Over the course of the year, one of the most consistent things I am asked is “What is the Grand Slam?”. A follow-up question is usually “What do I need to do to get ready for it?”. Both are great questions, and I think now is a good time to do a quick US Airways Grand Slam refresher for those who are new to miles and points, or for those who have previously ignored the Grand Slam. For those who think they want to play this year, it is time to start working on off-season preparations for the 2012 Grand Slam. Before I go any further though, I want to be very clear that there is no guarantee that a Grand Slam will happen this year. It has for the past several years, but that doesn’t guarantee it will happen this year. So, this preparation could all be in vain, but I would personally rather be ready than not – just consider this your fair warning that I have no top-secret-super-special-secret decoder-inside info that it will for sure happen this year.
What is the Grand Slam?
The Grand Slam is a promotion put on by US Airways that awards US Airways Dividend Miles based on the number of “hits” you get during the promo period. A hit is obtained by having a qualified transaction with an eligible US Airways partner. Examples of partners are: Starwood Hotels, Hertz, Biscoff (yum), Dividend Miles Shopping, Super Shuttle, US Airways credit cards, Skymall, Sharebuilder, etc. There are lots of partners (airline partners don’t count) to choose from. Every 4th hit/transaction gets you to the next bonus threshold, with the bonuses becoming more and more lucrative the further up you go (kind of like the current Hyatt promo). For example, last year four hits resulted in 3,000 bonus miles, eight hits resulted in a total of 10,000 bonus miles, and so on. I played up to the 36 hits level that awarded 100,000 bonus miles. I also earned over 20,000 miles from the hits themselves, so I earned over 120,000 miles in total from this one promotion……and that isn’t counting my husband or daughter’s accounts.
Of course, many of the hits aren’t free, so there is some financial investment if you want to go for a large sum of miles. Some people choose to just do the free or almost free hits to get to the 4 or 8 hit level, and that is awesome, too. Last year I played for my husband just to the 16 hit level for 25,000 miles and it cost around $80 to do so. That is a free domestic roundtrip ticket for $80! I actually redeemed those miles for a ticket that cost about $400, so it was well worth my time and money even just to get to that level. 110,000 of the miles I earned last year are taking my husband and I to Europe next year in Envoy Suites – something we would never be able to afford otherwise, so I am going all-in on the Grand Slam this year. We have our eye on three business class seats to Australia, so we need to earn lots of miles to get us there.
The Grand Slam is typically in the fall, and last year ran Sept – Nov. There are inevitably some hits that are problematic and don’t post correctly at first (Office Max last year), some that require lots of time (e-Rewards), and some that just make you feel kind of silly (multiple car rentals for 2 minutes). However, in addition to being very lucrative, it is also pretty fun for many of us. There is a Grand Slam community that develops and we all help each other out. Huge threads on Milepoint and Flyertalk are devoted to the Grand Slam and they are very active that time of year. Since I plan to go all-in on three accounts this year, you can bet I will be knee-deep in posting about the Grand Slam again this year. I also have tons of posts about the 2011 Grand Slam on my site, so feel free to search and get a feel for what last year was like.
How to start getting ready for 2012:
It’s hard to say how to best get ready since we don’t know the rules, and we don’t even know if it will happen for sure, but based on last year there are some things that can be done in advance to be ready. I did a “lesson’s learned” sort of post with some general tips for getting ready here, but I am happy to go a bit more in depth now that we are getting a little closer to the Grand Slam time of year. For this post, I want to concentrate on hotel partners. In the Grand Slam you can typically earn hits by staying at partner hotels and by transferring points in from partner hotel programs. Last year the minimum transfer amount was 850 miles to count for a hit. The number of points it takes from a hotel rewards program to hit 850 Dividend Miles varies from program to program, and often you will find the minimum you can transfer is more than that anyway due to regular transfer rates and rules. See below for more info. Sadly, we lost Hyatt as a partner since last year, but the others that remain are:
Best Western: 5,000 points to 1,000 miles
Choice Hotels: 5,000 Choice points to 1,000 dividend miles
Club Carlson: 8,000 points to 1,000 miles
Hilton: 10,000 points to 850 miles
La Quinta: 6,000 points to 1,000 miles
Marriott: 10,000 points to 2,000 miles
Priority Club: 10,000 points to 2,000 miles
SPG: Minimum transfer amount for regular members is 2,500 points; minimum for Golds is 1,500 points; and Platinums can transfer 850 points.
Wyndham: 8,000 points to 3,200 miles
I didn’t do that many hotel transfers for hits last year because they just require so many points, however some of them aren’t too bad depending on how easily you obtained the points. For example, both Wyndham and Hilton points are for sale via the Daily Getaways website next week and Choice Privileges points are for sale the week after that. Not all of those packages make sense if you are buying solely for the Grand Slam, but do keep the Grand Slam in mind if you plan to make a purchase anyway. I do remember there was at least one issue with transferring Choice points to another person’s Dividend Miles account, but Wyndham worked well to other accounts and I think Hilton did as well. That can be helpful if you are playing for multiple accounts in your family.
In addition to the Daily Getaway deals, keep on the lookout for promos that award points for things such as: liking these hotels on Facebook, checking in on Foursquare, renting cars, etc. Every little bit helps when it comes to the Grand Slam! While we are on the topic of hotels, if you have the chance to plan some stays for trips you are going to make anyway in the mid-September to mid-November time frame, I would give preference to these hotel chains, if possible. Last year there was a max of six hits from individual hotel stays (can all be at the same chain or different chains), and there was a max of 9 hits for hotel points transfers (one transfer per hotel chain).
Grand Slam veterans, please feel free to weigh-in about Grand Slam preparations, especially as they relate to hotel points, in the comments section. I will do subsequent posts on other preparation issues in the coming weeks. This can sounds a little overwhelming at first, but once you get into it, it really isn’t too bad. Last year was my first year and I still did just fine. I’d love to have you play along with me this year!