Last updated on May 13th, 2020
Want to earn airline miles but can’t bear to part with your favorite credit card? Now you don’t have to.
Airline Dining Programs: The Best of Both Worlds
Choosing between a cash back or a travel card is a common question that many a credit card reward lover has grappled with. Finding the answer often requires calculations and spreadsheets to determine how much you need to travel to make a travel rewards card worth it. Regardless of how frequently you travel (or don’t) you can skip the math and enjoy the best of both worlds with airline dining programs.
What Are Airline Dining Programs?
Airline dining programs (also known as dining clubs) are a lesser-known credit card hack that allows you to earn airline miles with any credit card that you currently own. These free programs are made up of a network of partnered restaurants, cafes, and other establishments and can earn diners airline miles towards the affiliated airline carrier. Miles are earned in a similar manner to traditional rewards programs where you will earn a range of 1-5 miles per dollar(s) spent at an affiliated restaurant. It may seem too easy to be true – but simply register your credit card with the airline dining program of your choice and watch the miles roll in.
Registering for an Airline Dining Program
There are no exceptions to which credit cards are eligible to enroll in a dining program. If you already have an airline card, feel free to double dip and earn even more miles on top of your card’s initial rewards. Have a credit card from a different or competing airline carrier? You’re welcome to use that too! Just keep in mind that you are only allowed one credit card per program and that attempting to use the same card for several will only boot you from the one you were registered for prior. For example, if you first link your Chase Freedom to American Airlines and then later to Delta, you will automatically be un-enrolled from AA’s dining program. Why is this the case? All airline dining programs are actually administered by a single company, the Rewards Network. However, there is no limit on the number of dining programs that you can enroll in as long as you use a unique credit card for each.
How to Choose Which Airline Dining Program to Sign Up For
As is the case with credit cards, not all dining programs are equal. Fortunately, if you sign up for a dining program that turns out to be less rewarding than you anticipated you’re not stuck with it. You’re always free to enroll your credit card with a different airline’s program at any time – but these tips will help you nail it the first time.
Tip #1: Choose an Airline You Frequently Fly With
While this may sound like obvious advice, it’s not for the reason you’d think. Earning miles through an airline dining program could be slow goings if you don’t eat out often. To set yourself up for success, think of airline dining programs as a supplementary way to earn miles rather than your main source of scoring free airfare. Spending $10 a day at lunch will still earn you 300 miles (minimum) in the airline program of your choice – a far cry from the first-class, round trip ticket might be hoping your miles will earn you. Since the bulk of your airline mile earnings will come from actual flight purchases (whether you have an airline card or not) think of the miles earned through airline dining programs as a means to bump you up to that next membership tier or to give you just enough to book that one-way ticket. If you book with an airline that you like rather than the one that you primarily fly with, you may find yourself with a handful of miles that you don’t have enough of to redeem for anything.
Tip #2: Consider How Many Restaurants in the Program are Located Near You
There’s a surprising number of overlap in eligible restaurants within these programs – so you probably won’t have to be decided between programs based on which program your favorite take-out spot is in. Restaurants tend to favor urban areas and both coasts, so if you’re in the Central United States you may find your options far more limited. Still, you can give each airline dining program a test run before signing up. To do so, visit the homepage of any airline dining program – let’s use the United Airlines dining program as an example. Towards the top of the page, you’ll see a search bar where you can input your zip code or a city. Leave the specific restaurant name blank as this is a preliminary search to get a feel for how many mile-earning dining options there are in your area. Initiate the search to populate a list with the restaurants near you. This list will show the rating from fellow dining club members, the average price of an entrée, and whether there are any exceptions so when miles can be earned. However, for the purpose of determining whether the density of eligible restaurants is enough to validate you signing up – switch to Map View for a better visual representation. Unfortunately, you can only search for one city/zip code at a time so you will have to run an individual search for each location you frequently visit.
Tip #3: Find Restaurants You Would Want to Eat At
Last but not least, make sure that the restaurants listed in the program are ones that you’d actually want to dine at. It does you little good if there are dozens of restaurants in your area but none of them sound appetizing to you. Additionally, dining programs (just like credit cards) offer sign up bonuses that you must meet within a certain period of time (typically 30 days). Our recommendation: scope out restaurants you would want to try within the next month and the restaurants that you could see yourself that most easily fit your current lifestyle.
Which Airlines Offer Dining Programs?
There are seven airline programs which have various signup bonuses and reward rates. Keep in mind that you’ll have to be a registered member of the airline’s loyalty program prior to signing up for a dining club.
Alaska Airlines – Alaska Mileage Plan
Signup Bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus miles after spending $30 and writing a review on your experience within the first 30 days of signing up. Earning Potential: There are three membership levels within the Alaska Airlines dining program: Basic, Select, and VIP. To immediately be eligible for the middle tier, make sure to opt-in to promotional emails. This will automatically boost your mile-earning powers from 1 mile to $2 spent (Basic membership) to 3 miles per $1 spent (Select membership). The VIP level membership will earn you 5 miles per $1 and is earned after your 12th qualifying transaction within calendar year (while also being opted-in to emails).
American Airlines – AAdvantage Dining
Signup Bonus: Earn 3,000 bonus miles after spending $25 within the first 30 days of signing up. Earning Potential: You will automatically be enrolled at the basic membership level, where you will earn 1 American Airlines AAdvantage mile per dollar spent. To reach the next tier, Select, opt-in to emails and you will receive 3 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent. The highest tier membership is VIP, which requires 12 qualified transactions per calendar year and will earn 5 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent.
Delta – SkyMiles Dining
Signup Bonus: Earn up 3,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $30 at participating restaurants within the first 30 days: 500 bonus miles for the first restaurant visit, 1,000 miles after the second time dining at an eligible restaurant, and then 1,500 miles for the third visit (note, these do not have to be the same restaurant). Lastly, you must complete an online review for each restaurant within this 30 day period. Earning Potential: Basic membership level will earn 1 mile per dollar spent. Select level membership requires opting into emails and you will earn 3 miles per dollar spent. VIP level requires 12 qualified transactions per calendar year and will earn 5 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent.
JetBlue – TrueBlue Dining
Signup Bonus:None Earning Potential:Flat rate earning of 3 TrueBlue points per dollar spent – but must opt-in to emails.
Southwest – Southwest Rapid Rewards
Signup Bonus: Earn 1,000 Rapid Rewards bonus points after spending at least $25 and writing a review on your experience within the first 30 days of signing up. First Step Bonus: Earn 500 bonus points for every 1,500 points accumulated from dining purchases (does not include points earned from bonuses). Thank You Bonus: Earn 300 bonus points for every 1,000 points accumulated from dining purchases (does not include points earned from bonuses). Review Bonus: Earn 10 bonus points per review. Earning Potential: Earn 3 points per dollar spent when opted into emails, otherwise earn 1 point per 2 dollars spent.
Spirit – Free Spirit Dining
Signup Bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus miles after spending at least $30 and writing a review on your experience within the first 30 days of signing up. Earning Potential: Basic membership level will earn 1 mile per $2 spent. The next tier is Online Member, which requires opting into emails and will earn 3 miles per dollar spent. VIP level requires 12 qualified transactions per calendar year and will earn 5 miles per dollar spent.
United Airlines – MileagePlus Dining
Signup Bonus: Earn 1,000 bonus miles after spending at least $25 within the first 30 days of signing up. Earn an additional 500 bonus miles for the next 3 visits to eligible restaurants ($25 minimum). Earning Potential: Basic membership level will earn 1 mile per $2 spent. The next tier is Select, which requires opting into emails and will earn 3 miles per dollar spent. VIP level requires 12 qualified transactions per calendar year and will earn 5 miles per dollar spent.
Airline dining programs are a great commitment-free way to earn miles and points towards your favorite airlines. While these programs along may not earn you enough points to outright replace your airline rewards credit card – the signup bonuses alone could make them worth enrolling in. Some of our favorite credit cards to use in conjunction with airline dining programs are:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred®
- Savor® Rewards from Capital One®
- Capital One® SavorOne℠ Rewards
- USAA Rewards™ American Express®
- Discover it® Chrome Gas & Restaurants
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express®
- American Express® Gold Card
As long as you don’t mind receiving the occasional email and/or writing a quick review, you’ll definitely find these programs easy to take advantage of.