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Best dining rewards programs for airline miles and hotel points

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Most airline and hotel loyalty programs offer a dining rewards program. If you enroll in one of these programs and then use a registered card to pay for your bill at a participating restaurant, bar or club, you’ll earn extra points or miles with the airline or hotel loyalty program. These points or miles are on top of the credit card rewards you’d already earn when paying for your bill with a rewards credit card.

Since so many hotel and airline loyalty programs offer dining rewards programs, you may wonder which program is best. The best dining rewards program depends on your preferences and goals, so let’s look closely at each program.

How dining rewards programs work

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Most airline and hotel dining rewards programs are operated by Rewards Network. As such, they tend to all work similarly.

Before you can use a dining rewards program, you have to sign up for the program online and then register at least one credit or debit card with the program. Then, you’ll automatically earn rewards through the dining rewards program when you use your card to pay for eligible charges at participating restaurants, bars and clubs.

The number of points or miles you’ll earn per dollar depends on the specific dining rewards program. Often, you’ll earn more points or miles if you’ve opted in to receive emails from the dining rewards program. Some dining rewards programs offer more points or miles to consumers who frequently use the program or have elite status with the associated hotel or airline loyalty program.

Dining rewards programs often include a mixture of chain restaurants and independent eateries among their participating venues. To find out which restaurants, bars and clubs near you participate in a specific dining rewards program, visit the dining program website and enter your ZIP code into the location field.

Related: Best hotel rewards programs in the world: Which one is right for you?

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Many dining rewards programs offer a first-dine bonus to new members. The first-dine bonus often requires you to spend a certain amount at a participating venue within a specific period of joining the program, remain opted in for emails from the program and submit an online review. So, you may want to register for a new program shortly before you dine at a participating venue.

Although you can join all the dining rewards programs listed below, you can’t register the same card with more than one program at a time. So, you could register different cards with each program, but you may find it better to choose the best program for you and enroll all your cards.

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Related: Best frequent flyer programs for US travelers

Airline dining rewards programs

Airline miles are often worth more than hotel points, as indicated by TPG’s valuations. So, here’s a look at some of the best airline dining rewards programs.

American AAdvantage Dining

  • 1 mile per $1 if you don’t opt in to emails from AAdvantage Dining
  • 3 miles per $1 if you opt in to emails
  • 5 miles per $1 through the end of the next year if you dine with the program at least 11 times within a calendar year and remain opted in to emails
  • Join here

One great thing about the AAdvantage Dining program is that it can help you earn American Airlines elite status. Every mile you earn via AAdvantage Dining — sans first-dine bonuses and other bonus miles — also counts as a Loyalty Point. This means each dine gets you closer to your desired AAdvantage status tier.

American Airlines AAdvantage miles are also valuable. TPG’s valuations peg the value of American miles at 1.55 cents each, so you’ll get a return of 1.55% to 7.75% from the AAdvantage Dining program when you dine at participating venues and use an enrolled card to pay.

Alaska Mileage Plan Dining

  • 1 mile per $2 if you don’t opt in to emails from Alaska Mileage Plan Dining
  • 3 miles per $1 if you opt in to emails
  • 5 miles per $1 through the end of the next year if you dine with the program at least 11 times within a calendar year and remain opted in to emails
  • Join here

TPG values Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles at 1.5 cents each, so you’ll get a return of 0.75% to 7.5%. Keep in mind that if you want to earn Alaska miles, the Mileage Plan Dining program is one of the few ways to do so other than by flying the airline, using the MileagePlan shopping portal, transferring rewards from Marriott Bonvoy or Bilt Rewards and spending on a cobranded Alaska MileagePlan card.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Delta SkyMiles Dining

  • 1 mile per $2 if you don’t opt in to emails from Delta SkyMiles Dining
  • 3 miles per $1 if you opt in to emails
  • 5 miles per $1 through the end of the next year if you dine with the program at least 11 times within a calendar year and remain opted in to emails
  • Join here

TPG values Delta SkyMiles at 1.2 cents each, meaning you’ll get a 0.6% to 6% return with the SkyMiles Dining program. This is lower than with the American AAdvantage or Alaska Mileage Plan dining rewards programs but may still be useful if Delta is your airline currency of choice.

Free Spirit Dining

  • 1 point per $2 if you don’t opt in to emails from Free Spirit Dining
  • 3 points per $1 if you opt in to emails
  • 5 points per $1 through the end of the next year if you dine with the program at least 11 times within a calendar year and remain opted in to emails
  • Join here

Spirit Airlines may not be the most popular carrier, but its low fares are tough to beat. Free flights start at just 2,500 Free Spirit points, so points earned through Free Spirit Dining can go a long way. Plus, earning Free Spirit points keeps your rewards from expiring, so it may be worth earning a few points through Free Spirit Dining at least once a year to keep your points alive.

TPG values Free Spirit points at 1.1 cents each, so you’ll get a 0.55% to 5.5% return with the Free Spirit Dining program.

JetBlue TrueBlue Dining

TPG values JetBlue TrueBlue points at 1.35 cents each, so you’ll get a 4.05% return from the TrueBlue Dining program if you opt in to emails. Unlike some dining rewards programs, you won’t get higher earning rates if you frequently use the JetBlue TrueBlue Dining program.

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Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining

The Southwest Rapid Rewards dining program is unique in that it offers 10 extra points for every dining review you submit. You’ll also earn 300 bonus points for every 1,000 points you earn from dining and completing reviews.

Best of all, base points (but not bonus points) earned through Rapid Rewards Dining count toward the Southwest Companion Pass. If Southwest is your airline of choice or you’re striving to earn a Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll likely want to use the Rapid Rewards Dining program.

United MileagePlus Dining

  • 1 mile per $2 if you don’t opt in to emails from United MileagePlus Dining
  • 3 miles per $1 if you opt in to emails
  • 5 miles per $1 through the end of the next year if you dine with the program at least 11 times within a calendar year and remain opted in to emails
  • Join here

TPG values United MileagePlus miles at 1.4 cents each, meaning you’ll get a return of 0.7% to 7% with the MileagePlus Dining program. This is a reasonable return if you want to earn United miles for an upcoming redemption.

Hotel dining rewards programs

While the earning rates are often higher with hotel dining programs, you should remember that TPG usually values hotel points lower than airline miles. As such, we wouldn’t recommend earning hotel points through dining rewards programs unless you need to top off your account for a high-value redemption or keep your points from expiring.

Choice Eat & Earn

The Choice Privileges Eat & Earn program is one of the newest additions to the dining rewards program space. TPG values Choice Privileges points at 0.6 cents each, meaning you’ll get a return of 3% when you use the Eat & Earn program. Note, though, that even if you need to earn Choice points, you’ll often get better value using another dining rewards program and buying Choice points during sales.

EDWARD PIZZARELLO/THE POINTS GUY

Eat Around Town by Marriott Bonvoy

You’ll find many ways to earn Marriott points, and Eat Around Town by Marriott Bonvoy is one of them. This hotel dining rewards program often offers lucrative new member bonuses where you can earn an increasingly appealing amount on each of your first three meals at participating restaurants.

TPG values Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.84 cents each. This means you can expect a return of 5.04% if you have Marriott status and a return of 3.36% if you are only an entry-level Marriott member.

Hilton Honors Dining

  • 2 points per $1 if you don’t opt in to emails from Hilton Honors Dining
  • 5 points per $1 if you opt in to emails
  • 8 points per $1 through the end of the next year if you dine with the program at least 11 times within a calendar year and remain opted in to emails
  • Join here

TPG values Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents each, so you’ll get a 1.2% to 4.8% return when you use the Hilton Honors Dining program.

You’ll obviously get a higher return with select airline dining rewards programs, such as AAdvantage Dining or Alaska Mileage Plan Dining. If you use an airline dining rewards program, you can still enroll a Hilton Honors credit card — many of which offer bonus points on purchases at U.S. restaurants — to get the best of both worlds.

IHG One Rewards Dine & Earn

  • 1 point per $1 if you don’t opt in to emails from IHG One Rewards Dine & Earn
  • 5 points per $1 if you opt in to emails
  • 8 points per $1 through the end of the next year if you dine with the program at least 11 times within a calendar year and remain opted in to emails
  • Join here

TPG values IHG One Rewards points at 0.5 cents each, so you’ll get a return of 0.5% to 4% through the IHG One Rewards Dine & Earn program. Even if you get more value from IHG points than our valuations suggest, an airline dining rewards program may provide a higher return rate. There are many other ways to earn IHG points, including cobranded IHG credit cards and buying IHG points.

Related: How and why you should maximize your hotel stays by using multiple loyalty programs

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Best credit cards to use with dining rewards programs

You can register multiple cards with each dining rewards program. Ideally, you should enroll and use one of the best credit cards for dining, as these cards offer bonus points or miles when you dine at restaurants. Here are a few of our currently available favorites:

The best card for dining rewards programs comes down to both the earning rate of your card and which type of points or miles you want to earn. It’s often a good choice to use a card that earns transferable points, as then you won’t be tied down to one currency and will have flexibility when redeeming your points.

Related: Can you earn rewards with a dining rewards program and a credit card at the same time?

Bottom line

The best dining rewards program for you depends on the rewards you want to earn, whether you plan to opt in to program emails and how frequently you plan on using the program. For example, if you don’t want to opt in to emails, you’ll want to use Eat Around Town by Marriott Bonvoy or Choice Eat & Earn since these programs don’t reduce your rewards if you opt out of emails.

Likewise, American AAdvantage Dining is best for those who want to earn Loyalty Points for American Airlines elite status, and Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining is a good option if you want to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. Meanwhile, Free Spirit Dining can help you keep your points from expiring.

Dining rewards programs are a great way to earn extra points and miles with minimal effort. However, remember to use an enrolled credit card that earns bonus points on dining and time your registration so you can meet the requirements to earn the first-dine bonus. Then, you can use that program or join more dining rewards programs and earn more first-dine bonuses.

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