La Defense Christmas display
This holiday season you may be making your list and checking it twice and chances are you are buying a gift card or two or ten for friends and family. Me? I’m planning on buying lots of restaurant gifts cards for ME! The holiday season is a great time to take advantage of all of the holiday gift card bonuses available at restaurants (mostly larger chains but sometimes small businesses too!) and it is my secret points/miles game strategy – a bonanza of free money and free food.
A few years ago, Panera Bread was offering a deal a $5 gift card for every $25 gift card purchased, a 20% return. No bank is offering you a return like that! At first, I thought I have no one to give the gift cards too but then sensed an opportunity. Calculating the number of visits per year and money spent, I realized I’m visiting Panera a bit too much (some might say I’m addicted). So I bought $100 in gift cards and received the bonus $20 (make sure to use a credit card that has bonus points on restaurants). Those were quickly used up in a few months. I then started to calculate the dinners out with my mom (she likes steakhouses), lunch with friends (Cheesecake Factory and Chili’s) and work lunches (Panera or Corner Bakery) throughout the year and realized this was a great deal for me.
If you are already going to spend money dining at the restaurant or store, why not pre-pay and get a bonus! It’s a great return on money you are going to spend anyway and in some cases it’s enough for a free lunch (or dinner!). You must buy the gift card direct from the vendor – you won’t get the bonus if you buy at the supermarket, CVS or other store.
This isn’t for everyone – you need to be able to prepay for your dining (or shopping) expenses in November/December when the gift card bonus is offered and pay your credit card off in full (always pay your credit card in full). Most vendors have strict conditions on the bonus card usage (i.e. – must be used between January 1 and a February) so you need to make sure you can use the bonus otherwise it is worthless.
A big draw at the holidays – the train display at Reading Terminal Market
A few examples of gift card bonus offers this 2014 Holiday Season (check each vendor for fine print)
- Cheesecake Factory – Holiday Bonus Gift Card offer not available yet
- Panera Bread – $5 Bonus Gift Card with every $30 in gift cards purchased (16% return, less than the 20% they used to offer)
- Outback Steakhouse – $20 Bonus Gift Card (must use between January 1 – February 10) with every $100 gift card purchased (20% return)
- Chili’s – $10 e-bonus card (must use between January 1 – February 10) with every $50 in gift cards purchased (20% return)
- P.F. Chang’s – $20 bonus card (must use between January 1 – March 31, airports locations not applicable) with every $100 in gift cards purchased (20% return)
- Fogo de Chao – $25 bonus card for every $150 in gift card purchases (16% return)
- Fleming’s Steakhouse – $20 bonus card for every $100 in gift card purchases (20%)
- Starr Restaurants (Philly, NYC, DC. Atlantic City, Florida) – $50 bonus card for the first $500 in gift cards (10% return) then $50 for each additional $250 in purchases (20%)
- and so, so, many more holiday bonus cards out there……
Just in case you think this is restaurants only, Barnes & Noble has an offer too! $10 bonus card for every $75 in gift cards (13% return).
There is a slight downside to the prepay method (for me at least), when I know I have a gift card to use at the restaurant, I feel like it gives me license to spend a bit more, try a new menu item or add a glass of wine without regard to a budget since I’ve got the card and it’s flush with funds.
The Frosty the Snowman lights
Do a quick tally of your dining charges throughout the year (you’ll be surprised and often horrified by the spend amount). Do you have an opportunity for a great return this holiday season? If so, will you play the holiday gift card bonus game with me?