During Restaurant Week, get Amex Credit for Dining Out in New York

Next Monday, January 16, New York is kicking-off its 4-week-long Restaurant Week. As mentioned in my previous post, from Monday through Friday, January 16 to February 10, several restaurants in the city will be offering 3-course fixed-price meals for $24.07 during lunchtime and $35 during dinner.

Just like last year, American Express will be one of the event’s major sponsors – but this time with a much simpler promotion for restaurant guests. If you are an Amex cardholder, you can earn a $20 credit on your next billing statement after dining 3 times at any NYC Restaurant Week participating restaurant. You can mix and match the restaurants as long as they’re on the list. Last year’s promotion required a foursquare account and “synching” your Amex card, but this time all you have to do is sign up on the Restaurant Week/Amex webpage.

This offer is limited to the first 15,000 people who sign up, and each cardholder can only earn one $20 statement credit during the promotion period. Prepaid cards and corporate cards are not eligible for the promotion, nor are payments made through Amex’s “expresspay” feature. But if you are a regular Amex consumer or business card holder, this offer can be a fairly good deal. The minimum spend for your dine out to count for the credit is $24, but if you’re choosing from the Restaurant Week menu you’ve already got that covered. And getting $20 for spending $72 (plus tax) on 3 3-course lunches isn’t bad at all. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but $20 gets you pretty close to a fourth Restaurant Week one.

AMEX offers $20 for 3 Restaurant Week dines in NY

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New York + Restaurant Week + AMEX + foursquare = $5 off

If you’re in New York this summer, make sure to check out its Restaurant Week event. What originally started as a week in which higher-end restaurants offer affordable fixed-price deals has been extended in several cities, such as Boston and Philly, into two-week events. But New York has taken it to a new extreme – the city’s 2011 Restaurant Week was scheduled for July 11-24, but has since been extended for another six weeks.  The NYC Restaurant Week Extension runs from July 25th to September 5th (excluding Saturdays and, depending on the restaurant, Sundays as well) with lunch specials for $24.07 and dinner for $35.

And American Express and the social media enterprise foursquare have stepped in to make this summer deal even sweeter. If you are a foursquare member, you can get a $5 credit on your Amex statement when you use your Amex card at a participating restaurant.

To get the credit, you have to register (“sync”) your Amex card to your foursquare account, and “check-in” at a participating restaurant during the Restaurant Week Extension period. When you do so, you will automatically get an offer on your phone. After accepting the offer (“Load to Card”), if you spend $24 or more – which you probably will, considering that the lunch deal is $24.07 and dinner is more expensive anyway – and pay with your Amex card, you should get a $5 credit on your credit card statement within 5 business days.

If you don’t have a foursquare account, you can download the program onto your phone for free. Note, however, that Prepaid and Corporate Amex cards and payments using Amex’s ExpressPay feature are not eligible for this offer. And if you have multiple Amex cards, you can only have one “synched” with your foursquare account at a time. Also, you can only earn one of these $5 statement credits per participating restaurant, though there’s no limit to how many credits you can earn if you go to a different restaurant each time. Almost all restaurants in participating in the Restaurant Week Extension are part of the Amex/foursquare statement credit offer, but for a list, click here.

If are in New York before Labor Day, be sure to check their Restaurant Week Extension offer. The list of participating restaurants may be a good place to start if you’re just looking for a place to eat. And even if you already have your dining plans set, you never know – you could find out that the restaurant you are visiting just happens to be participating as well. Then don’t forget to check-in and use your Amex card to get $5 back.

Protect Your Money by Checking Your Statements, my experience

To follow up on yesterday’s post, I thought I would add two recent experiences I had that confirm the importance of checking your credit card statements:

Restaurant Bills:  There is a restaurant I’ve been to twice – the latest one quite recently – and that after both times I went, I noticed that my credit card bill was $1 more than what I had signed for once I added tip (I usually write the total amounts on both the restaurant and my copy of the receipt, and make sure to take mine home).  Admittedly, $2 doesn’t amount to that much, but what if it were a restaurant I visited more frequently?  And what if they add $1 to every customer’s receipt?  I doubt I will ever visit that restaurant again, but this experience has taught me to keep my receipts and track the amounts charged to my credit card – just skimming through the bill and verifying that I did in fact eat at that restaurant is not enough to make sure I’m not being overcharged. 

Automatic Payments:  A few months ago I moved and had to transfer my internet and cable service, for which I had automatic payment set up.  I called the company, and was told that they would have to cancel the account linked to my old address and set up a new one with my new address.  As I checked my credit card statement this week, I noticed that there had been no charges from my internet/cable provider in the past three months.  After calling them, I found out that since they had to set up a new account, the automatic payment did not carry over, and my payments were actually overdue!  Of course, I pointed out that I had not been notified that I would be un-enrolled from automatic payment, and the charges were waived.  Nonetheless, even though it was their fault in principle, I bet that if I had gone for many months without paying my bill, they would have been less understanding.

The moral of these anecdotes?  Checking your credit card statements once a month will help you guard your money, enabling you to notice and fight back overcharges and unfair fees.

Start Lining Up Your Date Nights

For the last quarter of the year (October 1 to December 31, 2009), Discover is offering a 5% cashback bonus on up to $400 in purchases made at grocery stores, restaurants, movie theatres and video rental services.  If you make the maximum amount of $400 in eligibile purchases, you will get $20 in cashback, which can be turned into a $25 gift card from certain retailers such as Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers.  So remember to sign up.  Then get out there and start making plans for some great date nights!

Paying for Education, One Purchase at a Time

If you have student loans to repay to Sallie Mae or are trying to save for education through a 529 Plan, you may want to use Upromise to help you out.  Upromise is a service that gives you cash for certain purchases from grocery stores, restaurants, online retail sites etc., which can then be transferred to your student loan account or 529 Plan – essentially a cash back program under which the cash is redeemed for education expenses.

To be honest, the cash back rates for Upromise are generally lower than most other programs such as ShopDiscover.  However, Upromise covers a much larger number of merchants and combines different programs to generate even more potential rewards.  Discover’s 5% cash back at Target.com and the Apple Store, for example, beats Upromise’s 2% and 1% rates at these online sites, respectively.  Upromise, however, offers 2% cash back on eBay and 1% on several travel sites, such as Orbitz and Travelocity, while Discover has not partnered with those sites as of yet.  Furthermore, Upromise also gives up to 8% cash back on restaurants that belong to the Rewards Network (for a full list visit rewardsnetwork.com) and on in-store purchases at a few places such as Bed Bath & Beyond (1%) and the Sunglass Hut (6%).

Upromise also allows you to add your grocery cards to your account, so that you get cash back on Upromise for certain items on top of your grocery stores’ discounts and/or points.  Participating stores include Safeway, Harris Teeter, and CVS.

Now the best feature of Upromise I think is that it allows you to add friends and family to your network.  That is, if they create a Upromise account and add you as a beneficiary, they can use the cash back program to help you pay for your education.  Alternatively, for online shopping, you can simply send them a “guest shopping” link, so that they do not even have to sign up for Upromisem but you can still earn cash on the program whenever anyone shops through that link.  So if your mom usually does the groceries and uses store cards, you may want to have her sign up for Upromise and help you pay off your loans; and if your grandparents are coming to visit, you might to want to send them your Upromise “guest shopping” link so that their trip can help you get some money into your 529 Plan.

No Show? You Might Be Banned Forever

OpenTable.com offers a great service by allowing people to make their reservations online.  Reservations are often hard to make, but easy to break.  OpenTable discourages this kind of behavior, however, by automatically deactivating accounts that have more than four no-shows within a 12-month period.  Restaurants can assign you a no-show if you (1) arrived late (usually more than 15 minutes without giving the restaurant a call), (2) failed to honor or cancel the reservation, or (3) called to cancel but not within the cancellation policy (usually 24 or 48 hours prior to reservation time).

These rules may sound harsh, but OpenTable is meant to reward patrons who regularly honor their reservations or cancel them on time.  Despite this, OpenTable is also quite amenable to hearing you out if you feel a no-show has been assigned in error.  Take for example our weekly lunch last week, when there was obviously a miscommunication between OpenTable and the restaurant.  We had made a reservation through OpenTable, but the restaurant was not able to find us in their system.  When we checked our balance afterward, it turned out we had been assigned a no-show.  A simple email to OpenTable explaining the events, however, quickly rectified the situation and we were awarded our points.

All this to say, you should try your best to honor your reservations or at least be considerate enough to cancel in a timely manner so others may take your timeslot.  Otherwise, you might be making your last reservation on OpenTable.com.  Another lesson here is to keep track of your points to make sure you haven’t been inadvertently assigned a no-show.  Bon appetite!