Nowadays a majority of miles are issued through non-flying means, ranging from credit cards to online shopping portals to airline dining programs.
If you’ve never used a points dining program before, the idea is that you can earn bonus miles for dining, in addition to whatever you’d otherwise earn through your credit card. Restaurants can opt into this, and they pay a percentage of the revenue from a transaction to the dining portal when you dine there. You simply link your credit card of choice, and then when you dine at a participating restaurant you’ll automatically earn bonus miles.
It’s not unusual to see a small bonus for joining a dining program, though at the moment the AAdvantage Dining program has an especially good bonus for anyone who isn’t yet a member.
Through October 31, 2017, the AAdvantage Dining program is offering new members up to 3,000 bonus miles within the first 30 days:
- Earn 1,500 bonus miles by spending $25 or more on your first participating restaurant visit
- Earn 500 bonus miles for each of your next three participating restaurant visits of at least $1 each
So you could potentially make a $25 dining purchase, and then subsequently buy three bottles of water, and you’d earn the full bonus. I value AAdvantage miles at ~1.3 cents each, so to me that’s like a return of $39. That means the miles you earn could potentially be worth more than what you spend on food, which is an awesome deal.
Now, do keep in mind that not all restaurants on the list are great. There’s a reason many of the restaurants choose to participate, and are willing to give a sizable chunk of their revenue to a third party.
Most dining portals are run by Rewards Network, and they essentially offer a white label service for airline, which is why most airlines have their own shopping portal. The good news is that you can earn any sort of welcome bonuses with each of them. However, you can only have one credit card linked to one of the programs at a time, so there’s no way to double (or sextuple) dip.
(Tip of the hat to Doctor of Credit)