How to Earn Miles When You Dine Out at Restaurants

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.

Standard earning is now just 3 miles per dollar, and that requires creating an online profile. (A member without an online profile earns only 1 mile per $2 spent.)

Making 12 or more dining transactions in a single year qualifies for being a “VIP” and earning 5 miles per dollar. That’s half the earning rate everyone used to get prior to July 2005.

At 10 miles per dollar this was a fantastic way to earn miles. On the other hand, I find that 3 miles or even 5 miles per dollar won’t influence my restaurant choice.

But the program is still useful with its frequent bonuses, if you’re willing to chase those.

You can choose the program you want to earn with (or create a profile and register a different credit card with each, earning is triggered simply by paying for your meal with the registered card).

There are several programs, and several new member signup bonuses currently.

There are also not very lucrative or worthwhile IHG® Rewards Club Dining, Hilton HHonors Dining and Spirit Airlines Free Spirt Dining programs.

And Rewards Network isn’t the only game in town, though they’re the major player. Virgin America has a co-brand dining program with MOGL and some international programs have dining for miles offerings as well.

A great resource for keeping up on new bonus offers — which are the only time I really consider paying attention here, though I do register my cards in case I happen to fall into a participating restaurant in which case I get surprised to have earned miles — is Gary Steiger’s Free Frequent Flyer Miles resource.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “A great resource for keeping up on new bonus offers — … — is Gary Steiger’s Free Frequent Flyer Miles resource.”

    Thanks for the mention, Gary. You can find the listings on my Other Programs I Like page in the Dining section.

  2. Participation in the RN program is surprisingly good here in DC…I often don’t realize I’ve even dined at an RN participant until I get the automated message asking me to review.

  3. I don’t consider this worth your time in general, except for the signup bonuses. So whenever you get a new number for a new frequent flyer account (or they renumber like United did) then grab a new credit card and do the minimum spend necessary to get the 1,500 or 3,000 mile bonus you should be holding out for. Then forget about it. If you happen to get points after that, great.

  4. Why is it that people don’t seem to value this again? Aren’t they free miles that you get in addition to your credit card rewards? Jeez, almost sounds snobbish…

  5. Just my 2 cents.. I signed up for alaska airlines dining one late last year. I thought cool, you have to dine within certain number of days and each resturant has specific days. If the resturant is on the list it doesnt mean they participate that day. So i dined 2 resturants within the the inital time frame and 1 was not particiapting that day and the other they have no records of me going. So i submitted receipt and basically I got the run around. No 500 miles for the sign up. I just said ohh well..
    Then they said bc u didnt dine within the inital period we can offer you 250 if you dine now.. well guess what I did and im still waiting for the 250.. I dont think i’lll get it

    What it comes down to is, if they give you credit cool. its not worth your time to chase 100 miles for emailing back and fourth. I have honestly given up on them

  6. How about large catering bills.? I’ll have a 10K or so bill in the next couple of months which I’d like to use to pay off the spend on one of the two Citi Exec cards we just received. By coincidence, I noticed that the restaurant we already decided to use is on at least one of the Dine programs.

    Is there a limit to the size of the bill that will earn points? Will the full 5X VIP bonus apply? At that rate, it would be worth going a little out of my way to hit VIP.

  7. the other beneficial aspect is if you have an account with points about to expire, it’s ane easy way to generate activity

  8. Wow I have been traveling 120 plus days a year for the past 5.5 years and never knew about Hilton’s Dining program. I used the Delta program my first two years but since haven’t felt it was worth altering my dining choice.

    Could I couple Delta and Hilton? If I could do that, I’ll have to get back into scheduling in some dining miles/points restaurants.

    Thanks for the post! I’m signing up for Hilton Dining right now.

  9. I’d recommend signing up for these programs. If you can find a participating restaurant you like near you, it’s an easy way to get points. In my case, there’s a nice Thai restaurant 2-3 blocks from my house. Early last year, I signed up for the United dining program and developed a real hankering for Thai, and next thing I knew I was a VIP dining program member with a 3,000-point bonus earning 5 points per $1 on dines there and at other places.

    And, remember, if you register your Chase Sapphire Preferred, which earns 2x or even 3x on dining, you can rack up 7x or 8x per $1 on lunch or dinner. Not too shabby. Take your partner to a participating Brazilian steakhouse for Valentine’s Day, drop $125 or $150 and you can earn about 1,000 points painlessly.

  10. I love these programs. I don’t pay attention to the restaurant list but every once and awhile get a nice few bonus miles in my account. Does anyone know if you are able to sign up the same cards simultaneously with the “Thanks Again” rewards network?

  11. I’ve become disappointed with dining for miles programs; rather I opt for the 15% back from idine directly.

    It just seems that the past couple of years, the mileage bonuses have become more and more stingy, and I might as well opt for cash.

    Dining for miles remains a good way to make an occasional transaction as necessary to prevent a mileage program from expiring. For now, I do not see thme as superior to 15% back directly from idine.

  12. I’ve found that sometimes the fastest/easiest way to get the “xxxx bonus miles for new members who spend $xx on a single dine” is to just buy a $xx gift card and then just use it at my own pace.

  13. I must be in the minority here, but I really like this mileage program–but I carefully study the list of available restaurants (which clearly shows which days do not give awards). I put as much preparation and take as much case re this as others do with costly mileage runs, Vanilla reloads and Bluebird strategies, and shopping portals, and it has really paid off for me! Most of the restaurants are independently owned, non-chain small businesses (which I prefer), and especially when traveling I have enjoyed many fine meals in restaurants I wouldn’t have known about otherwise (particularly in NYC, DC, and other major cities). If there are equally appealing restaurants and one gives me miles and one that doesn’t, I know which one I will choose every time–especially locally! And I am FAR more likely to do this as a means of accruing thousands of miles, however gradually, than fooling with Bluebird and other money transfers or making day-to-day purchases via shopping portals (though I sometimes do the latter as well). And when there is an opportunity to take clients or job prospects to dinner AND get reimbursed by my employer, that’s obviously even better! However, I have not seen ANY non-sign-up bonus offers from them for the past several years, and I really wish they would come back!

  14. JDH, yes, you can use the same credit or debit card that you have registered with Rewards Network and use it in the Thanks Again network, which focuses mostly on airports.

    I get miles for parking, dining and shopping at just about every airport in the US.

  15. IHG dining gives 8 points per dollar for VIP members, and using your chase card gets you 2 more miles, and if your lucky the restaurant you choose might also be a member of opentable and you can the reservation points too. Thats my idea a perfect dinner out.

    @LarryInNYC most but not all restaurants limit you to $600 in spend per month.

  16. I never go out of my way to goto restaurants in these programs (I prefer Open Table or Yelp for good recommendations). However I do have my Chase Sapphire registered with the AA program and it always feels like Christmas morning when I see a few bonus points post from time to time.

  17. I think it would be good to mention in the actual article you can earn up to 15% cash back instead of miles (using IDine directly), which is probably a much better deal than any of the mileage offers.

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