SUMMER UPDATE

Summer is still here – I love it! I love it! I love it! – but have you noticed that the days are getting shorter?

HAVE YOU REGISTERED WITH iDINE?

This used to be called Transmedia, and, boy, have they ever improved. Now it’s this simple: visit iDine.com and register one of your credit cards with them. Your Visa, say. From then on, whenever you use that card at any of the 7,000 restaurants iDine has deals with, you get 20% off the bill – including tax and tip. Just hand your Visa card to the waiter the way you always did. But when the bill comes at the end of the month, not only have you gotten your frequent flier miles (if it’s that kind of Visa) – you see a credit for 20% of your dinner. So if you and your spouse wax romantic once a week over a $60 chateaubriand at participating restaurants (or chatofubriand, for the vegans among us), you save $600 a year. Go with nine colleagues to a $200 lunch, and you’ll see a $40 rebate on your next credit card statement – even if your company reimburses you, or your fellow diners insist on passing $20 bills to the head of the table. (Presumably, you’d pass the savings along to them.) A $49 annual ‘fee’ is paid out of your first $49 in savings.

It’s easy to see, on-line, which restaurants in your area are participating on any given night – and it can vary from night to night, which is really smart, because it allows the restaurant to attract people on slow nights without adding to the Saturday night crowds.

Even if you live 300 miles from the nearest tablecloth, it could still be worth registering for that occasional business trip or vacation.

How does iDine do it? The discount it wangles you is possible because a lot of decent restaurants have excess capacity, and – just like airlines that would rather sell seats cheap than see them go empty – are willing to sell meals ‘wholesale.’ (The economics of restaurants and airplanes aren’t actually much different. Restaurants are just slower.) The iDine folks get an even bigger discount off the price of the meal, so the more you eat, the more they make. For the restaurant, it’s a way to attract new customers and fill empty seats. The discount becomes a form of highly targeted advertising. Instead of giving the money to a radio station to get you to come, they give it to you.

Just remember that it’s still a lot cheaper to have Pepsi and pasta at home.

HAVE YOU TRIED PRICELINE.COM?

I have to be in Washington Thursday night and, though I usually stay at the wonderful Mayflower Hotel – sometimes for a small fortune, sometimes for the $149 triple-A (American Automobile Association) rate – I figured, oh, what the heck, and tried Priceline.com. I specified a four-star hotel (I know, I know – I actually love Courtyards by Marriott, but in Washington I feel as if I have to pretend to be somebody) . . . named $125 as my price (versus the $300 or so they usually charge) . . . and guess what? I’m staying at a four-star hotel for $125.

It was fun dumping on Priceline stock at $150 (now $7). Their idea of applying the Priceline concept to groceries was so dumb a six-year-old, if not a Wall Street analyst, could have seen through it. But for perishables like airline seats and hotel rooms, it can be a win-win.

 

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