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Restaurant Discount Cards
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

Anyone who's ever filed an expense account has had to make certain moral decisions. But this one is a big one, says our Savvy Traveler, Rudy Maxa. One of his favorite restaurant discount cards is changing the way it's doing business, and therein lies the rub for diners and travelers who use it to pay business expenses.

Restaurant Discount Cards

There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a National Geographic photographer who returned from the Middle East and filed an expense account that included the purchase of a camel. The accounting department disallowed the camel, so the photographer re-jiggered the receipts. Interestingly, when he re-submitted his expense account minus the beast, the total came out the same. He attached a note that read simply, "Find the camel."

That's a game everyone who's had an expense account has played, figuring out how to bury expenses that the green-eyeshade guys often disallow but that you know are perfectly legitimate. Now, over the years I've touted restaurant-dining programs that give you up to 25 percent off at certain eateries. Not those complicated deals involving coupons that require you to buy an entree of equal or lesser value, blah, blah, blah* For an annual fee of about $50, the companies called IGT and Transmedia issue plastic cards you simply present at participating restaurants when your bill arrives. They're linked to one of your major credit cards and when you're restaurant charge is posted to your monthly bill, you receive 25 percent off your food and drink.

Well, Transmedia is eliminating its card and changing its name to iDine. Now, you use your Visa, Mastercard or American Express card to pay, not a Transmedia card. Then, the discount appears on your monthly bill. See where I'm going with the expense account angle? You used to file a receipt that read "Transmedia," which a hip accounting department employee could recognize. Under the new method, you file, as proof of expenses, your Visa, Mastercard or Amex charge receipt. Unless anyone has access to your monthly statement, no one knows.

Well, I leave today's Ethics 101 question for you to answer. The right thing to do, of course, is to deduct the discount when you submit a receipt for reimbursement. But I bet there are a lot of people who feel they've had to buy a camel for the company over the years and will see this as a way to get even.

Leaving aside the moral issue, you should know about these restaurant discount cards if you dine out in big cities for business or pleasure. iDine has changed its plan to cover an entire restaurant bill: taxes and tip, too. The discount, however, has dropped to 20 percent, still a handsome savings. IGT grants 25 percent off food and drink and also offers 25 percent off certain travel arrangements. To see if restaurants you visit participate, click on iDine.com or igtcard.com.

As for the expense account question, that's between you and your conscience. I'm Rudy Maxa, The Savvy Traveler, for Marketplace.

The Savvy Traveler on Marketplace


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