One of the saddest parts of my day (other than explaining to people why their million CapitalOne points won’t get them to Asia in first class), is when I read an email from someone who has just had all their miles expire.
I also get several emails a day from people in a panic to use their miles before they expire, and these are possibly even more depressing.
So I thought it would be helpful to go through some of the easiest ways to keep your miles from expiring, and hopefully put some rumors to rest along the way.
Know the expiration dates
Each frequent flyer program has slightly different rules for when their miles expire. For some international airlines, it’s a hard 3-year expiration. For most programs in the US, accounts expire after 18 months of dormancy.
This means that if you let your account sit for 18 months, and neither earn nor redeem a mile, you’ll lose them. And this seems to take people by surprise pretty frequently.
So the first step is to know the rules of your program, and then keep track of when the miles expire. I like to use AwardWallet to monitor accounts and expiration dates. Knowing is half the battle!
This might sound obvious, but based on my inbox I can assure you it isn’t.
In a program where any activity resets the clock, making sure to include your frequent flyer number when you do fly will extend the life of your account. My in-laws only make one trip per year, but their miles never expire because each flight extends the expiration date of their miles.
As an extra bonus, you might even get a view like this!
Keep in mind as well that airlines have alliances and partnerships, so even if you’re flying a new airline, you might be able to credit to the program where you have the bulk of your miles. It pays to check!
Have the right credit card
“Right” is very subjective here, but having a credit card linked to your mileage account can help with keeping your miles active.
Does just having a co-branded credit card extend the life of your miles? No, despite what some agents might tell you over the phone. Again, it’s activity within the mileage account that resets the clock, but a credit card does make that easier.
For some cards, you earn bonus miles upon your account anniversary. Once these post to your airline account — bam! You’ve earned another 18 months on the clock in addition to the miles. If your card doesn’t offer anniversary miles, just set a reminder to use that card at least once per year, and you’ll be golden.
Click before you shop
I don’t know what marketing intern first came up with the idea of shopping “portals,” but they are simultaneously brilliant and annoying. I know they’re a good way to earn extra miles, but sometimes the extra step is obnoxious.
That being said, I not only earn a tremendous number of miles from shopping portals, but it helps me to keep accounts active that might otherwise get neglected, so it’s probably worth it.
My favorite trick is to leverage the “Buy online pick up in store” functionality that many retailers have nowadays. You click through your shopping portal, and rather than selecting a shipping method can choose to pick the items up at your local store, generally in just a few hours. We actually did this for purchasing tires at Sears once, which was tremendously lucrative, but even little things like picking up lightbulbs at Lowes, or a drawer-organizer at the Container Store can add up.
Supplies for a kitchen island earned us a few hundred miles, and kept an account from expiring
As a bonus, the person doing the shopping doesn’t have to be the person doing the pickup. If you have a partner, you’ll probably appreciate the value in this. 😉
Now, I’m not actually going to recommend you actively seek out a restaurant just to earn miles. But it makes sense to link your cards to a dining program just in case. It’s always a nice surprise to get an email that you’ve earned miles after stopping at a random sandwich shop in a town you’ve never been to before, and this option costs you nothing.
And besides, that pastrami might have just bought you another 18 months in your mileage account!
Watch out for freebies
In the past few months alone, we’ve written about ways to earn free miles from United, American, Club Carlson, Hilton, Air Canada Aeroplan, Singapore KrisFlyer, and others. This doesn’t even include opportunities from bonus points for sweepstakes, social media contests, etc.
So it makes sense to keep an eye on opportunities for little freebies like these.
Move points around
For the most part, you can’t transfer points between airlines. But you can transfer points from other places to airlines.
If you have credit card points through American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or some Citi ThankYou cards, you can transfer those points to selected airline partners. Members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program can transfer points to dozens of airlines. That’s the entire point of a flexible and transferable points currency!
In most cases you’ll need to transfer a minimum of 1,000 points, though SPG Platinum members can transfer as little as one point to an airline program.
Some airlines also allow you to donate a handful of miles to charity, which can be a good option in a pinch. You can move miles between one person and another, but as the airlines charge a transfer fee this is rarely a good option.
Beyond that, even buying the occasional batch of miles can make sense under the right circumstances.
If you’re paying attention, there’s no reason to have miles expire. Many programs allow you to reset the expiration date just by having activity in the account, and there are several ways to generate miles without even getting on a plane.
For programs that don’t have an automatic way to extend the life of your miles, even just tracking the expiration dates can help make sure you use your miles before you lose them.
Has anyone had miles expire? How do you keep your accounts active?