[This one’s for you, Alix!]
I detailed in a post a few weeks ago some beginners’ tips on how to start racking up points/miles for airline and hotels stays. Now, I’m gonna show you guys how to step it up a notch through one of the best (and most fun!) airline miles promos out there. All it takes is time and effort (and in some cases, some cold hard cash).
For the past couple of years, US Airways has run a fall promotion called the Grand Slam, a cheap and fast way to score thousands of miles. It’s essentially a promo to encourage business with their various partners (hotel chains, SkyMall, rental car companies, etc.) via a baseball-themed, escalating bonus miles incentive. For every 4 partners you did business with, you not only received the normal amount of miles you would get from those transactions, but you would also get a bunch of bonus miles as well.
Last year, it went a lil’ somethin’…like this:
4 “hits” = 3,000 bonus miles
8 “hits” = an additional 7,000 bonus miles (10,000 total)
12 “hits”= an additional 5,000 bonus miles (15,000 total)
16 “hits”= an additional 10,000 bonus miles (25,000 total)
…and so on and so forth, with the maximum amount of “hits” (or individual transactions with those partners) capped at 40, 40 hits getting you a total of 110,000 bonus miles!
The good news? Several of the hits are free, which I’ll go into as we get closer to September (when the Grand Slam has started in the past), so you can gain 10,000 bonus miles with just a little bit of elbow grease. Some hits are cheap or require you to spend money you would’ve spend anyway, which is how I got to 25,000 miles last year. The bad news? Some are expensive or nearly impossible to complete, like last year’s LasikPlus surgery hit (no joke!)
But why am I bringing up a promotion that won’t even start for another 4-5 months? (If it happens again at all!) Because some of these “hits” require a little bit of advanced planning.
Beyond just hotel stays during the time frame of the promotion (usually September to mid-November), you can also transfer points from the hotel loyalty program (like Hilton Hhonors, for example) into US Airways miles to count as a separate hit. Unfortunately, nearly every hotel loyalty program requires a minimum transfer amount: for Hilton, you can only transfer in bundles of 10,000 points (which only yields you 1,800 US miles); for Best Western, it’s 5,000 points (for 1,000 miles). Amassing these kind of balances is easy if you’re planning to travel over the summer, but if you don’t have any grand plans, what’re you to do? You don’t want to pass up getting multiple hits, do ya?
There are a few things you can do. If you’re a member of e-Rewards, the online survey site, you can cash out your e-Rewards cash for Hilton points; hopefully you’ll have enough surveys to get you to 10,000 points come fall.
Another thing you can do is be aware of current promotions that offer extra points for hotel stays or points for doing next to nothing. For example, the Starwood hotel group is offering bonus points during a needlessly complicated promo this summer, and Intercontinental Hotel Group (those behind Holiday Inn, among others) is offering a bunch of points for signing up for their e-mail alerts and their dining program.
Lastly (and I may be playing my hand here): there’s a website called Top Guest which will grant you hotel points for checking in to said hotels on your smartphone; link your Foursquare or Facebook apps and your hotel programs with Top Guest, and you can earn 50 points a day for a check-in. The rules for what counts as a valid check-in are vague; you don’t have to be a guest in the hotel, you can just be visiting the bar or what have you, so this can see where this can be abused. I advise against abuse since Top Guest has been known to suspend accounts for “suspicious activity,” but if you live in a city like Philly, it’s pretty easy to walk by a Hilton, Best Western, and Holiday Inn every once and awhile.
The goal here is to have enough points in your hotel rewards programs by fall to make the transfers; a transfer out of each separate loyalty program will count as a hit. Here are the current minimum required thresholds:
Hilton Hhonors: 10,000 points
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG): 2,500 points
Intercontinental Hotel Group Priority Rewards (IHG): 10,000 points
Best Western Rewards: 5,000 points
Choice Hotels Privileges (Quality Inn, Comfort Inn, etc): 5,000 points
Wyndham Rewards: 8,000 points
Club Carlson (Radisson): 2,000 points
Marriott Rewards: 10,000 points
(FYI: La Quinta and WORLDHOTELS are also currently partners with US Airways, though I don’t know much abou those programs. If you frequent these chains, take a look at their websites for more info!)
If you’re not aware of e-Rewards, it’s a site that distributes surveys for companies/researchers, matching those surveys up with whatever demographic information you’ve chosen to provide to e-Rewards. The downside is that you can’t just sign up for e-Rewards, you have to be invited. Major companies that you’ve purchased from in the past (for me, it was Borders (R.I.P.)) usually have to initiate the offer, though if you aren’t a member already, you can increase your chances of an invitation by joining some of the rewards programs listed on their rewards/partners page.
Like hotel points, you must have a minimum threshold of e-Rewards “currency” in order to then transfer that into points (for US Airways, it’s $25 for 500 miles). Keep in mind that e-Rewards sends out surveys sporadically, so you may get $70-e-Rewards-cash worth of surveys in May, but nothing between June and August, so I recommend that you always keep a minimum of $25 available until the Grand Slam promo starts (for godssake, spend the rest!)
Another survey site, which I actually despise but am forcing myself to use for a hit, is e-Miles. If you’re an e-Miles newbie, you can easily rack up the minimum for transfer into US miles (500 points), since they hook you with high-value surveys right at first. Unfortunately, since last fall, I’m just now passing the 450 points mark because their offers have trickled to next to nothing.
That being said, both e-Rewards and e-Miles have been separate hits in the past, so I imagine they will be this year too. Not only that, but if you get invited to e-Rewards soon, they offer a sign-up gift in the form of 4,500 Club Carlson hotel points, which can be transferred for another hit.
Sliding into home
My goal this year is to earn at least 60,000 bonus miles (and probably around 9,500+ in miles just from these sorts of transfers), which is enough for one business-class (or two economy-class) off-peak trip to Europe. I’m lucky enough that our trip to Japan is right in the middle of the promotion, so I’m using that to my advantage: we’ll be staying at a Starwood property during our Chicago layover (1 hit), and we’re splitting up our stay at the Best Western in Tokyo into two reservations (2 hits; hotel stays are the only hits that can be “repeated” from the same partner for a max of 9 hits from the hotel category). Considering we were going to stay at these places anyway, I think of them as “free” hits, meaning I’ll be that much closer to a nice vacation by only spending a small amount of money, a fraction of what the ticket would’ve cost me in cash.
Now, there is a catch: US Airways has not yet announced the 2012 Grand Slam promo, so there’s no telling whether or not all of this planning will actually pay off. If that’s the case, you haven’t done all this work in vain: you can still transfer those points into miles and be on your way to your next vacation!
I’m not going to burden this blog with a ton of travel-related posts, but if you want to keep up-to-date on current promotions, follow me on Twitter!