If you’re a foodie who samples every new restaurant, a mover and shaker who power lunches daily or just a busy person who orders a lot of takeout, make sure you’re getting your just deserts with maximum rewards.
These seven tips will ensure none of your restaurant spending goes to waste:
- Pick the right card for restaurant spending: The first step is to make sure you’re using a credit card that serves up maximum rewards for restaurant spending, says Ben Mackinnon, co-founder and CEO of Kard, a free tool that helps consumers increase reward earnings. He uses the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which offers three points per dollar spent on dining and travel, but the annual fee is $450 (which is partially offset by a travel credit of $300 per year). If that doesn’t make sense for you, there are many cards with lower annual fees, some waived for the first year, that offer bonus points on restaurant meals, says Rosemarie Clancy, vice-president of content and marketing for RewardExpert, a service that helps consumers navigate rewards.
- If you’re willing to pay a higher annual fee (for increased benefits), the Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) rewards 2X points in the dining category.
- Find out what counts: You don’t want to buy lunch for your 10 best friends at a coffee shop, expecting to get double or triple points, then find out you earned only a point per dollar. So clarify ahead of time what your issuer classifies as restaurant spending, Mackinnon says. It can depend on which merchant category code (MCC) the establishment uses, and issuers vary in which codes they include in the dining category. For example, bar, coffee shop or ice cream shop purchases may or may not count. If you already have a card, you can check your rewards history to see what generally counts. If you’re shopping for a card, you might want to call and grill the issuer before you apply. And if you learn that the coffee shop down the street doesn’t count as a restaurant on your favorite card, you may want to steer your party of 10 to the deli next door.
Note that many cards also limit their “dining” categories only to U.S. restaurants.
- Mark your cards: If you have a slew of cards in your wallet, it’s easy to accidentally reach for the wrong one and miss out on your added earnings. Clancy recommends choosing a method that will help you remember which card to use where. One low-tech way is to simply put a sticky note on each card. If you want something more high tech, consider using an app that organizes your cards and rewards programs, she says.
- Sign up for dining rewards: In addition to getting extra restaurant rewards from your credit card, sign up for dining rewards programs that add miles or points to your airline or hotel loyalty account when you use a card registered with the program. You can sign up via your favorite airline or hotel chain or go directly to a site like Rewards Network, where you can choose to earn toward flights, hotel stays, money for college or even donations to charity. It might be better, though, to sign up directly through an airline or hotel that offers a bonus for joining the program. For example, Delta’s SkyMiles Dining is offering up to 3,000 extra points for visiting up to three participating restaurants in your first 30 days in the program. You earn points only when dining at restaurants that are part of the program, so weigh that when deciding where to eat, Clancy recommends.
“It can get a little tricky,” she says.
- Check for special deals: Some card issuers, such as American Express and Bank of America offer special deals at specific restaurants, Mackinnon points out.
“Instead of a 2 or 3 percent return, you can get in the neighborhood of 10 percent,” he says.
He says he favors BankAmeriDeals, which are special offers from Bank of America. If you have a credit card from that issuer, you’ll see an offer come up on the issuer portal. Click to add it, use your card to pay the bill at that restaurant and get an automatic rebate.
“I live in New York, and I get tons of offers at local restaurants that I might want go out to,” Mackinnon says.
American Express also has similar offers targeted to your location and past spending, he says.
“Each issuer structures their program differently,” he says.
- Stack your rewards: You can supersize your restaurant rewards with “extreme stacking,” Clancy says. For example, consider using Groupon, she says. If you do, first go through your card issuer’s shopping portal to get to Groupon’s website, she says. Many card issuers include Groupon as a partner, meaning you can earn double, triple, quadruple or even five times the rewards for your Groupon purchase. Also participate in Groupon’s cash-back deals, she recommends. If on top of that, you make your reservation through Open Table, you can earn also points toward free meals with its rewards program. By using this method, one diner who conducted an experiment for Reward Expert spent $69.41 on a dinner for two at a vegan restaurant in New York and earned 295 Chase Ultimate Rewards points plus 103 American Airlines miles and 100 Open Table points.
While some diners are satisfied with earning one or two points per dollar spent, others are hungry for more. If you’re one of them, use these tips until you’re satisfied.
“It just depends on how much you dine out and how much work you want to do,” Clancy says. “Some people enjoy their meal much more if they know they’re getting 500 points instead of 50.”