Everyone knows dining out can be expensive. However, you actually can recoup some of those losses by earning miles and points through hotel and airline dining rewards programs. While these programs have been around for years, they’re often overlooked as a way to rack up additional points and miles with pretty much no downside.

Let’s take a look at some of the best dining rewards programs out there, how these programs work and the different benefits that they offer. Most of these programs partner with about 11,000 restaurants. So, chances are that you could earn points or miles by dining at a restaurant near you.

How Do Dining Rewards Programs Work?

Most dining rewards programs work similarly. They’re free to join. All you have to do is link a credit card to your account, and you’ll earn miles or points every time you use that credit card at a partnered restaurant. Many of these programs also have status tiers that reward you with higher earnings the more you dine at participating restaurants.

Even though there are many airline and hotel dining rewards programs, they’re not all the same. Some of these programs have different earnings rates and sign-up bonuses, and others can even help you earn elite status. Unfortunately, you can link each of your credit cards to only one dining rewards program, so it’s important to choose wisely.

Best Airline Dining Rewards Programs

In general, if you’re looking for the program with the best dining rewards, you’re better off looking at airline dining programs instead of hotel dining programs. Here are some of the best airline dining rewards programs:

American Airlines AAdvantage Dining

  • Earnings: 1X to 5X AAdvantage miles per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $25 or more at a participating restaurant within 30 days

After signing up for AAdvantage Dining, you’ll start earning 1X miles per dollar spent. If you opt in for email notifications, your earnings will be increased to 3X miles. Then, if you complete 11 transactions at participating restaurants in a calendar year, you’ll earn VIP status and 5X miles per dollar.

One nice thing about the AAdvantage Dining program is that it can help you earn elite status with American Airlines. Every mile that you earn through AAdvantage dining (except for bonuses) counts as a Loyalty Point, which can help you qualify for elite status.

best dining rewards program

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Dining

  • Earnings: 0.5X to 5X Mileage Plan miles per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 Mileage Plan miles when you spend $30 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 30 days

When you sign up for Mileage Plan Dining, you’ll receive at least 0.5X miles per dollar spent. However, by enrolling in email delivery from Alaska Mileage Plan Dining, you’ll become a Select member and earn 3X miles. Complete more than 11 qualified transactions in a calendar year and you’ll receive a VIP membership and earn 5X miles per dollar.

Alaska Mileage Plan is full of sweet spots and this program’s miles can be difficult to earn. So, signing up for Mileage Plan Dining might be a good way to boost your miles balance.

Delta SkyMiles Dining

  • Earnings: 0.5X to 5X SkyMiles miles per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 SkyMiles miles (or 1,500 SkyMiles if you’re a SkyMiles Medallion member) when you spend $30 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 30 days

Upon signing up for Delta SkyMiles Dining, you’ll receive 0.5X miles per dollar spent. By electing to receive emails from SkyMiles Dining, you’ll become a Select member and earn 3X miles. If you complete more than 11 qualified transactions in a calendar year, you’ll be bumped up to a VIP membership and earn 5X miles per dollar.

SkyMiles Dining is also one of the only airline dining rewards programs to offer second- and third-dine bonuses. Unfortunately, not all Delta SkyMiles Dining members qualify for these bonuses. If you do qualify, you’ll receive the offer from SkyMiles Dining via email.

Spirit Airlines Free Spirit Dining

  • Earnings: 0.5X to 5X Free Spirit miles per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 Free Spirit miles when you spend $30 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 30 days

By signing up for Free Spirit Dining, you’ll receive 0.5X miles per dollar spent at first. By saying “yes” to emails from Free Spirit Dining, you’ll start earning 3X miles. If you complete more than 11 qualified transactions in a calendar year, you’ll be bumped up to a VIP membership and earn 5X miles per dollar.

Spirit award flights start at just 2,500 miles. So, if you get the 1,000-point first-dine bonus and opt in for emails, you can save up enough points exclusively through Free Spirit Dining to purchase an award flight by spending less than $500 in your first year.

JetBlue TrueBlue Dining

  • Earnings: 1X to 3X TrueBlue points per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: None

You’ll start out earning 1X TrueBlue points per dollar spent with JetBlue TrueBlue Dining. By opting in for email notifications, your earnings will increase to 3X points. Unlike most other programs, TrueBlue Dining doesn’t have any status tiers. It also doesn’t offer a first-dine bonus.

In general, TrueBlue Dining offers less potential earnings and is an inferior restaurant reward program to those offered by other airlines.

best credit cards for dining

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Dining

  • Earnings: 0.5X to 3X Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 Rapid Rewards points when you spend $25 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 30 days

You’ll start out earning 0.5X Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent for joining Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Dining. When you opt in for email, you’ll start earning 3X points. There’s no VIP status within the program.

Every time you leave a review, you’ll receive 10 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. After you earn your first 1,500 points from dining and reviews with Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining, you’ll receive a “first-step bonus” of 500 points. Plus, each time you earn 1,000 points from dining and reviews, you’ll receive a “thank-you bonus” of 300 points.

Points earned through Rapid Rewards Dining also count toward the Southwest Companion Pass, one of the most valuable perks in the entire airline industry. Because of this and its points-earning potential, Rapid Rewards Dining may be the all-around best dining rewards program on this list.

United Airlines MileagePlus Dining

  • Earnings: 0.5 X to 5X MileagePlus miles per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: 3,000 MileagePlus miles when you spend $25 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 30 days

You’ll start out earning 0.5X MileagePlus miles per dollar with MileagePlus Dining. If you opt in for email communication, you’ll start earning 3X miles. After completing 11 qualifying transactions in a calendar year, you’ll earn VIP status and start earning 5X miles per dollar.

MileagePlus Dining offers the largest first-dine bonus out of any airline. Since United offers award flights as low as 5,000 miles sometimes, that 3,000-mile bonus from MileagePlus Dining will get you more than halfway to a free flight.

dining credit cards

Best Hotel Dining Rewards Programs

While earnings rates with hotel dining rewards programs can be higher than with airline dining rewards programs, hotel points are significantly less valuable than airline miles (in most cases). Still, if you stay at hotels far more often than you fly, then you might want to consider signing up for a hotel dining rewards program.

Here are the programs you might want to consider:

Choice Hotels Eat & Earn

  • Earnings: 5X Choice Privileges points per dollar at restaurants, 2X points per dollar on online orders
  • First-dine bonus: 500 Choice Privileges points when you spend $25 or more at a participating restaurant within 30 days

You’ll automatically start earning 5X points on dining and 2X points on online orders with Choice Eat & Earn. Each time you complete a dine and leave a review about that restaurant, you’ll earn an additional 10 bonus points.

You’re probably better off signing up for a dining rewards program with a larger hotel chain (such as Marriott or Hilton) than using Choice Eat & Earn as your dining rewards program.

Hilton Honors Dining

  • Earnings: 2X to 8X Hilton Honors points per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 Hilton Honors points when you spend $25 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 30 days

You’ll start by earning 2X Hilton Honors points per dollar when you sign up for Hilton Honors Dining. If you opt in for emails, you’ll upgrade to a Select member and earn 5X points. Then, by completing 11 qualifying transactions in a calendar year, you’ll achieve VIP status and earn 8X points per dollar.

While the Hilton Honors Dining program doesn’t stack up well against other dining rewards programs, some of Hilton’s co-branded credit cards offer spending bonuses on dining that are worth noting.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card earns 7X points on dining (a return of 3.5% on spending), and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card earns 6X points on dining (a return of 3% on spending), making these some of the best credit cards for dining out offered by any hotel chain. If you have the Aspire card linked to your Hilton Honors Dining account and you have VIP status, you could earn 15X points per dollar spent (a return of 7.5% on spending).

best credit cards for dining out

IHG One Rewards Dine & Earn

  • Earnings: 1X to 8X IHG One Rewards points per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 IHG One Rewards points when you spend $30 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 30 days

You’ll start earning 1X points per dollar after signing up for the IHG One Rewards Dine & Earn program. By opting in for email notifications, you’ll upgrade to Select membership and earn 5X points. If you complete 11 qualifying transactions in a calendar year, you’ll gain VIP status and earn 8X points per dollar.

It’s worth noting that IHG points expire after 12 months of inactivity for non-elite members. So, if you have a balance of IHG points that are in danger of expiring, earning points through Dine & Earn could be a good way to preserve those points.

Marriott Bonvoy Eat Around Town

  • Earnings: 2X to 8X Bonvoy points per dollar
  • First-dine bonus: 1,000 Bonvoy points the first time you spend $30 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 60 days
  • Second-dine bonus: 2,000 Bonvoy points the second time you spend $30 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 60 days
  • Third-dine bonus: 3,000 Marriott Bonvoy points the third time you spend $30 or more at a participating restaurant and write a review within 60 days

When you sign up for the Marriott Eat Around Town program, you’ll earn at least 4X Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar. However, if you have elite status with Marriott, your earnings will be bumped up to 6X points. Every time you complete 10 qualifying dines, you’ll earn an extra 1,000 points.

The Eat Around Town program also offers introductory bonuses that can be earned within the first 60 days of signing up. If you earn all three of these bonuses (which would require you to make three qualifying transactions of $30 or more at participating restaurants within the first 60 days), you’d earn 6,000 points, which is worth about $48. That’s reason enough to sign up for Eat Around Town (if only to earn those bonuses and then switch to another program).

best credit cards for dining points

What Are the Best Credit Cards to Use with Dining Rewards?

One great feature shared by all hotel and airline dining rewards programs is that any points or miles you earn through them will be in addition to the points or miles you earn with your credit card. So, the best way to rack up miles at restaurants is to couple your earnings from the aforementioned programs with the earnings from dining rewards credit cards.

For instance, let’s say that you have the American Express® Gold Card, which earns 4X American Express Membership Rewards points on dining, and you link that card to your Hilton Honors Dining account. If you have VIP status in the Hilton Honors Dining program, you’d earn 4X Amex points and 8X Hilton points per dollar spent at participating restaurants.

Here are some of the best dining credit cards available right now:

  • American Express® Gold Card: 4X points on restaurants worldwide (including takeout and delivery from U.S. restaurants)
  • Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: 3% cash back on dining
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: 3X points on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout)
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: 3X points on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout)
  • Citi Custom Cash® Card: 5% cash back up to $500 in highest spending category (which can be dining) each month
  • Citi Strata Premier℠ Card: 3X on dining (including takeout and delivery)
  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: 7X points on dining at U.S. restaurants (including takeout and delivery)

Of course, before you sign up for one of these cards, it’s important to look into the other bonus categories and benefits that these cards offer.

As a side note, if you happen to choose the Chase Sapphire Reserve® as your dining rewards card, then you’ll probably want to forgo signing up for any of the aforementioned airline or hotel dining rewards programs and use Chase Dining as your dining rewards program of choice instead. With the Sapphire Reserve, all Chase Dining purchases earn 10X points (and Chase Ultimate Rewards points are a much more flexible rewards currency than airline miles or hotel points).

Regardless of which dining program you use, coupling that program’s rewards with a credit card that offers good spending bonuses for dining can seriously increase your rewards earnings at restaurants.

How to Maximize Your Dining Rewards

In general, choosing the best dining rewards program comes down to which rewards currency is going to be the most valuable to you. For instance, if you tend to fly with United Airlines or one of its partner airlines often, then using United Airlines MileagePlus Dining as your primary dining rewards program might be a good idea. If you don’t fly often but you frequently stay at hotels, then using Marriott Eat Around Town as your dining rewards program might be a good idea.

And, as previously mentioned, once you choose your dining rewards program, linking that program to a credit card that offers elevated spending bonuses for dining can help you maximize your earnings at restaurants even more.

When it comes to which card is the best for earning at restaurants, we’d recommend the American Express® Gold Card, which offers 4X points at restaurants worldwide. American Express Membership Rewards points are also a valuable currency that can be transferred to a wide variety of airline and hotel partner programs. Of course, it’s also important to consider the other features of a credit card (spending bonuses in other categories, welcome offers, annual fees, benefits and more) before signing up.

It’s also possible to sign up for multiple dining rewards programs by linking a different credit card to each one. However, we would strongly advise against this. By exclusively using a single dining rewards program, you’ll consolidate your rewards and earn enough to buy that next award flight or award stay much quicker.

dining rewards credit cards

Satisfy Your Hunger for Rewards

No matter which airline or hotel dining rewards program you choose, you won’t have to pay anything to enroll. So, there’s really no reason not to join one of these programs and start earning points or miles on any dining purchases at participating restaurants.

However, it’s worth taking some time to decide which dining rewards program is going to benefit you the most because you can link each of your credit cards to only one of these programs. Things to consider include:

  • Which hotel/airline you use most often
  • The value of the rewards currency you’ll be earning
  • Points/miles earnings per dollar
  • Any sign-up/anniversary bonuses available
  • Whether your earnings will contribute to elite status

Once you take all these things into account, you can start earning points or miles on dining, takeout or delivery from restaurants in your area. You might be surprised to learn that one of your favorite restaurants is part of your dining rewards program of choice.