What you need to know about frequent flyer miles expiring

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One of the most common questions I receive from clients and the media is how to save your miles from expiring.  Miles are valuable assets, and airlines have made it very easy to keep them current and active if you know the trick for doing so.

Since frequent flyer programs debuted in the early 1980s, airlines have alternated between miles that expire and miles that don’t.  These policy changes have created confusion and resulted in some consumers losing their hard earned miles.

Airlines look at miles as a liability.  Miles mean they have to give you something for free down the road.

This means that it’s in an airline’s interest to get rid of miles by making them expire.  And if you don’t know the trick to prevent miles from expiring, you stand to lose a lot of value.

In the last few years, airlines seem to have settled on an industry standard: Miles expire after a fixed number of months.  However, miles only expire if there has not been any account activity.  That means that most types of account activity will extend the life of your entire mileage balance for another 12-24 months (it varies by airline).  With so many opportunities to earn or spend miles, there’s no excuse to let them expire.

What you need to know – Expiration policies

Alaska Airlines – 24 months

American Airlines – 18 months

Delta Air Lines – No expiration

JetBlue Airlines – 12 months (must fly or use credit card)

Southwest Airlines – 24 months (must earn points from a flight or partner)

United Airlines – 18 months

US Airways – 18 months

Virgin America – 18 months

Ideas to keep your mileage balances alive

In most cases, you can keep your entire balance alive (and extend its expiration date) by earning or redeeming any amount of miles.  This is easy to do.  Other than taking a flight, here are some ideas to help you save your miles:

  • Credit a hotel stay to your account
  • Credit a car rental to your account
  • Register for a mileage dining program and have a meal out
  • Shop through an airline mileage mall
  • Open an airline mileage credit card
  • Transfer points from American Express, Diners Club, Starwood Preferred Guest or another program
  • Buy a small amount of miles (miles can be purchased in increments as small as 1,000)

Keeping your mileage balances alive is easy.  If you don’t fly much with certain airlines but have a balance that you want to keep alive, track the expiration dates with a spreadsheet and check periodically to make sure you don’t allow valuable miles to expire.

Saving miles is as easy as making a small purchase on the Internet.  Don’t let any of your hard earned miles expire.


About the Author

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Ryan has been a travel expert for more than ten years. His journeys have taken him to all six inhabited continents, including living in the Middle East and backpacking across Australia, Asia and Europe.

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