Defense Department Seeks Rewards Program Partner For Rebates On Meal Spending

By | June 8, 2017

When you spend more than $1 billion annually on dining, it’s wise to sign up for programs that could kick back millions. It’s especially appreciated if the money you’re spending is from taxpayers. That’s why the U.S. Department of Defense Travel Management Office plans to pilot a dining rewards program.

On DOD’s behalf, the Defense Human Resources Activity Contracting Directorate last week announced a request for proposals from vendors for just such a program. They have until July 10 to respond.

The pilot “will enable the DTMO to determine the most effective approach to sourcing, to develop program policies, to leverage purchasing power, and to identify the requirements, technology, and processes to implement an effective enterprise-wide dining program for the DOD military and civilian personnel on official travel,” according to the announcement. “The period of performance shall be from the date of award through 12 months for the base period plus four 12-month option periods.”

Image: Starbucks

The announcement noted that while corporate dining rewards programs can return upwards of 6 percent, DOD’s high spending is expected to earn more. A personal rewards program would also be included, and the contractor would be responsible for helping DOD market the program to travelers.

According to presentation materials from the March 2017 GovTravels conference, in fiscal year 2016 just $124 million of the $1 billion in meal spending was charged using the Government Travel Charge Card (provided by Citi). The proposed dining program — which would track spending through commercial cards — “does not require major change to regulations, measurable workload for services or burden on [the] traveler,” according to the presentation.

Officials hope the added incentives will increase spend on the card, thereby increasing bank rebates as well.

DOD travelers in fiscal 2016 spent more than $2 million at both McDonald’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, according to the RFP. Those were the top two merchants among 100 restaurant companies at which the department’s travelers spent a reported $41 million. Others over $1 million each included Subway, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Texas Roadhouse and Starbucks.

The winning contractor would be asked to include more of the “top restaurants” where DOD travelers currently dine and to “maximize participation” for restaurants located on military installations.

DOD credited the General Services Administration-chartered Government Travel Advisory Committee for recommending in 2015 that government travel programs adopt dining rewards. The committee included Lockheed Martin travel officials Claudia Bonetti and Mark Stansbury. Stansbury is a longtime proponent of the concept.

According to GTAC materials, Anthem director of travel and events Cindy Heston, also a committee member, in March 2014 joined the Lockheed Martin officials in making a presentation about rewards program provider Dinova.

A statement attributed to Dinova VP for enterprise partnerships Chris Froelich indicated the company was aware of the Defense RFP and “looking forward to participating in the process.”

Rewards Network did not respond to requests for comment. It facilitates the IHG “dine and earn” program among others. IHG is a key lodging partner to the Defense Department.


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Author: Jay Campbell

Jay Campbell in 2004 created travel business newsletter The Beat, in 2006 co-founded Travel Procurement magazine and in 2010 integrated them into Northstar Travel Media's BTN Group. He served as editorial director until 2013. Jay made his travel industry media debut in 1993 at the Air Travel Journal of Boston while earning his undergraduate degree in journalism at Boston University. More on LinkedIn.