If credit card reward points seem confusing or something you don’t think is worth the time bothering with, trust us when we say you should try to wrap your head around them. How it works is simple: With most cards, you get a point for every dollar you spend, then later those points can be redeemed for gift cards, cash, and travel, among other goodies. And if you love to eat out as much as we do (we’re assuming if you’re on this site, that’s the case), know that we’re in the golden age of reward-rich cards for restaurant lovers. The key is to figure out how to maximize your points when eating that filet or tipping back a glass of champagne at your favorite establishment. Here’s how your rewards and bonuses can add up quickly.
Strategically Select Specific Cards to Use in Restaurants
Be sure to do some comparison shopping before choosing which card to go with, especially if you’re interested in racking up points by eating out. “Credit card companies have recently launched a number of new products that are incredibly generous for consumers who dine out regularly,” says Alex Miller, founder of upgradedpoints.com. “With some rewards cards, you’ll bank up to four points per dollar spent. This is a far superior approach than using cash or a debit card that earns you nothing back in return.”
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Look for Extra Opportunities to Use Your Card
If you go out to business lunches often and your company reimburses you, try to choose a reward card to cover those expenses. Be sure to clear it with your employer first and keep all the purchases on one card so they’re easy to track. The money spent entertaining clients or power lunching can earn you points you wouldn’t otherwise have.
Also, next time you’re having dinner with a big group of friends, offer to throw down your rewards card and ask everyone else just to Venmo you. This way, you’re saving the waiter from the chaos-making check-splitting process and you’re earning rewards on a large tab. Just be sure to pay off the bill on your credit card right away so you’re not accumulating debt.
Use Dining Programs to Stack Points
We know. It sounds like something…illegal. But stacking points simply means earning double (or more) points on certain transactions. If you have a credit card that gives you points on each dollar you spend and also offers a separate dining rewards program, you will effectively stack points every time you dine in restaurants that are a part of the program. For example, Delta has recently launched a SkyMiles dining program that provides extra SkyMiles for eating at participating restaurants.
Other airlines are doing this too. “If you register your credit cards to the American Airlines dining program, for example, not only will you earn points directly from the card that you use at a restaurant, but if that restaurant is a member of American Airlines’ dining program, you’ll also earn up to five additional points per dollar spent,” says Miller. “Assuming the card that you use earns four points per dollar, that would result in a whopping nine points per dollar spent, which is an incredible return.”
Pay Attention to Bonuses
Many cards and dining programs have initial bonuses where you can earn a large number of points just by signing up. (Skymiles dining program gives new members up to 3,000 points in their first 30 days in the program depending on how much you spend). Be sure to keep track of how much you earn during the bonus period to ensure that you meet all the minimum requirements and don’t leave valuable rewards on the table.
Read the Fine Print
Do your due diligence—look over the terms of all credit cards before signing on the dotted line. Make sure the annual fees or a high-interest rate don’t cancel out the perks of the card by being more than you can afford.
Yes, This Can Be Fun
Getting better at accumulating as many credit card rewards as you can does start to feel like a game, in a good way, with real-world prizes awarded to the shrewdest spenders. Like anything else, it takes some practice. Mastering this particular skill, however, might just get you to a beach in Hawaii.