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With Airline Miles You Need to Do This So They Don’t Expire

If you willingly pay an annual fee for a credit card that earns air miles (most reward cards do come with a hefty price), you might want to re-think that decision. The problem is airlines are changing the rules to shorten the time before miles expire. So sneaky! But for now, you need to protect those precious miles you’ve accumulated.

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Sneaky notification

It looked like junk mail but for some reason, I opened the envelope from United Airlines. Turns out it wasn’t junk, but I have a sneaky suspicion whoever designed this mailer hoped I’d toss it in the shredder.

Inside the envelope was notification that my 38,000 MileagePlus miles would expire on New Year’s Eve if I didn’t activate my account by adding more miles to it before the stroke of midnight. Quite frankly, in the hustle and bustle of the season, booking a flight just so I could log a few more miles wasn’t exactly on my Christmas list.

Use ’em or lose ’em

It’s not easy to rack up 38,000 air miles. Either you have to actually put $38,000 on a qualifying credit card or fly a lot on that airline, which is how I earn miles. Thankfully, I wasn’t so loyal that I’d purposely book a United flight at a higher price, just to earn the miles. Having enough miles in my account to actually book a free trip someday was like a trophy to me. But knowing the miles were about to evaporate got me thinking in a new way.

I did manage to “spend” 25,000 miles, but not without a big hassle. That’s because so few seats on even fewer flights actually qualify for “reward” tickets. And just try to put together a workable itinerary that costs fewer than 38,000 miles.

I must have spent three hours trying one tactic after another to book a trip as a gift for my newly widowed father-in-law. And I prevailed! I sure did. And he was surprised and very pleased with the gift.

Still, I lost 13,000 precious air miles and that stings. I meant to donate them to a charity on the United website, but in the crush of the season, it just slipped my mind.

Know the rules

Every airline that offers a reward program had its own unique rules. Know yours. Find that disclosure then keep it handy. Miles expire in most US-based airline programs after 18 months of no earning or redemption activity. Award Wallet is a good tool to track your miles and points balances and expiration dates.

Reset the expiration clock

Sometimes all you need to do to keep your miles active without flying or spending is to earn or redeem one mile to reset the mile expiration clock. We can easily do this by buying a $.99 download, making a $1 donation from the airline’s online shopping mall, downloading the airlines‘ shopping toolbar and making a few searches.

Some airlines allow club members to purchase additional air miles, which does seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. American Airlines’ rules, for example, will reset the expiration clock on reward miles if a member purchases even the minimum number of miles. This tactic requires doing the math to see if keeping miles active is worth that purchase price.

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3 replies
  1. Miriam Kearney says:

    Ihave a credit card thst earns points for travel. I do put most of my discretionary spending on it but pay off every month. I can apply points for travel related expenses up to a year later. No restrictions on airlines or blackout period at all. And no annual fee.

  2. Sue in MN says:

    After a lot of research, I have concluded that the airline miles are so not worth it – I book by price and convenience, so it’s not worthwhile to try to remain loyal to a single airline. What works for us is to maximize our use of “cash back” credit cards – choosing the best for each purpose – and accumulate the cash, then use the card to pay for the cheapest airfare we can find and redeem the cash on the card(s) to pay for the airfare. We have a free Capital One Quicksilver that pays 1.5% on all purchases all the time. I use it for general purchases, groceries, insurance payments, dues, doctor bills & prescriptions … just about everything. (I keep track of what I’m spending and pay in full every month, so interest does sneak in and “eat up” my savings) When Christmas comes, we book our best airfare home to see the kids, and the accumulated cash covers the $500 – 600 round trip fare for the two of us. We also use the 5% promos on Discover & Amazon when applicable, and then use the cash for toys or cash it out and apply to travel expenses. MUCH better than being restricted to one airline, and trying to working around quotas and blackout dates. The real trick is to be disciplined and not use the money for anything else.


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