Tips, Tricks and Tactics: Eating Your Way to Points and Miles

First thing, I’m a real hardcore food snob (and T is getting there). So hardcore, I would rather eat Zippy’s or Jack in the Box or home lunch for 364 days just so I can go to a super awesome place on day 365. There, I admit it. Now the healing can begin (by sending me to Japan)!

Prelude aside, let me introduce you to Carval Cafe, located at Waterfront Plaza (née Restaurant Row). It’s convenient for me at lunch and they serve a decent plate lunch — maybe 2 or 3 notches above your regular one.

The reason I keep going back, however, is not necessarily the food, but their deep and abiding commitment to giving me points and miles. You see, Carval Cafe is enrolled in three separate loyalty rewards programs and you can earn on each one with every purchase!

  • Rewards Network is probably the most established restaurant loyalty program out there. They have relationships with Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United, Hilton, IHG, and other programs like Plenti, Upromise and Total Rewards. You sign up for a specific program (United Airlines, for instance), enroll your credit card(s), and for every dollar you spend at a participating restaurant you earn 1-5 airline miles, 1-8 hotel points, etc. There’s generally a sign-up bonus and you have to commit to receiving marketing emails to earn the bigger values.
  • Mogl is a newer entrant to the restaurant loyalty game, and they have relationships with only two airlines: Virgin America and Hawaiian. Their system is very similar, except they offer a cash-back option as well as airline miles, and participating restaurants have a little more flexibility in their marketing campaigns. In Hawaii, expect 7% value back for your purchase at participating restaurants, and for every dollar you earn, you can exchange it for 40 Hawaiian miles or 30 Virgin America miles. Also, if your Hawaiian Airlines credit card is enrolled, you can earn 100 additional bonus miles each month that card is used at any participating restaurant.
  • FiveStars is a smart phone app-based loyalty program that awards you points towards free food and other stuff. You earn one point for every dollar spent. Participating stores choose what they will give you in exchange for your points. For instance, Carval Cafe will give you a Caesar salad for 75 points; a Loco Moco for 100; garlic short ribs for 150; and, an ahi tombo club sandwich for 200. Your best value here is the Loco Moco — $10.95 for 100 points, or about $0.1095/point.

Now, I’m skipping some specific details about each program, because, hey, go check it out yourself. But I did want to do some calculations on what you can earn with your spend. Let’s say you were enrolled with United in Dining Rewards and Hawaiian with Mogl and FiveStars; you were earning at max potential; and, for the sake of whole numbers, you spent $100 at Carval. For that, you’d earn 500 United miles, 280 HawaiianMiles (plus 100 bonus miles if using a HawaiianMiles credit card), a free Loco Moco, and whatever points/miles/cash you normally earn on your credit card. Assuming you used a 1% cash back card, in dollar value that’s approximately (500 x $0.015) + (280 x $0.012) + $10.95 + (100 x $0.01), or $22.81. That’s almost 23% back on your lunch time meal!

Um, I don’t really want to admit how much I’ve spent at Carval over the past two years or so. But, just by enrolling in these loyalty programs, I’ve earned at least 10,000 American miles, 6,000 United miles, 17,000 Hilton points, 400 Virgin America miles, 200 HawaiianMiles, and 16 Loco Mocos.* And that’s just plain loco.

*Note: Carval just started participating with Mogl and FiveStars last year.

Questions, Comments or Criticisms?