OpenTable Devaluing Rewards Again — In Three Ways

Opentable is an online service for making restaurant reservations. It’s the market leader in the space, owned by Priceline.

You can search for a specific restaurant and make a booking or search an area and find restaurants that have availability for when you’d like to eat, near where you want to eat, and for the number of people in your party.

Historically they would give you a $1 rebate on most bookings, though restaurants being promoted might rebate $10. Until two years ago they’d send you a check when you redeemed your points, you could use it to pay for a meal or just deposit it in the back.

Then in August 2015 they started making you pick the restaurant you’d use a reward at from a limited set of restaurants where presumably OpenTable was paying less than face value.

Those limits are disappointing. And OpenTable says “We’ve heard you!” So they’re devaluing again. You will be able to use your points at more places, however:

  • New points expiration. You need to have activity in your account every year to keep it active. Starting March 31 unredeemed points will also expire after 3 years.

  • Less value for your points. 100 points won’t always equal $1 in fact you may only get half the rebate as before.

    The full value of the Reward Card you will receive when you activate a Dining Reward will vary according to the restaurant, date and time of the reservation you choose. For example, the following number of Dining Points generally translate into the following Reward Cards:

    • 2,000 Dining Points = $10 or $20 Reward Cards
    • 5,000 Dining Points = $25 or $50 Reward Cards
    • 10,000 Dining Points = $50 or $100 Reward Cards

    You’ll also be able to redeem for Amazon gift cards or donate points, presumably at a less favorable rate.

  • More cumbersome to use your points. Instead of just a check, or a restaurant gift card to use whenever you wish, now “you must make a new reservation on OpenTable to redeem your Dining Reward and activate your Dining Reward at the time you make the reservation.”

Ironically they’re making their customer loyalty program less valuable and more challenging to use at a time when they’re increasingly facing frustrated restaurants and new competition in the reservations market. OpenTable’s leverage is its scale. It has lots of consumers searching for restaurants. Today a restaurant can use another service to make bookings, but those services aren’t also driving significant new business to a restaurant from guests who don’t already know where they want to eat.

OpenTable may start to give up that advantage, although not right away, once it starts to frustrate those customers.

In the meantime, the best advice for leveraging OpenTable still applies.

  1. 1000 Point Restaurants

    Some restaurants offer 1000 points instead of 100 for making a booking — often it’s new or struggling restaurants, they’re willing to incentivize the visit. The idea is you might see they’re more rewarding and decide to book them instead of a competitor.

    Interestingly, some restaurants use Opentable to manage their own website’s online bookings. But if you visit those restaurants’ websites first, cookies may get left on your computer that interfere with points. (If you make your reservation through Opentable, but starting at the restaurant’s website, there’s usually no points-earning).

    And with 1000 point restaurants, you usually only see the 1000 point offer if you are searching for restaurants in a neighborhood — if you search for the restaurant directly it will usually just show 100 points (since they don’t need to incentivize you to choose them, the idea being you likely already have chosen them).

  2. Make Reservations at Restaurants You’re Headed to Anyway

    I have the Opentable app on my phone (and before I had an Android phone, would visit the Opentable mobile website on my Blackberry). Walking to a restaurant I might make a reservation, even if I know the place is empty. Not planning ahead, but I still want to capture the points. And of course the points are stackable with other restaurant rewards such as Rewards Network, the company which manages the dining programs associated with airline and hotel chains (which I still insist on calling iDine, though at least got beyond referring to it as Transmedia..).

  3. Earn OpenTable Points For Your Free Hotel Breakfast

    Many hotel restaurants offer Opentable points. Even if you get free breakfast in the restaurant as a loyalty program member or because of your room rate, you can make an OpenTable booking at the hotel restaurant and earn points for your free/included breakfast.

  4. Don’t Rely Exclusively On OpenTable for Your Reservations

    Opentable doesn’t have access to all tables at all restaurants. Some restaurants ‘block’ key times from being booked via Opentable, I have to imagine it’s because it costs them money (to pay to Opentable) to take reservations that way, and they expect to be able to fill their seats without bringing in reservations through this channel. So you need to call the restaurant.

    Make the reservation for an earlier time, ring up the restaurant to change the time to the one you want that’s restricted to direct booking. You’ll still get the points if the restaurant changes the reservation time (because it was still made through OpenTable) but not if they cancel the reservation and make a new one.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I’ve been using Open Table since they first began offering their service in New York City and I don’t remember ever getting cash awards per se, let alone up until two years ago.

    For many years it was 100 points for most reservations and 1,000 points for certain promotions. There were also a handful of restaurants that did not earn points at all.

    When points were redeemed they sent a physical certificate that could be used like cash at any restaurant in the system, but not a check that one could deposit in the bank.

    However, I do agree with you that their current system is terrible.

  2. Gary, not clear on what you are saying. For 10,000 points, I get $100 right now. Are you saying for 10,000 points I will still get $100 or I will only get $50 ?

    People: make sure you re-read what Gary said about cookies. OpenTable says you accepted the terms and conditions so you should know all this. Repeat: Do NOT go to the restaurant website FIRST. Do NOT. That leaves a cookie on your device. That cookie says you have been to that restaurant website. When you go to OpenTable to make the reservation, it sees the cookie and that you have been there and OpenTable will NOT give you points. Go back and re-read the fine print. Clear your history and cookies EVERY day. Go into settings and set it up that way so when you exit your browser, it does it automatically every day.

  3. That hasn’t been my experience. I go back and forth from Open Table to restaurant websites all the time for various reasons….usually because Open Table doesn’t have a complete or updated menu. I’ve never been refused points.

  4. @Toni I have not received my points MANY times so I complained and here is an email they sent me (the email is not specific about cookies) and I have been told the same thing plus the way they use cookies on the phone many times. Call them up and they will be happy to give you a lengthy explanation of how cookies are used:
    member_services@opentable.com
    12/27/16
    Hi Carlos,
    To explain why reservations not booked through our website do not award points in a bit more detail. Dining Rewards Points, once redeemed, are paid for by the restaurants. This “referral bonus” is paid to you for using OpenTable. If you book a reservation either using the restaurant’s website or being forwarded from their website (as much as calling them directly or being a “walk in” diner) do not award these points as the restaurants do not pay for these “referrals”. As such we are sadly not able to award these points.
    Darren
    Technical Support Representative
    OpenTable, Inc.

  5. @Carlos. Your post was unclear. Even though I go back and forth between the restaurant site and Open Table I always make the actual reservation with Open Table.

  6. I just noticed this last night. I feel screwed that they did this without announcement!

    Several restaurants are only doing $50 credits for 1,000 points. And I can’t use it at my upcoming reservation because I didn’t realize it had switched.

  7. While the expiration may be new, the devaluation and the new redemption system happened a while ago. Most restaurants now give $50 for 1,000 points. Hard to find a $100 restaurant. And a PITA to activate the reward each time to check as you have to find the email and click the link in it.

    All that said, aside from Seated, it’s the only rewards program for reservations that I know of. If others have suggestions, please let everyone know.

  8. @TheJetsFan

    Do you know roughly how long ago?

    The website is so whack, I can only get a list of restaurants for NYC accepting awards, not my home city of LA.

  9. Usable restaurants w/the rewards are a fraction of the total using the platform for reservations…it truly is a joke.

    As for “making it easier” by no longer issuing hard checks…don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

  10. While it’s true that MOST restaurants that accept the opentable voucher (not all do) only accept $50 value for those 10,000 points, there are a few restaurants that continue to provide the “full” $100 value.

    Also, once you redeem the points, you have 1 year to make the reservation (and presumably) use the voucher.

  11. The scam is that you don’t know before redeeming the points which restaurant (and when) will give you full value for your points. From the website: “Once you redeem your Dining Points, you will receive a Dining Reward activation email. […] The full value of the Reward Card you will receive when you activate your Dining Reward will vary according to the restaurant, date and time of the reservation you choose.” But there’s no way of knowing what you get BEFORE you redeem the points and starting the clock on the 12 months to redeem the reward.

    Scammy indeed. Hopefully it violates some law (it should) and someone will sue them.

  12. Thanks Gary – very useful for those of us who don’t track every program. I was planning to save up points for a $50 cert but no reason to do that now. Was not even aware that I had to pick a restaurant now which is awful as generally have no idea what date I will be free to dine much less what restaurant I will visit. We probably cancel 20% of our OT rez due to last minute issues like babysitter probs, biz travel, etc.
    Another loyalty program down the drain – Time to cash in now. Hasta la vista opentable.

  13. Experienced this awful new system while trying to book a table with my certificate. No matter WHAT date I requested, it would give me ONLY a 1:00 pm reservation. How useless. When trying to book dinner.
    Ta ta to another loyalty program that used to be workable.

  14. Not a fan of the trajectory overall, but I don’t see how this is “more cumbersome” than the current system: at least it sounds like it’s all computerized, rather than needing to wait for that single-restaurant cert to come in the mail & remember to bring it to the restaurant.

  15. I imagine that the percentage of OpenTable users who care about or track points earned in the program — let alone have points-earning as an important motivating factor in their decision to use OpenTable — is infinitesimal. People use OpenTable largely because they want to see, without making a ton of phone calls or visiting a ton of different restaurant websites, which restaurants have availability at a given time. It’s especially useful if you’re not in your home town. Points-earning is a tertiary benefit at best.

    Also, the Amazon option made available with the last “devaluation” is as good as cash for most people anyway. If the exchange rate on that is downgraded, then I suppose that will be the first true “devaluation” (and one that hardly anyone will notice or care about).

  16. I also have been using Open Table since the early days, and have been very discouraged (and pissed off) at their slow but steady devaluation of their point system.

    I just went onto the Open Table web site and logged a complaint. I don’t expect and answer (actually I don’t care if I get one at all), but hopefully they will get enough complaints to make them reconsider.

    Bah, OpenTable!

  17. I have used OT since they started business:

    1. The checks they used to send could only be redeemed at an OT restaurant – they were not negotiable as bank deposits.

    2. As long as you book an OT res while logged in, you will get your points, regardless if you flip back and forth to a restaurant’s website for more info.

    3. https://gifts.opentable.com/regions
    If a restaurant is not on here, they don’t accept dining rewards. Rarely is any restaurant on the Hawaiian islands on there, for example. Yes there are limitations, but f it takes me another coupla minutes to locate a good restaurant for $100 off the bill (& not $50), I do not just throw in the towel & call it a bad service.

    4. OT’s technology has developed nicely over time,, imo. I don’t mind the new rules for attaching a reward to a res. It works much more seamlessly because now the reward is removed from the bill without needing to present paper (altho I have it in case). A lot less intrusive when using the reward with non-OT folks at the table!

    I have redeemed $1000+ In rewards over the years which cost me nothing I wasn’t going to do otherwise as WELL as providing a unique service without a lot of ads, etc.

    I don’t have to pay an annual fee like I would a credit credit to earn points. I do have to spend a minimum in order to cash in rewards and they WILL expire, but as a frequent diner/traveler they add yet one more tool to make dining easier & more rewarding. As well as there really is no competition.

    Although not addressed in this posting, I value other OT VIP’s critiques of a restaurant esp when I am in a new town & haven’t done researched or received a rec from someone. I find seasoned reviews invaluable in dodging expensive dining bills for a poor experience. They are usually pretty helpful & are likely the first place I turn to in a new town. Even to determine a good location in town – favorable ratings usually mean an area I want to explore a little! Inclusion in OT doesn’t exclusively dictate where I dine, but I also feel being on there is the first step to probably a good dining experience. I mean, if the restaurant even cares enough to foot the bill for being on there is usually a good sign, though I realize not perfect.

    So until something better comes along without a lot of extra fees to go with it, I am an OT fan. It is restaurants who hurt financially from participating…not me directly! My regular small business haunts actually ask me NOT to use OT so as to save them some $. Without it though, they miss out on business thus their tradeoff, so they feel obliged to participate. So many new places since OT first began, they are now a commanding force & a true digital convenience.

  18. My email from Open Table in Jan. 2018 states the following:

    On March 31, 2018, we’ll be updating the OpenTable Rewards program to give you more ways to redeem your Dining Points.

    Anything we need to do before 3/31?

    It seems that they already implemented this when they first announced it by email in Jan. 2018. Do you agree?

  19. After multiple attempts to use my points in their new current system to redeem a restaurant certificate (following the directions) I was provided with an error that my reservation couldn’t be made. After multiple twitter and email messages they assured me that I would be able to use them for another reservations; which I tried about 8 weeks later, at which point I was given the same error. After an angry email, they posted the points back to my account – I took the Amazon and ran!

  20. I have been saving up my OT points for 10 years (use on our trips to NYC 3-4x a year). Finally made 10,000. Planned big dinner for wife’s birthday. Instead of the expected $100 certificate, or even $50, the restaurant honors only $25 certificate.

  21. Well this is nonsense. I took the hassle of making reservations because it was worth $1 each….. I would trade in approximately 100 reservations for $100 gift card & then go eat a nice meal.

    Now if it’s only 50 cents per reservation, I will not bother. It’s too much hassle for a mere 50 cents. My time is worth more than that.

    I’ll just be a “walk in” for restaurants.

    It saves me time; it saves them money.

  22. Redeemed 5000 points for $25 Amazon gift card.
    Can’t find it. Where might it be?
    Open Table not answering their phone. No help.

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