How I Ate My Way to a Free Ticket

Last week I received an email statement summarizing my American AAdvantage Dining activity for 2009. The bottom line: it was a timely reminder of just how rewarding miles-for-dining can be.

For the year, I earned 26,748 miles for dining at restaurants participating in the program. So it's no exaggeration to say that I earned a free ticket for eating.

Before you dismiss that as an accomplishment available only to the neurotically mileage-obsessed fringe, I should exempt myself from the ranks of the true mileage maniacs. I follow and report on the programs religiously, true; but I participate in them with more reserve than zealotry.

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During the month of December, for example, I earned miles for six meals, at just two restaurants. Yes, I'm a creature of habit and tend to establish long-term relationships with businesses that gain my allegiance. The fact that I can rack up airline miles at those particular establishments helps make the habit that much more entrenched.

In addition to paying attention to which restaurants participate in miles-for-dining, and using that as a tie-breaker when choosing among dining options, I keep abreast of bonus offers and make it a point to take advantage of them whenever possible.

Normally, after 12 qualifying transactions during a year, members earn five miles per dollar spent. That's decent. But when the miles are doubled, or when some other bonus is thrown into the equation, the earning rate becomes truly exceptional.

During 2009, for example, there were limited-time bonuses for eating out on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, generally slow days for restaurants. It was a simple enough matter to schedule my visits to mile-awarding establishments accordingly.

More United Miles-for-Dining

There are currently no dining bonuses on offer through the AAdvantage program. But as an example of the sort of promotions typically associated with dining miles, members of United's Mileage Plus program can earn double Mileage Plus Dining miles between February 1 and March 31. That's a hefty ten miles per dollar spent, including tax and tip, for VIP members.

While Mileage Plus is not my primary airline program, I do have some United miles and would like to increase my account balance to reach an award threshold. So for the next two months, I'll be funneling my dining miles into United's program.

After that, it's back to American miles. In either case, my yearning to eat dovetails seamlessly with my eating to earn.

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