Most airlines have some form of expiring miles. Most programs promote that their miles never expire… but there’s a catch. The miles may not expire, but the account itself can become dormant with all miles forfeit if there’s no activity for a prolonged period of time.
Only Delta, among major frequent flyer programs, offers no mileage expiration – period. Ironically in the middle of the last decade they were one of the early adopters of shortened expiration times. Most US frequent flyer programs expired miles after three years, and they led the charge to reduce that initially to 24 months and they even limited the types of activity that would extend the life of an account. Once they had expired a bunch of miles off of their balance sheet, they announced their miles would no longer expire. Though they promoted it as ‘the right thing to do’ they didn’t go back and restore miles they had taken away.
Nonetheless, I don’t mind expiring miles as long as the policies are clear and the rules aren’t draconian like Spirit Air’s program which expires miles if you do not earn miles in your account every three months.
You need to keep your account active, be an engaged member at some level, and your miles will be fine. Use a tracking tool that helps you manage your frequent flyer programs and track expirations. I use Award Wallet.
Once you have your balances, and many of your account expiration dates in front of you, it’s easy to keep miles alive in most frequent flyer progams.
Here’s a list of the mileage expiration rules for several popular airline frequent flyer programs.
- Aegean Airlines: 36 months of inactivity
- Aeroplan: 12 months of inactivity, miles earned expire after 7 years if unused
- Air France/KLM: Non-elites lose their miles after 20 months without a flight on a Flying Blue or Skyteam airline
- Alaska Airlines: 24 months of inactivity (although some experiences may differ)
- American Airlines: 18 months of inactivity
- All Nippon: Miles expire at the end of 36 months from when they were earned
- AviancaTaca: 24 months of inactivity
- British Airways: 36 months of inactivity
- Delta: Miles don’t expire
- Korean Air: Miles expire after 10 years
- Singapore Airlines: Miles expire the month following three years after they were earned, but can be extended for at a cost for six months (12 months for elites)
- Southwest: 24 months of inactivity
- United: 18 months of inactivity
- US Airways: 18 months of inactivity
- Virgin Atlantic: 36 months of inactivity
You’ll see that some non-US frequent flyer programs will expire your miles no matter what you do. You have to use miles earned right away, or least within three years, or else you will lose them. Then there are hybrids, like the Air Canada Aeroplan program, where you have to keep your account active with some sort of earning or burning every 12 months or else you’ll lose your miles. But all miles earned, regardless activity, will lapse after 7 years.
So what are the simplest ways to keep an account active? The particulars vary by airline, since their specific partners aren’t all the same, but in general the tools to keep at your disposal (in addition to flying the airline, or using their co-branded credit card) are:
- Points.com Many programs will let you trnasfer points in very low increments through the Points.com portal, perhaps 4 Alaska miles can be moved into a single American mile for instance while extending the life of both accounts, and for no fee.
- Credit a rental car. Most airlines have rental car partners. They usually generate very few miles. Credit an upcoming rental to the frequent flyer program you need to extend points with. I’ve been known to even purposely not credit a rental, and then submit for retro credit later when I need points in a particular program. This is easy online with Avis.
- Online purchase through a shopping portal. Most programs have online shopping portals, if you go to the merchant you’re going to make a purchase from through the shopping portal site you’ll earn miles. The trick here is making sure the miles actually post, some portals are more reliable than others and some merchants take a couple of months to post points.
- Buy or transfer miles. Not free but you can usually spend $35 or less with many programs to drop a few extra miles in an account and extend its life.
- Redeem miles for magazines. Even if you don’t want the magazine subscription you can sacrifice 500 miles and generate quick and easy account activity.
- Audience rewards. US Airways miles (and also Starwood points) can be extended by answering a few trivia questions, and people frequently post the answers on MIlepoint. You can also earn a handful of Delta miles this way.
- Transfer points in from a hotel program. The best value tends to come from Starwood, which also has the most airline partners. And Starwood Platinum members get a gold star here because they are allowed to transfer any number of miles they wish including generally just transferring one Starpoint. That generates account activity and gives up almost nothing in the process.
- Transfer points in from a credit card program. American Express Membership Rewards is especially useful here because when you transfer points on their website you can move points into anyone’s frequent flyer account that you wish — you just need to link it first using the website. When you call Amex they will tell you that there are much greater limits, so transferring points to others must be done by phone. Chase Ultimate Rewards is another place to go for transferrable points.
- Dining for Miles. I remember back when Rewards Network was Transmedia and then became iDine. You register a credit card with an airline-branded version of the miles for dining program, then charge a meal (or a soda) to that credit card to earn some miles. You can join each airline’s program, just be sure to use a different credit card each time.
- Transfer points in from a survey program like e-Rewards or e-miles.
Tim Winship used to sign off, “May your miles never expire!” Use these Hunger Games tricks and the expiration odds will be forever in your favor!