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How Does Eating Out Help Me Earn Frequent Flyer Miles?

SmarterTravel

Dear Tim,

Is earning miles for eating out an effective way to extend the life of my frequent flyer miles?

—A.R.

Dear Reader,

Before turning my attention to your question, I would first like to clear up some terminology.

All the larger airline programs allow their members to earn miles when dining at participating restaurants. You’re likely to hear this opportunity referred to as miles-for-dining or dining-for-miles.

Each airline has also given its own miles-for-dining program a brand name. For example, United calls its program Mileage Plus Dining, while American calls its version the AAdvantage Dining Program.

As it happens, all major airlines’ miles-for-dining schemes are operated by a single company, Rewards Network. So sometimes dining programs, individually or collectively, are called Rewards Network programs.

The complications don’t end there. Prior to a recent expansion, Rewards Network operated under the name iDine. As a result, many frequent flyers still use the obsolete name, as in “Is that an iDine restaurant?”

By whatever name, dining-for-miles is indeed a good way to keep miles from expiring, since eating out is just the type of activity that is likely to take place regularly, each time extending the life of all miles in the account by three years.

But to pigeon-hole dining miles as simply a way of refreshing the life of miles would be to under-appreciate their potential role in the overall mileage-earning scheme of things.

How to dine for miles

The beauty of the Rewards Network program is its simplicity. You can begin by visiting the dining miles section of the airline’s website (follow the links from the “Earning Miles” area) and registering one or more credit cards. Thereafter, every time you use a registered card to charge a meal at a participating restaurant—there are more than 10,000 of them—you will earn as many as 10 miles per dollar spent, including taxes and tip. And, if the registered card is the affinity card linked to the same program, you’ll earn an extra mile per dollar.

The miles are awarded automatically; there’s no need to inform the waiter that you’re participating in Rewards Network. The tracking and awarding of miles take place behind the scenes, and the system has proven to be remarkably reliable.

Earning rates

Rewards Network recently changed from a straight X-miles-per-dollar-spent earning formula to a more complicated tiered system that awards miles according to a member’s status: Active, Engaged, or Elite.

Actives are members who have three or fewer dines during a calendar year or have not established an online profile; they earn just one mile per dollar spent. To upgrade to Engaged status, and earn three miles per dollar, a member must have four or more dines during the year or take the time to set up an online profile. And Elite members, with 12 or more dines, earn five miles per dollar, although members currently qualified for Elite status will earn double miles through June 30.

Bonuses

The program is simple and generous as is. When the regular bonuses are factored in, the generosity quotient is positively unbeatable.

As the most recent example, between January 1 and February 28, members of the programs of American, Northwest, and United can earn triple miles on their first three Rewards Network dines, up to a maximum of 5,000 bonus miles. And members of Delta’s program can earn 500 bonus miles for each dine of $15 or more between January 1 and March 30, also up to 5,000 bonus miles.

Dining-for-miles truly epitomizes the value frequent flyer programs are capable of delivering because you can earn miles for dollars spent doing something you’d do in any case. And, yes, it’s a no-hassle way to extend the life of frequent flyer miles as well.

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