500 Free United Miles…and Another 2,500 Almost Free
Another quick and painless way to earn some free miles! MileagePlus Dining, the dining program affiliated with United Airlines, is running a promotion for new members.
(If you’re unfamiliar with dining programs, I’ll explain below.)
Here’s what you can earn:
- 500 miles for registering for the promotion, creating an online account, and linking your credit card(s) by July 10, 2014.
- 500 bonus miles each time you dine at a participating restaurant within 30 days. (Capped at 2,500 bonus miles.)
The various dining programs often run new member promotions, but compelling about this particular promotion is that there is no required minimum spend. So you’d earn 500 miles merely by signing up, and could theoretically buy 5 sodas (in five separate transactions) to earn an additional 2,500.
Remember that a domestic award flight on United starts at 12,500 miles…
…so for dining 5 times (or merely buying 5 sodas) you’re about a quarter of the way there.
[In the interest of accuracy, a domestic award actually starts at 10,000 miles if the flight is ≤ 700 miles. But that redemption yields such poor value for your miles that I hate to even mention it.]
Explanation of dining programs
There are dining programs affiliated with various travel providers. Through these programs, you earn airline miles or hotel points from dining at restaurants.
When signing up with a dining program, you enter your airline or hotel loyalty account number and register your credit card(s). Then, each time you dine at a participating restaurant and pay with a registered credit card you earn miles or points that should automatically post to your airline or hotel account.
Many times I didn’t even realize I’d eaten at a participating restaurant and am pleasantly surprised to see miles or points appear on my account after the fact.
Programs have tiered membership levels with different earnings rates. For example, United’s dining program currently has the following levels:
- A “Member” earns 1 mile/$.
- An “Online Member” earns 3 miles/$. To qualify, must opt in to receive program emails.
- A “VIP Member” earns 5 miles/$. To qualify, must have ≥ 12 qualified transactions/year, among other requirements.
The trick is to meet the 12-transaction requirement to trigger the highest tier as quickly as possible. So if you buy a sandwich, chips, and a drink, have the cashier charge each item separately. That way your credit card is swiped 3 times and you’ve completed 3 transactions instead of just one. (Sometimes I elicit weird looks doing this, but I care more about free flights than about a random stranger’s opinion of me.)
In my area there aren’t many participating restaurants that I normally eat at, and I certainly wouldn’t dine somewhere solely for points. But I’ve gotten many “surprise” points from unknowingly patronizing a participating restaurant, usually while traveling. Either way, earning is automatic once you’re properly registered so it’s an effortless way to earn a few miles and points here and there.
Many (maybe all) of these dining programs are managed by the same company, so you can’t register the same credit card across several programs and double/triple/quadruple dip. Whichever program you most recently registered a card with is the program that card will earn on.
But you can register multiple cards to one program. (I just register all my cards as I don’t see a reason not to.)
Furthermore, you can usually combine dining programs with other promotions. For example, sometimes Buca di Beppo has coupons for $10 off $20, presenting a good opportunity to eat there (assuming you like the food).