Just last year it was possible to routinely earn 10 frequent flyer miles for every dollar spent at more than 10,000 restaurants through the dining-for-miles feature of many airlines' loyalty programs. (While these dining miles programs are airline-branded—AAdvantage Dining, Mileage Plus Dining, and so on—and seamlessly integrated into the airlines' mileage programs, they are all operated by the same company, Rewards Network. So the earning rates and list of participating restaurants are the same for all programs, and promotions tend to apply to all programs.)
This year, the top earning rate for dining has been cut by half, to five miles per dollar, robbing dining-for-miles of much of its previous luster. But the occasional special offer makes it an area worth keeping on eye on.
Through September 30, members of the programs of Alaska, American, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways can earn 10 miles per dollar spent—but only for qualifying dines on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
Even with the day-of-the-week restriction, this is well worth taking advantage of, especially if eating out is part of your normal routine. Follow any of the above airline links to find a list of restaurants in your area. And be sure that any meals at participating restaurants take place during the first three days of the week, to earn the full 10 miles per dollar spent, including tax and tip.
As a foodie and a mile-earner, I make it a point to use these programs, especially when they shift into promotional mode. So I've already scheduled a lunch at a somewhat pricey Japanese restaurant for next Monday. My dining companion will give me cash for his half of the bill. I'll charge our meal to my credit card, which is linked to the dining miles program. It should total around $100. Multiply that by 10 and I'll be earning around 1,000 miles.
In addition to the miles, I'll be rewarded with a satisfying thought: Having a leisurely lunch sure beats the time, expense, and discomfort of flying a thousand miles.