate in AAdvantage Dining really doesn’t include a city’s most crave-worthy options. Scrolling through the list of Miami, Boston, and NYC restaurants, very few options jumped out at us.

The list of Miami participating restaurants only included a couple of establishments that make it on the city’s “best-of” list. Many of these restaurants are declining in popularity and may have hit their peak several years ago.

This was true in NYC’s selection of participating restaurants, which included Junoon. This Indian fine dining establishment had lost its Michelin star this year, making it a less desirable destination than it had been in the past. In short, the list of local restaurants doesn’t really include businesses that locals are currently excited about. At worst, some discerning foodies may think AAdvantage Dining only includes “has beens.”

In Miami, the team even found some businesses within the program’s selection with historically negative reputations. It makes us wonder what the selection process is for AAdvantage Dining participants.

Food Tourism? Maybe Not

Perhaps one of the most ironic things about AAdvantage Dining is how the program really limits your options for trying local flavors when you travel. For starters, the program is only available within the United States. We at BestCards.com tried to look for participating restaurants in several popular international culinary hubs – Bangkok, Paris, and Vancouver – and received zero results.

Even within the United States, you wouldn’t find many participating restaurants in a foodie’s bucket list. New York City’s selection didn’t include any of the acclaimed restaurants that many travelers seek out. In addition, there were very few local culinary institutions on the list. As such, there is little opportunity for a traveler to earn points while sampling a slice at the city’s first pizzeria or discovering why a NY bagel deserves all the hype.

The same rang true for selections in Boston in Miami. Some of Beantown’s most sought out food tourism destinations didn’t make the cut. Forget about earning points while slurping oysters at the nation’s oldest restaurant.

Is AAdvantage Dining Worth It?

The fact that this is a free dining rewards program may be one of its only saving graces. As it stands, AAdvantage Dining seems to be more geared towards promoting unpopular restaurants than offering members a selection of a city’s best eats.

The situation is reminiscent of many restaurant month promotions or dining coupon books. The most successful dining establishments don’t need to participate because they’re not lacking for business. As a result, diners may end up with just a handful of more obscure gems. However, they have to sift through many banal (at best) restaurants to find these.

A serious foodie may find that they won’t earn many miles by participating in AAdvantage Dining. Given the limited selection, it may even be impossible for such a consumer to ever make it to VIP status when there aren’t even 11 participating restaurants in their town worth going to. American Airlines will need to provide AAdvantage members with a more curated selection of restaurants in order to attract consumers who live to eat and travel.

About: Carlos

Carlos reviews credit cards and covers all sorts of credit card news for Best Cards. As a lifelong foodie, his focus is on the credit cards that offer the best benefits for those who live to eat and cook.