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How to Prevent Your Frequent Flier Miles from Expiring (Without Setting Foot on a Plane)
[Post updated on August 29, 2019 to reflect a change in the United Mileage Plus policy–United Mileage Plus miles will no longer expire!]
One common complaint about frequent flier miles is that, if you do not fly enough, they can expire before you have the opportunity to redeem them. It is indeed frustrating to diligently credit flights to your account only to find that, after a certain period of inactivity, those miles have disappeared.
Here are easy ways to not only prevent miles from expiring, but also to earn a few extra in the process. If you protect your points, soon you could be sitting pretty here!
Before we dive in, it’s worth noting that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Beginner points enthusiasts will want to avoid accumulating miles on random airlines they are unlikely to fly repeatedly.
For example, say you have a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Thailand on Thai Airways. If you are unlikely to be flying Thai again any time soon, you would be wise to credit the miles from your flight to one of the airline’s partners. Thai Airways is a member of Star Alliance (one of the three major airline alliances–see also One World and Sky Team), which means you could credit your miles to United. If you are based in the U.S., you are probably far more likely to accumulate a meaningful United Mileage Plus balance than you are Royal Orchid Plus miles (although, if we are being honest, the latter have a far better name!).
Ok, now that you are wisely accumulating miles on airlines that will serve you well, let’s prevent those points from expiring.
1. Know which miles expire and which do not
For many other programs, however, you must have at least one qualifying activity within a certain period of time. For example:
Alaska Mileage Plan miles (one qualifying activity within last 24 months)
American AAdvantage miles (one qualifying activity within last 18 months)
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles (one qualifying activity within the last 18 months)
Southwest Rapid Rewards miles (one qualifying activity within the last 24 months)
2. Have a qualifying activity
To prevent your miles from expiring, you must have activity on your account. Does that mean you need to book an expensive flight to keep your points? No! There are a variety of simple ways to have activity post to your account. Not only will you prevent your miles from expiring, but you will earn a few more in the process.
A. Use the airline’s shopping portal
Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! This is by far the easiest option, and the one I would recommend.
Just last week, I received a note from American Airlines saying that the miles in my son’s account would expire in October 2019. Since none of his flights between now and then were going to be on American, I simply logged into his account on the American Airlines shopping portal and placed an order. Purchasing a replacement tablecloth for our dining room was already on my to-do list. By buying it through the shopping portal, a few points will post to his AAdvantage account, which will not only increase his balance but will also effectively extend the miles’ expiration date for another 18 months.
Using the shopping portals is quick and easy, earns you miles, and doesn’t cost you any more than a regular online purchase. For the low-down on how to use them, see our article here.
B. Join the airline’s dining program
You can also earn miles by joining the airline’s dining program and eating at one of the participating restaurants. Beware that it can often take 6-8 weeks for miles to post to your account, so don’t put this off until the last minute. For more on the dining programs, click here.
C. Book a hotel or rental car (or any other partner activities)
Have you ever noticed that you can book a hotel or rental car through your airline? When you do so, you can earn miles on that airline. That right there is another qualifying activity, and it will prevent your miles for expiring for another 18 or 24 months, depending on the airline.
D. Get an airline credit card
The major airlines all offer co-branded credit cards. Each of these comes with a sign-up bonus (e.g. earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months.) If this matches your spending/credit profile, this is an option to consider. Again, this won’t work if you wait until the last minute, as it will take several weeks to apply for, receive, and pay the credit card to receive your points.
E. Donate miles
So this option won’t earn you points, but it will limit the number of points you lose. The airlines’ mileage sites will give you an opportunity to donate miles to charity, typically in increments of 1,000. So, your points balance will decrease by the amount you choose to donate, but the remainder of your points will be valid for another 18 or 24 months AND you will have that warm, fuzzy glow that comes from doing something nice for someone else. Meanwhile, the expiration date on your remaining points will be re-set for another 18 or 24 months, depending on the program.
As programs do change, to be on the safe side, I recommend that you Google “qualifying activity” along with the name of your airline’s mileage program to find their official terms and conditions. Once you’ve confirmed these activities are still valid, proceed full steam ahead!
Just between you and me, since we’re friends, I beg you to PLEASE not use your miles to buy magazine subscriptions! This can be a way to have activity on your account, but they make terrible redemptions! Trust me, you can get MUCH better value for your points elsewhere. Stick with me, and I’ll teach you how!
Have you ever had your points expire? I bet it didn’t make you feel very loyal to whatever “loyalty” program stripped you of your miles! Many years ago, I lost some Air Canada miles. That was before I realized I could credit all my Air Canada flights to my United account. We all start somewhere. Live and learn!
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