The Beginner’s Guide to Flying First Class Using Dining Programs

June 27, 2014 by

So what are dining programs and how can they help me fly first class? For beginners who are just starting out with airline miles and hotel points, dining programs can be a lucrative boost that helps you fly first class sooner.

Dining programs are available through hotels and airlines and award you points for each meal you eat at a participating bar or restaurant. You have to sign up on the hotel’s or airline’s website but memberships are free and the applications are simple. Just link your most-used credit or debit card and start earning. Something to remember though, you can only link one card per program and you cannot use the same card for multiple dining programs. For several programs there are no caps on the miles you can earn and you can continue to earn as long as you have a card linked to the account. There are also sign up bonuses for enjoying a meal at a qualifying restaurant within the first 30 days of your membership in addition to filling out a survey and many of the programs give you 5 miles per $1 spent.

Checking your dining program’s website is key to getting the most out of your membership. A lot of the participating restaurants change from month to month and there are bonus events like double points at certain restaurants that can really boost your point/miles count. If you have the right credit card as well that earns extra rewards at restaurants, you can get double the benefits from the dining programs.

In addition to your regular airline frequent flyer miles, credit card miles, and hotel points, dining programs can boost you to first class with their bonuses, large earning potential with 5 miles per $1 spent, and if you’re a constant traveler, eating out is your bread and butter so you’re always earning points. Dining program points can also push you into different frequent flyer tiers, which means you gain access to first class seats sooner and sometimes with lower upgrade fees. Dining programs allow you to earn points towards first class seats quicker and can boost your status giving you access to the most comfortable seats on the flight.

When you first start out on dining programs, it’s important to know the basics so that you can pick the right credit card, airline or hotel program, and utilize the best booking website to maximize points. Having the right credit card goes a long way to gaining dining points. If you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred that gives you 2 points per $1 at restaurants, you can earn twice the points if you go to a bar or restaurant that participates in your AAdvantage dining program. You can earn even more extras by booking that reservation with OpenTable: an online reservation website with access to 25,000 restaurants worldwide.

As a beginner, you’ll want to make sure you have the right credit card and airline or hotel program that fits your budget and where you stay/fly the most. You also have to pay off your credit card each month to keep the miles/points you’ve earned. Delinquent accounts always lose that month’s points; having a card that earns miles or points is wonderful as long as you can keep the miles every month by paying the bill in full. Beginners can fly first class by accumulating points through flying on airlines, dining programs, hotel programs, and transferring points among partners. Make the most of your programs by getting points wherever you can. Flying first class becomes the norm when you bank on points every time you order the usual at your favorite restaurant.


1. The Right Credit Card

Beginner's Dining Program Chase Sapphire Preferred

When you’re trying to fly for free in first class, using the right credit card to not only maximize your air travel miles but capitalize on lucrative dining points can help you get their quickly. There are a bunch of credit cards available that are great for those just starting out with the dining points game and help with airline miles as well.


  • AMEX Blue Sky Preferred: With the AMEX Blue Sky Preferred card you earn 2 points per $1 spent and then redeem those points for travel expenses at 1.3 cents per point. Although there is a $75 annual fee, the travel benefits from dining and airline miles are huge. With AMEX you can transfer rewards to your other airlines and hotels, which allows you to get in that first class seat quicker. The dining points are just the cherry on top of the miles sundae.


  • Chase Sapphire, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and First Friday: Both the Chase Sapphire and Chase Sapphire Preferred offer 2 points per $1 on dining without any earning limits. The Sapphire Preferred card has a $95 annual fee, which is low compared with all the travel and dining benefits of the card while the Sapphire has a no annual fee for those just starting out with travel points. These cards are great for those who want to get into flying for free with points due to their ability to transfer rewards to many hotels, airlines, and rental car services and their high earning potential. Chase has also partnered with OpenTable to provide 3 points per $1 spent on the first Friday of every month at participating restaurants. You have to use your Chase card to get the points but 12 times per year you can bank on extra points that will boost you to a first class experience quicker.


  • Hyatt: The Hyatt credit card is perfect for dining, hotels, and airlines due to its expansive reach of transfer partner and 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants. There’s a $75 annual fee but this card is great for beginners looking to learn how to transfer their rewards and get the most of every dollar spent on travel and dining.


  • Marriott Rewards Premier: With the Marriott Rewards Premier card you earn 2 points per $1 at participating restaurants with an $85 annual fee that’s waived the first year. This card also comes with an annual free night at a category 1-4 hotel, which helps you gain more travel miles and dining points. If you constantly travel or stay at Marriott properties frequently, this is a great card for beginning restaurant point enthusiasts.


2. The Right Airline

Beginner's Dining Program United Mileage Plus

  • Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Dining Program awards you with 5 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and bars that participate in the program and they offer a generous 500 mile bonus after you spend $30 in the first 30 days. The limit is capped at $600 per month, but there are certain restaurants that offer double miles during certain times of the month. You can check their website for restaurant updates and changes since this program seems to change their list of participators often.


  • American Airlines: The AAdvantage Dining Program also offers 5 miles per $1 spent but they give you 1,000 bonus miles for new members who spend $40 at a restaurant within the first 30 days. Be sure to check the website to make sure you’re attending a participating restaurant and you have to spend the $40 in one meal; no separate transactions. You also have to complete a dining survey within 30 days of your meal to gain the bonus miles. There are lots of restaurant options to choose from and the AAdvantage Dining Program website is constantly updated.


  • Delta: Out of all the dining programs, Delta’s SkyMiles Dining Rewards offers the largest sign up bonus with 1,500 miles after registering, spending $40 at a participating restaurant within 30 days, and completing a dining survey within 30 days of the meal. They also offer 5 miles per $1 spent at qualifying restaurants, which makes this the most lucrative program.


  • Southwest: Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Dining is the least lucrative out of all the dining programs offering only 3 points per $1 spent at participating restaurants with 300 bonus points after spending $25 within the first 60 days after sign up. They do offer an additional 500 points after you earn 1,500 dining points and dining surveys, but that’s 20, $25 dinners or if you’re a couple, 13, $40 dinners (not as bad but still a lot of eating out).


  • United: United falls into a similar category as American Airlines with 5 miles per $1 at participating bars and restaurants with a 1,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending $40 at a qualifying restaurant within 30 days. You also need to fill out a dining review within 30 days of your dine, however. You can use their helpful website to find participating establishments near you to make the most of your points per dollar.


  • US Airways: US Airways matches their partner American Airlines with 5 miles per $1 spent at participating restaurants and bars with a 1,000 mile bonus after signing up and spending $40 at a participating restaurant in the first 30 days. US Airways also requires you to complete a dining survey within 30 days of your dine but there are lots of establishments to choose from.


3. The Right Hotel

Beginner's Dining Program IHG hotels

  • Hilton: For those who love to travel and dine out, the Hilton HHonors Dining Program gives you 8 HHonors points per $1 spent at participating bars and restaurants with a 1,000 point bonus for signing up. You have to spend $40 at a qualifying restaurant within 30 days and complete a dining survey within 30 days of your meal, but this program is perfect for beginning travelers. You may not always fly to every destination you travel to, but you will need a hotel and a place to eat. The HHonors program is lucrative with tons of great hotels and for beginners on a budget. Eating out and finding a great bed will be easy when you have a long list of restaurants where you earn tons of points for each bite.


  • IHG: Like the Hilton HHonors program, IHG Priority Club Rewards Dining Program gives you 8 points per $1 spent at participating bars and restaurants with a 1,000 point bonus after signing up and spending $40 within 30 days. You do have to complete a dining survey within 30 days of your dine but for the budget traveler, IHG properties are great in price and rewards. They offer a lot of great bonuses and reasonable prices, which allow you to fly in first class sooner.


4. Other Noteworthy Dining Programs

Beginner's Dining Program OpenTable logo

  • OpenTable: OpenTable is an online reservations website that gives you access to 25,000 restaurants in the U.S. and around the world. Because you book through the online portal instead of by calling the restaurant, you earn points for every reservation that you can redeem for dining certificates. OpenTable allows you access to each restaurant’s reservation system, which means your name will automatically appear on the restaurant’s list. You have to make sure to check in at the restaurant in order to be awarded your points but there are tons of places where you can bank on this service.


The typical reservation earns 100 points but every so often there are certain tables that earn 1,000 points. If the restaurant participates in both your airline or hotel program, you can earn points through OpenTable and through your dining rewards program, which means double points! If you have a credit card where you earn extra miles at restaurants, you can sweeten the deal even more. That’s miles/points on your credit card for eating at a restaurant, points through your hotel/airline dining program for dining at a participating restaurant, and points for booking through Open Table. Bonus!

Bank on as many programs as you can. Sign up for the airline or hotel you use the most to get the most points or research the list of restaurants to find one you dine at frequently, get the right credit card that meets your needs, and try to make reservations through OpenTable to earn dining certificates and points. By making the most of dining out at your favorite restaurants and earning as many points as you can, you’ll be sure to be flying in a comfortable first class sleeper seat in no time.