This is a complete overview and guide including tips, tricks, and strategies to maximize earning on Rewards Network. I’ve been a member of Reward Networks (formerly iDine) for quite some time but I’ve never really looked into the program or consider it as a source of miles. This is why finally decided to do extensive research and post everything I discovered. I enjoy eating out and love accumulating frequent flier miles and hotel points so why not get both done at the same time?
What is Rewards Network? Rewards Network allows you to dine at various restaurants and bars to earn miles across a variety of frequent flier and point programs of your choice. I’m only interested in the airline miles/hotel points so I’ll only list those dining programs here:
Currently I’m enrolled in the American Airlines, United and Hilton HHonors programs. Technically these dining programs are separate but you’re allowed to sign up for each of them as long as you use a different credit card with each (more on that later).
How does it work? The premise is simple. The first two steps are initial setup.
- You sign up for a dining program for which you wish to earn miles/points towards.
- You register your credit card which you plan on using when dining.
- Locate participating restaurants & bars.
- Dine at participating location.
- Use your credit card to pay.
- Your dine is automatically recorded and should appear in your Rewards Network account in 5-10 days.
I first joined this program thinking I would passively stumble across participating restaurants and earn miles. It didn’t happen that way because I generally don’t eat out much and when I do eat out it’s generally at the same 2-3 locations. Looking at the participating restaurants on Rewards Network got me to try new restaurants and earn a good amount of miles at the same time.
How do you earn miles and what’s the reward structure? The membership structure is divided into three tiers and how many miles you earn depends on which tier you are in. I’ll use the American Airlines Dining Program here on out as an example.
- Member. This is a person who has joined but does not have an online profile setup. You earn 1 mile per each dollar spent.
- Online Member. You have an online profile and choose to receive e-mails from AA Dining. You earn 3 miles for every dollar spent.
- VIP Member. You meet the online member requirements and you have 12 or more qualified transactions in the calendar year. You earn 5 miles per dollar spent and generally more bonus offers.
The miles earned per dollar spent not only includes the bill but the amount paid for tax & tip. Obviously the most beneficial and lucrative earning potential is at the VIP Member level. 12 transactions may seem like a lot but I’ll talk about how to get there easily.
Fast track to becoming a VIP Member. Using conventional wisdom the quickest way to get the qualifying 12 dines would be to eat out at participating locations 12 times. However there are a couple tips and tricks you can use to get there faster.
- Quick meals add up. I’ve noticed that some areas have fast food locations that participate. I don’t have any participating fast food locations by me or condone eating too much fast food but this means you can stop by and enjoy a burger and fries for a couple bucks and rack up a dine.
- Split up transactions. If you decide to go out to a participating location try ways to get multiple charges on one visit. For example if you sit at the bar first, pay for your drinks with your card. This counts as a qualifying transaction. Then have your meal and use your card to pay again and this is another qualifying transaction. You’ve just earned two qualifying transactions in one outing. Also, if you’ve registered for multiple dining programs with different cards you can ask to split the check between the cards.
- Have a drink or two. There’s a bar near me that I’ve visited several times and never realized that they participate. Grabbing a beer or two here and paying would be a very quick and cheap way to rack up a dine.
- Buy gift cards ahead of time. Let’s say you’re planning on having a big dinner at a restaurant where the bill would amount to say $300 and you only have 10 dines in the program. This would mean you would earn 3 miles per dollar or roughly 900 miles for this dine. The smart thing to do is go ahead of time and buy 2 gift cards for say $25 and $25 (best to do on separate occasions to avoid transaction looking like duplicates or do different amounts). You’ll still earn 150 miles (3 miles/$) for the $50 in gift card purchases but you’ll also have 2 qualifying dines to get you to VIP status where you’ll earn 5 miles for each dollar spent. For the $300 dinner tab you’ll redeem both your $50 worth of GCs and pay the remaining $250 balance which would net you 1,250 miles. So for a dine which you would’ve earned 900 miles originally you’ve now netted 1,400 miles (1,250 + 150).
Also note that buying gift cards ahead of time is good for earning miles for restaurants/bars that don’t participate on certain days (usually Friday and Saturday). Now that you’re a VIP member you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar spent here on out. You’ll also receive more bonus offers and opportunities.
Bonus, bonus and more bonuses! Every now and then the various dining programs will have different bonuses. AA Dining recently had a 500 miles for a $10+ dine and United currently has a 500 mile bonus for every $75 spent. These bonuses are on top of your regular earnings.
You only get access to the different bonuses if you’re a member of that particular dining program. This is why I recommend joining all the various dining programs that you already accumulate points and miles on. The various bonuses help to pad your account plus the activity keeps your miles/points from expiring.
Tips to avoid bad restaurants. I mean unless you’re dining solely for the miles you want to have a good dining experience right? I would not rely on the restaurant ratings on the dining program websites because they seem to be overrated. This is why if I find a participating location I check out reviews from other sources such as Yelp to get a better idea of the place. Using this method for screening restaurants I’ve found that there are a lot of bad restaurants participating in the program which makes sense as they’re trying to attract customers. However I’ve also discovered really great restaurants that participate in the program.
Make sure you’ll earn miles on the visit! Some restaurants and bars only participate on certain days of the week so make sure you can earn miles on the day of your visit. As I mentioned before you can still earn miles if you buy gift cards ahead of time. Also some restaurants do not allow miles to be earned on certain credit cards used even if they accept them. Usually this is the case with either Amex or Discover. The restaurant will accept the card for the purchase but you won’t get miles for them. Check the restaurant’s info page on Rewards Network to make sure they accept that card to earn miles.
Remember that these earnings are on top of your credit card rewards. If you have a cash back or miles card you’ll still earn the rewards from dining through your card issuer. If I use my Citi AAdvantage card which nets me 1 mile per $1 spent with my dine that nets me 6 miles per every dollar spent. If you dine out a lot 6 miles per dollar spent adds up very quickly.
Maximize the situation when you’re eating out with people who don’t care about miles and pay cash. Collect the cash and offer to pay the table’s tab. With a group of people you can earn thousands of miles each time.