7 Easy Ways To Keep Miles From Expiring

Filed Under: Advice

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!

Take flight

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. 😉

Dine out

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.

Bottom line

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?

  1. While I would ordinarily not recommend it, I found that if I donate the smallest number of miles possible, it is an easy way to keep them alive and reset the expiration clock (usually as low as 1000 miles). A lot easier than signing up for a newspaper subscription or something you have cancel and no cash out the door.

  2. Few things:

    1) united website still let’s you login using pin. That sounds really really insecure. 4 digit pin = easy to Crack. Morons!

    2) I forgot

    3) can you do an article about Turkish airlines and their frequent flyer program. Everyone loves the airline, at least the people who fly, the bloggers not so much (hmmmmm)

    4) oh yeah for #2, is attaching your credit card with the dining out program safe? The aa program seems nice. Has many places i wouldn’t mind eating at anyway? What’s in it for airlines? Profiling me?

  3. I literally lol-ed at this –

    “This might sound obvious, but based on my inbox I can assure you it isn’t.”

  4. It seems none of the gimmicks work for Air France. Each individual cc transfer, prize win, or flight (yes, flying gets miles, too!) seems to behave individually and each expires after 18 months. Maybe if I took another flight it would reset them all, but my only flights have been awards, so I don’t have actual experience. Any knowledge here, Tiffany?

  5. The dining points sites work by getting mediocre (or maybe just new & naieve) restaurants to pay the site a kickback for sending new customers their way. The dining site/programs then split the kickback with you. I’m not sure what their % of the take is, but that’s how it works.

    Also, don’t forget that some hotel points expire as well. Marriott just introduced it this year. Fortunately you can buy Marriott points with the cheapest buy-in at $12.

  6. I found that “Dining out” with a registered credit card and taking occasional 15 min. surveys as useful techniques of keeping miles from expiring. I have to frequently remind my wife not to fall for the magazine subscriptions option that the airlines offer as a convenient way of using up your miles before they expire.

  7. @ Enjoy Fine Food — Hmmm, are you actually crediting flight miles to FlyingBlue? They should expire every 20 months without a flight on a SkyTeam airline, but a flight should extend everything.

  8. “The dining points sites work by getting mediocre (or maybe just new & naieve) restaurants to pay the site a kickback for sending new customers their way.”

    Oh contraire, mon frere. Here in LA, one of the top rated Italians and my favorite gourmet Mexican (not an oxymoron) restaurant are part of the AA program. Neither is new or naive but the competition in LA is fierce. Always nice to get miles for eating at a place I would eat at anyway.

  9. I just kept my dad’s AA miles from expiring by purchasing some light bulbs from Home Depot through the shopping portal. The miles posted in less than a week.

  10. Tiffany, to add on, maybe u could have table of various airlines n their expiration policies? I find the most confusing one to be those that require a flight to be credited rather than just any points activity to reset the clock. Maybe u can highlight those. Thanks!

  11. I have the Jet Airways World Master Card which has extended my miles expiry from 3 yrs to 5. No worries abt expiry, will use the miles for a nice family holiday. Maybe something extravagant.

    Likewise for my Citibank Premier Miles. These miles never expire as long as you have the card. Cool ain’t it?

  12. Forgot to add that the World Master Card gets me 4k miles plus a domestic economy class tkt per yr.

    Premiermiles also gets me 4k miles per yr. No tkt though…… But good enough. These also get me access to most louges in India. Worth a try for my fellow Indians reading this blog.

  13. She hasn’t listed one way to stop miles from expiring

    Cathay Pacific Asia Miles- Book a Business class flight with miles for 1 year later to anywhere available , then cancel the flight the just before the departure date for only US$140 and the miles will be returned to your account with 1 month expiry, can keep doing this for many years until you are ready to use them.

    This is an example of how.

  14. although most people use google myself included. I found that using bing lets me transfer points to my united profile and also jetblue.

  15. Shopping portals are “annoying”? Are you kidding me?

    When you are about to buy just about anything, go to Evreward com, put in the name of the retailer, and find out who has the best current bonus. Just go thru that portal to the very same website you would use anyway, pay the same price you would have paid anyway, and get anywhere from 2 to 12 bonus miles/points per $ spent. And yes, often you can go to the store a few hours later and pick it up. We do this all the time with everything from Home Depot to Nordstrom and the miles then pile up effortlessly.

    The only caveat is when Cartera runs some kind of huge bonus offer, the bonus miles may not post, but the miles for the purchase itself nearly always come through. And in the rare instance that something never posts, well, you were going to make that purchase anyway, and only spent a few extra minutes using the portal, so no great loss.

  16. @ Robert Hanson — Hah, and I use them religiously as well! But you’re sure there’s nothing about that process that’s at all annoying? 😉

  17. I actually started a thread (now a wiki) on FlyerTalk to make a list of exactly this: we have a list of expiring and non-expiring airline, hotel, and other miles/points, with when they expire and how to reset them. A lot of people are contributing to the wiki so we have a good list up there: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/milesbuzz/1706167-miles-points-do-dont-expire-3.html#post25448793

    I find that sticking to a few select programs that I know the rules for well helps me keep my miles from expiring – I only stay in hotels/travel a limited amount each year, so choosing those hotels with which I have a good amount of points is a good way to keep them alive. I know some people are probably signed up for every rewards program on the planet but I find sticking to a few select ones helpful.

    And, of course, no-fee credit cards for specific mileage programs are my other big preference – for example, Hilton has a no-fee card; use it once a year and your miles never expire! I also occasionally use sites like e-rewards to “buy” miles/points and transfer them into my Hilton, IHG, etc.. account, which makes them last longer.

    Also, in my experience, the dining program is for relatively lackluster restaurants, but as I attend a lot of group dinners and the like having my card on file can result in pleasant surprises.

  18. What you say about 18 months is *extremely* misleading. LH Miles and More, a popular frequent flyer program for domestic awards, and one whose credit card Ben has promoted, has a hard expiration policy. People reading this article could easily lose thousands of miles because of your post.

    See: https://onemileatatime.com/2014/10/17/lufthansa-miles-expire/

    From LH’s terms and conditions:
    “If award miles are not redeemed for an award within 36 months of the event (date of flight, beginning of hotel stay, time of car rental etc.) from the mileage account, they shall be forfeited by the end of the next quarter”

  19. My father travelled his whole life a lot for work and always stayed in Hilton Hotels. He never really cared about the points but was always happy to get an upgrade because of the status.
    At the end of his carrer, when we were in a Hilton Hotel for a family vacation, he did not get an upgrade and realized that the whole account was empty an no status. After maybe 25 or 30 years collecting points and status. I was like Nooooooo…I would have had lots of good use for these points 🙂
    Is there any way to reactivate hhonors accounts resp. to get the points back somehow?

  20. @ Andy — What is misleading about “Each frequent flyer program has slightly different rules for when their miles expire. For some international airlines, it’s a hard 3-year expiration.” ?

  21. @ Thomas_888 — Yikes! You could try calling Hilton, but I think it depends on how long the miles have been expired for?

  22. @Tiffany: It must be around 4 years now 🙂
    I do not really have much hope, as the women at the reception already told him (then) that his account was inactive for >1 year and that all points and status are gone. After some discussion, he just let it go and swore to never book a Hilton again. Unfortunately, at that time I was not really into collecting points, so I also did’nt care that much.
    Anyway, I think I’ll just try my luck and write HHonors an email.

    I really wish that I was a little bit earlier in this “hobby”. Then I could have also avoided my father bying 6 RIMOWA cases for 600000 M&M miles in the worldshop 🙂

  23. If you’re a US-based resident, you can extend your Mileage Plus miles by purchasing a song in United’s Digital Media Store. (But it looks like prices are inflating….I extended by GF’s miles a few months ago for 110 miles; now they’re asking 160 miles per song.)

    And there’s always the old standby – magazine subscriptions for a few hundred miles up.

  24. So for AA miles…if the miles are set to expire in January 2016 and we simply SHOP through the AA eshopping site it will extend us another year?

  25. @ Tiffany

    I made a purchase through aadvantageeshopping about 2 weeks ago and the miles show up as Pending in my aadvantageeshopping account.

    My AA miles will expire in about 2 weeks.

    Would you know if those Pending miles are going to help keep my AA miles for another 18 months? Or will that be too late?

    Also, if I use some miles to buy a magazine, do I need to allocate some time in advance so that the AA mile activity is properly recorded before my AA miles upcoming expiration date in about 2 weeks? Or buying a magazine instantaneously gets recorded as an AA mile activity?


  26. @ Adriana — If they post, they will keep your miles from expiring. If they don’t, you’re sorta screwed.

    I believe that buying magazines or donating miles to charity through AA posts instantly.

  27. @ Tiffany: Thank you very much for the quick reply and your help!

    I’ll look into buying a magazine subscription, just to be safe.

  28. Here is something that just worked for me.

    I need to generate some american miles activity. Through the AA shopping mall I bought a restaurant.com gift voucher for $2 and receive 23 miles for it five days later!

    The restaurants have different prices – so just look for a cheap one where you have some chance of actually using it.

  29. I heard that spafinders has a program too with AA. Have you tried that to prevent miles from expiring?

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