Points and Miles Dining Programs For Dummies (Myself Included) – Little Tips, Big Payoff

For some reason, up to this point I have not been able to get my act together with points/miles-earning dining programs. This year I earned a whopping 368 miles – TOTAL – through the United Mileage Plus dining program.

I know, I know.

I had several issues. However, with a little research and some advice from readers, I’ve solved a handful of them. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. There are 17 different programs to choose from.

One of my issues was that I didn’t know what my options were, and I was never sure if I had chosen the options that best fit my points/miles needs.

I was very excited to find a handy, clickable list of available programs at the Rewards Network site.

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 8.58.00 AM

You can click on each mini-photo to see more info about each program. For example, here’s the one from American:

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 9.00.09 AM

You can easily join the program(s) of your choice right through these links (on the site).

2. The participating restaurants don’t vary too much (if at all) from program to program.

My next question was if I should sign up for multiple programs/all of them, or focus instead on one. If the choices varied from program to program, it would make sense to sign up for several. However, it turns out that the participating restaurants are pretty much the same across all of the different dining programs.

Here is a blurry side-by-side comparison of restaurants featured in my area through the American and Southwest programs:

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 12.10.02 PM

As you can see, they are almost identical, which brings me to the third point…

3. You can only sync a credit card with ONE dining program at a time.

While you can go crazy and sign up for as many dining programs as you like, you can only sync the same card with one program. For example, if I sync my Chase Sapphire card with the United program, I can’t also sync it with the American program.

4. Open Table Reservations + Dining Programs = More Savings

It’s great if/when you can find an Open Table restaurant that offers 1,000 points per reservation and also participates in a dining program. If you’ve got a lot of options in your area, a quick cross-reference search might be worth a few minutes of your time.

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 12.36.42 PM

5. There might be more stackable options in your area.

Do a quick Google search (e.g. “San Francisco Frequent Dining Program”) to see if you can find more ways to stack savings. For example, Lettuce Entertain You has a pretty healthy number (no pun intended) of restaurants in Illinois, plus a handful in other cities (Las Vegas, DC, Scottsdale, Minneapolis), that have their own frequent diner program. If you stack this with a points/miles earning program and OpenTable, plus factor in the points you will get from your points/miles earning credit card, you are looking at some solid savings.

I know I’ve been leaving points/miles/cash on the table by not paying attention to dining programs, but I am pulling it together for 2014!

How about you? Do you already have your act together and are surprised that I don’t? Or are you in a similar situation and are planning to change your ways?






  1. I haven’t got too into the dining points (yet). Where I live, there are lots of smaller non-mainstream restaurants, and even food trucks. I did sign up for United dining at one point many moons ago, but don’t really use it. I think there are 2 restaurants on the island that participate, and I don’t go to either. When I travel, I guess I’m more interested in the menus, location, vibe than if they are a points restaurant. Maybe someday I’ll live somewhere else and it will be a different story, but for now, I don’t have any plans to dive in much more.

Speak Your Mind