Use This: Airline Dining Programs

The first topic in this week's "Stretch" Your Spending series relates to a method to increase value from your restaurant and dining spending.  Essentially, major U.S.-based airlines maintain something I'll collectively term airline dining programs.  By connecting a credit card(s) with your chosen airline dining program, you'll earn 3-5 miles per dollar spent at select restaurants.*  Depending on your location, there could be a few to hundreds of participating restaurants.  Washington, DC and the surrounding areas have many participating restaurants.

Last year I received 4,600 United miles via the United program (MileagePlus Dining) and this year I've already earned 5,200 miles.  And, keep in mind that I don't specifically frequent certain restaurants because they participate in these programs.  Instead, I eat where I want to eat and at least once a month or so I'll receive a surprise email telling me I just earned 300 miles for dining at some random restaurant.

Signing up for your chosen airline dining program is a no brainer method to stretch 3-5% from some of your restaurant spending.**  For the uninitiated, here's the process.

1) Select an airline dining program.  While you can join multiple programs and link as many credit cards as you have, you can only link each credit card once (e.g., you cannot link the same credit card to both the American Airlines and Alaska Airlines dining programs).  All of the airline dining programs are run by the same company and I'm pretty sure they all have the same selection of restaurants, so make your decision based purely on the airline miles you value the most.

My Chosen Program: United MileagePlus Dining

Airline dining programs include, but are not limited to: United, USAirways, American Airlines, Delta, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest.  In my opinion United miles are among the most valuable, while Delta's are on the opposite end of the value spectrum.  

2) Set up an account. Go to your chosen site and set up an account.  Beforehand, do a quick search and see if there are any bonus offers for new customers (e.g., search "southwest dining new customer bonus").  Be sure to connect your account to your correct frequent flyer account number.

3) Link your credit cards.  Link any and all of your credit or debit cards that you may possibly use at restaurants.  For those that are concerned about security, you only need to enter your credit card number (no expiration dates or security codes).  I'm not aware of any past security problems with these programs and I've never had a problem, but if you have any lingering concerns, use your best judgement.  My judgement tells me, "Get free miles!"

That's it! Only a three step process.  After you dine at a participating restaurant and pay with a linked credit card, you should get an email within a few weeks informing you that you earned some miles.  A couple weeks later, those miles get automatically deposited in your frequent flyer account.  There's nothing else you need to do and you've just stretched some spending by 3-5% or more!

* Accrual rates for dining spending varies.  For instance, with United MP dining you start with 1 mile per $2 spent.  Once you confirm your email, which you should do immediately, you start earning 3 miles per $1.  After 12 dining transactions in a year, you become a VIP member (like me!) earning 5 miles per dollar.
** I'm generically valuing 1 mile at 1 cent, although depending on how you use them, each mile could be worth much more or less.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! This is a great idea. I was not aware of it until I read your entry. Plan to look into it.