Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Maximizing Mileage - Dining Programs

Chapter 1 - Shopping Portals
Chapter 2 - Dining Programs
Chapter 3 - Double Dipping

A few weeks ago, I explained how you can really multiply your points earning by shopping online using Shopping Portals. In this next installment of my series, Maximizing Mileage, we'll talk about how you can do the same thing when you go out to eat.

If you know my parents in real life, you'd know they're never ones to turn down a nice meal. My mother's actually quite a good cook, but it's apparently very difficult to replicate some of the amazing restaurants and tasty local foods we've been able to experience on our travels.

But as you know, spending money on eating out can get quite expensive and really put a dent in your budget when my parents should be saving up for my prom dress in 13 years (yes, I fully expect to be invited to the Senior Prom in my freshman year).

So aside from the usual tricks of having an appetizer as your entree or splitting 1 meal for 2 people, there aren't too many new ways to save money when going out to eat. However, there are a few programs that will get you frequent flyer miles or points to help offset your next vacation, which is the next best thing to saving money.

Using the Right Credit Card

If you're a regular reader of LCD, you'd know that several credit cards offer bonus points for restaurants, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x). So a $50 dinner at any restaurant will net you 100 Chase UR points which can be redeemed for $1 USD off your credit card bill (so 2% cash back).

However, those same 100 Chase UR points can be converted into United Airline Miles or Hyatt Gold Passport Points. When you accrue enough for an award redemption, you can easily get 2-4 cents/pt of value, making your 100 points worth $2-4 (4-8% rebate on your $50 dinner).

Now, of course, $2 isn't going to change your life, but if you're going to eat out anyway, might as well start earning a few bucks here and there because they will add up quickly.

Now if you combine your bonus credit card spending with Dining Programs, you can really boost your balances.

Open Table

Similar to the way retailers will give a sales commission to online portals for sending customers to their websites, restaurants will do the same thing to services that will attract diners.

Websites like Opentable.com work this way and make money from the restaurants by generating a few reservations each week. Opentable will then give you some points (100-1,000 per reservation) to encourage you to use their website to book reservations in their restaurant network.

And when you have 10,000 points, you get a $100 coupon to use at any restaurant in the Opentable network. So by booking a reservation on their site, you earn 100 points which is worth $1. Again, not earth shattering but they do add up if you eat out anyway.

But they sometimes offer 1,000 points (worth $10) for certain restaurants that REALLY want to attract customers (many times they're good restaurants who want to seat people during off hours like 2PM-6PM, but you do find some horrible venues as well who are desperate for customers).

Rewards Network

But Opentable is very well known by now to many of you. However, there is another company called Rewards Network that runs a slightly different dining program for their clients (United Airlines, American Airlines, US Airways, Delta Airlines, Hilton Hotels, Priority Club Hotels, etc).

Each airline or hotel has its own dining program that is run by Rewards Network. In each case, you sign up to the specific program you want (we chose United MileagePlus Dining, of course) and register your credit card numbers. And yes, the RN website is as safe as anything else on the internet, so don't freak out that your credit card numbers will get compromised.

But instead of having to make reservations at specific restaurants, you will earn points WHENEVER you use one of your registered credit cards at a restaurant in the RN network. If you're a regular online member who signs up for their emails, you will earn 3 miles per $1 spent. If you hit VIP elite status (12 dines in a calendar year), then you'll get 5 miles per $1 spent. (Tip: splitting your bill using 2 registered credit cards will result in 2 dines toward your elite VIP qualification).

Admittedly, there are not as many restaurants in the RN program, but again, if you're going to eat out anyway, might as well have a chance at earning a few extra points. And if you're like my father who thinks that a burger is a burger is a burger, then you might even search for a nearby restaurant in the RN program so you can earn those 5x miles.

For example, after doing an address search for his old NYC office location, he found 3-4 nearby restaurants that he would always use for business lunch/dinner meetings or after work drinks with his co-workers.
  • Philippe (60th and Madision)
  • Papillion Bistro (54th and Madison)
  • Rue 57 (57th and 6th)
  • Uncle Jack's Steakhouse (56th and 6th)
And last week when he was working in Boise, he found a few nearby RN restaurants that had decent lunch and dinner.
  • Cazba (211 N 8th Street)
  • Asiago (1002 Main Street)
A lot of points earning for work travel related meals that will be reimbursed.


And sometimes, you really don't care about points and miles. Sometimes, cash is king and saving money is more important than earning a new form of illiquid currency that you can only use at certain times for specific situations. That's where the website Savored.com comes in.

Similar to Opentable, you use Savored to book a reservation but instead of points that you can redeem for restaurant gift certificates, you get an immediate 15-30% discount off your bill (including all beverages) immediately!

For example, my father wanted to thank his friends for helping him with his apartment before we left on our trip, so he used Savored.com to book a reservation for 5 people at Bread and Tulip (365 Park Avenue South). When he showed up, he mentioned that he booked through Savored and the waitress immediately knew what that meant - they'd order a lot because it was a 30% discount for them.

Of course, you should always tip your server on the pre-discount amount. After all, he/she still did the same amount of work even if you're only paying 70% of the price.

Overall Payout

So the beauty of this scheme is that they are run by 4 different companies and often, the same restaurant that needs help attracting customers will work with several of them at once whether they know it or not.

Imagine a scenario where an obsessive a dedicated person such as my father were planning a dinner with some friends. He selects a Greek restaurant like Parea (36 East 20th Street) and makes a dinner reservation for 4 on Savored.com so that everyone will save 30% on the final bill.

Coincidentally, Parea is also a member of the Rewards Network program which will earn him 5x United miles if he uses one of his registered credit cards. And of course, he will.

And it will be his Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa which will earn him an additional 2x Chase UR points. To top it all off, if he gets his guests to give him cash for their portion of the bill, he can put the entire charge on his credit card.
  • Value of Dinner for 4 adults:  $200
  • Savored Discount:  30%
  • Price Paid:  $140
  • Cash from Other Couple:  $70
  • My Father's Out of Pocket:  $70
  • Rewards Network Dine:  5 x $140 = 700 United miles
  • Chase UR Dining Spend:  2 x $140 = 280 Chase UR points
So my parents ate/drank $100 worth of food and drink, only paid $70 cash and earned 980 points/miles that are worth anywhere from $10-39 (assuming 1-4 cents/pt award redemption). So even if you gave him the low value for his points, he would have only paid $60 for $100 worth of dinner, a 40% discount.

That $40 of savings will help nicely towards my future prom shoes.


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