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The clear winner credit card for restaurant spend now is the American Express® Gold Card which offers 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent in addition to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at participating dining partners (Full review).
However that’s not the only way to supercharge your earning from eating out. Dining for miles is one of the easy and free ways you can rack up points. Register, use your credit card when you dine out, and if it happens to be at a participating restaurant you’ll earn miles automatically.
Rewards Network is the company that provides branded mileage-earning dining programs in conjunction with major frequent flyer programs like United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage, and Delta Skymiles.
I’ll always call them iDine, it former name, and the predecessor to that was Transmedia — the old program where you paid to sign up and had a membership card which you needed to present at restaurants for a cash discount.
When I first started earning with them in the mid-1990s, United’s program was only open to their elite frequent flyers.
I used to rack up miles by choosing to schedule reimbursable business meals at participating restaurants, and steering groups of friends towards those restaurants — where everyone would kick in cash and I’d earn miles for the total bill that I’d put on my credit card.
Sadly the program became a whole lot less valuable July 1, 2005. But it’s still better than a hole in the head, as my grandfather used to say.
Remember that you can join several different programs, create different logins and attach a different credit card to each. Here are some of the current joining bonuses:
- Delta join by January 11, then within your first 30 days earn 500 miles with your first visit spending $30 or more; 1000 miles for your second; 1500 for your third. Note that you have to complete an online review within 30 days of each visit and also that Delta elites earn 1000 miles on their first qualifying visit instead of just 500.
- United join by January 31 then earn 1000 miles on your first visit spending $25 or more and 500 additional bonus miles on each of your next 3 visits spending $25 or more.
- American join by January 31 and earn 1000 bonus miles for a qualifying dine of $25 or more in your first 30 days.
- Alaska join by January 7 and earn 1000 bonus points with your first eligible dine within 30 days spending $30 or more.
- Southwest join by January 7 and earn 1000 bonus points in 3 steps:
Earn 500 bonus points with $25 spend on your first visit, then 25 on each of your next two visits where you spend $25 or more and you must complete an online review of each.
JetBlue, Hilton, and IHG Rewards Club have similar programs as well. And of course you earn points for your spend at participating restaurants, which post automatically when you make charges to the card(s) you have registered to your account.