How to make the most of an airline dining program

Pick the airline you use the most, and find out what restaurants participate

Lyn Mettler
Personal finance writer
Specializes in writing on travel, family and food

How to make the most of an airline dining program

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Flying frequently with your preferred airline is a great way to earn miles, but you can also do it by dining out. 

My family of four flies nearly everywhere on Southwest Airlines. We’re always looking to collect Southwest Rapid Rewards points however we can, and we’re also working on our next Southwest Companion Pass, which allows my husband to always fly free with me.

Some of my favorite ways to earn Southwest points include spending on my Southwest Rapid Rewards personal and business cards, spending through the online Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal and booking hotels through SouthwestHotels.com

But an often overlooked technique to earn airline miles with Southwest and other airlines is by taking advantage of their dining programs.

How do airline dining programs work?

United, American, Delta, Southwest and Alaska and other airlines offer programs that allow their loyalty members to earn miles or points when dining at select restaurants. However, you can only earn miles or points in one dining program at a time. All of the programs are administered by the Rewards Network. 

Pick the airline where you most need miles or points and enroll in its dining program. From there, you will be asked to register any credit or debit cards you might use to pay for a meal at a restaurant.

Then, when you dine at a restaurant that participates in the program, you’ll automatically earn miles and points without having to do anything further.

With Southwest, for example, you earn 3 points per $1 spent at each participating restaurant if you are enrolled in the Rapid Rewards Dining email newsletter; otherwise, you’ll earn 1 point per $2. 

Additionally, anytime you complete a review of the restaurant in your Rapid Rewards account, you’ll earn another 10 bonus points. While the numbers aren’t huge, they are essentially free points for completing an activity many of us do anyway.

See related: How to book an all-inclusive vacation using rewards points

How do I know what restaurants participate?

If you want to be sure you’re eating at a participating restaurant, you can visit the airline’s dining program website and search for restaurants in your area. Restaurants in the program tend to be locally owned versus larger chains. And since all the programs are run by the same company, the same restaurants tend to appear in each one. 

We have been pleasantly surprised to earn points when traveling and eating at a random restaurant that we did not even know was participating. So, you never know when you might earn points.

Taking advantage of new member bonuses

If you’re new to a particular airline dining program, you can often earn a one-time points or miles bonus. For example, AAdvantage Dining, American Airlines’ dining program, allows you to earn 1,000 bonus miles when you spend $25 at any participating restaurant within the first 30 days. Delta SkyMiles Dining lets you earn up to 3,000 bonus miles when you spend $30 at three restaurants within the first 30 days and complete a review of each.

You’ll want to be sure you research participating restaurants to ensure you get your bonus miles or points within the allotted time frame for the bonus offer.

For those looking to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you need to collect 110,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points within one calendar year. Points earned as a new member are “bonus” points, which do not qualify for the Companion Pass, but regular points earned from dining at participating restaurants do qualify.

See related: A complete guide to airline companion passes

How to take full advantage of dining programs

To get the most out of an airline dining program, I recommend the following:

  • Be sure to enter all credit and debit cards you think you will use to pay for a restaurant bill. Go ahead and enter all that you have, just in case. You never know which card you'll use or accidentally leave at home!
  • Once every six months or so, update your credit and debit card information in the dining program in case you’ve received a new card in the mail, changed banks or added and deleted cards from your portfolio.
  • Complete the new member bonus in each airline loyalty program you use. Just be aware that you can only have a card activated in one program at a time, so as soon as you add it to a different program, it will be deactivated from the previous program. (However, you can have different cards registered in different dining programs.)
  • Dine out at participating restaurants as often as you can. If you tend to cook at home and dining out is not a big part of your routine, airline dining programs won't be a primary source of rewards for you.  

Who can argue with free miles and points for meals you’d be eating anyway? Not me! I say you might as well earn a return on your spend in the form of free travel.

AIRLINE AND HOTEL DINING REWARDS PROGRAMS
Airline Program name Features
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Dining

5 miles/$1 for “VIP members” (agree to receive emails and dine at least 12 times/year at participating restaurants)
3 miles/$1 for “online members” (agreeing to receive emails)
1 mile/$2 spent for all others

American Airlines AAdvantage Dining

5 miles/$1 for “VIP members” (agree to receive emails and dine at least 12 times/year at participating restaurants)
3 miles/$1 for “online members” (agreeing to receive emails)
1 mile/$2 spent for all others

Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Dining

5 miles/$1 for “VIP members” (agree to receive emails and dine at least 12 times/year at participating restaurants)
3 miles/$1 for “online members” (agreeing to receive emails)
1 mile/$2 spent for all others

JetBlue Airlines True Blue Dining

3 points/$1 spent 

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Dining

3 points/$1 for agreeing to receive emails
1 point/$2 if you don’t sign up for emails

Spirit Airlines Free Spirit Dining

5 miles/$1 for “VIP members” (agree to receive emails and dine at least 12 times/year at participating restaurants)
3 miles/$1 for “online members” (agreeing to receive emails)
1 mile/$2 spent for all others

United Airlines MileagePlus Dining

5 miles/$1 for “VIP members” (agree to receive emails and dine at least 12 times/year at participating restaurants)
3 miles/$1 for “online members” (agreeing to receive emails)
1 mile/$2 spent for all others

Hotel Program name Features
Hilton HHonors Dining

8 points/$1 if you agree to receive emails and dine at least 11 times/year at participating restaurants)
5 points/$1 if you agree to receive emails and dine 10 times or less per year
2 points/dollar spent for all others

IHG IHG Rewards Club Dining

8 points/$1 for “elite members” (agree to receive emails and dine at least 11 times/year at participating restaurants)
5 points/$1 for “online members” (agreeing to receive emails)
1 point/$1 spent for all others

Source: CreditCards.com research, September 2018.


Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.




Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.


Updated: 10-17-2018