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. But for now, you need to protect those precious miles you’ve accumulated.
It looked like junk mail but for some reason, I opened the envelope from United Airlines. Turns out it wasn’t junk, but I suspect that whoever designed this mailer hoped I’d toss it in the shredder.
Inside the envelope was a 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 as a way to not lose the 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. 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.
By spending those 25,000 miles, I was able to extend the expiration date on the remaining 13,000.
Know the rules
Every airline that offers a reward program had its own unique rules. Know yours. Find that disclosure, know what it says and then keep it handy. Award Wallet is a good tool to track your miles and points balances and expiration dates.
Reward miles earned in many US-based airline programs used to expire after 18 months of no earning or redemption activity. However, some have changed their plans so reward miles never expire. (See the list below from Forbes for more details.) 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 create activity in the account. Consider the following ways to extend the expiration date of reward miles so you do not lose them.
- Crediting hotel or rental car reservations to your airline account
- Redeeming some of your miles toward award flights
- Redeeming miles toward other awards, such as hotel reservations or magazines subscriptions
- Making purchases on an airline-branded credit card
- Transferring flexible credit card rewards to your airline account
- Transferring miles to or from another member’s account
- Shopping through an airline shopping portal
- Joining an airline’s dining network and making a restaurant purchase
- Donating miles to partner organizations
- Buying additional miles
Air Canada Aeroplan points expire after 18 months of no activity. However, any qualifying activity—including earning, redeeming or transferring points—will reset the clock and extend the life of your miles by another 18 months.
If your miles do expire, Aeroplan offers a handful of ways to reinstate them. You can buy back your miles or take a qualifying flight with Air Canada. Each of these activities must be done within six months from the date your miles expired.
American Airlines AAdvantage miles are valid for 24 months. Any type of qualifying activity will extend the life of your miles.
Customers under the age of 21 are not subject to mileage expiration. However, the 24-month policy will apply as soon as they reach 21 years old, even if the miles were earned as a child.
All Nippon Airways
ANA Mileage Club miles expire after 36 months. There is no way to extend them for most members. Expiration is paused for Diamond Service members, with the clock resuming if and when they lose Diamond status. Million Miler members will never have miles expire.
Avianca LifeMiles have one of the shortest expiration policies among frequent flyer programs. For general members, miles are valid for 12 months (for elite members, 24 months). Credit card holders also have 24 months prior to expiration, however, Avianca no longer offers any U.S.-based cards. Thankfully, any type of activity will extend its validity for another 12 months.
British Airways Executive Club Avios are valid for 36 months. Any activity will extend its validity.
Delta Air Lines
Delta SkyMiles do not expire.
Emirates Skywards miles expire at the end of your birthday month three years after they were earned. For example, if you flew in June 2022 and your birthday is in August, your miles would expire on August 31, 2025.
Activity in your account does not extend your miles’ validity, but you have the option to pay to extend them an additional 12 months.
Iberia Plus Avios expire after 36 months of no activity. Nearly any activity in your account will extend its life, such as flying or transferring credit card points. However, transferring Avios to or from another member will not extend the mileage expiration date.
JetBlue TrueBlue miles do not expire.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles expire three years after they were earned, regardless of whether or not there is additional activity in the account. Expiration dates may be extended for a fee. PPS Club members—customers who spend a minimum of 25,000 Singapore Dollars on premium class flights with Singapore Airlines annually—are exempted from expiration rules.
Southwest Rapid Rewards do not expire.
Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles expire at the end of the third calendar year after earning. Other activity on your account will not extend their validity, though you can optionally pay to extend them.
Since my experience several years ago, United changed its rewards program, so that now United MileagePlus miles never expire! Way to go, United!
Virgin Points do not expire.
There may be other ways to extend the life of your miles in addition to these. Here’s the bottom line: don’t procrastinate.
Question: Do you actively use a rewards credit card to build airline miles? If so, are you successful in booking free travel with those miles?