Effective Immediately United MileagePlus Miles Never Expire

Delta eliminated mileage expiration in 2011. JetBlue’s miles don’t expire either. When Delta made the change they explained,

  • Expiring miles were the number one complaint they got
  • They were “spending millions” just to notify members about expiring miles
  • They would sell members on re-activating their miles, but didn’t make much doing so
  • Despite the higher costs to the program, it wasn’t in their long-term interest to antagonize members into earning 20 miles to extend an account’s lifetime (not very profitable to the airline) or to redeem their miles in anger and walk away from the airline (creating a redemption cost and a lost customer).

Now United Airlines has just announced that MileagePlus miles don’t expire, either. According to Luc Bondar, United’s vice president of loyalty, “We want to demonstrate to our members that we are committing to them for the long-haul and giving customers a lifetime to use miles is an exceptionally meaningful benefit.”

United of course has already expired hundreds of millions of dollars worth of miles. They aren’t restoring the miles they expired in the past, reducing their balance sheet liability and recognizing revenue. (Update: United tells me that “customers whose miles expired in July/August of 2019 are having their miles automatically re-stored.”)

MileagePlus has also eliminated award charts and in many cases starting the back half of November will charge more miles for flights when saver awards aren’t available. The two changes viewed together redistribute United’s spending from frequent customers to infrequent ones.

  • Awards cost more
  • But you can save up miles and hold them for years in order to book those redemptions.

Eliminating expiring miles increases the cost of a mile to the program by reducing breakage. Currently United assumes a percentage of miles awarded will be expired unused, and so they make an assumption that the cost of those miles is lower. United is effectively spending more on infrequent members who don’t have activity in their account every 18 months, and spending less on existing frequent members who no longer have an award chart to rely on.

Engaged members shouldn’t welcome this change. It means there will be incrementally more competition for award seats from other members whose miles might have otherwise expired. And it’s not hard to keep an account active.

Nonetheless infrequent users of the MileagePlus program have one less thing to worry about, and that’s a good thing. The question, then, is whether American AAdvantage will feel they need to match both Delta and United.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I agree about the incremental competition for seats. But I see it as a good thing for my wife and kids. We use my miles to pay for most of our flights, so they earn miles slowly and could potentially go 18 months without a revenue flight so it’s nice to not worry about it anymore.

  2. Just last night, I was looking at my account and saw “expiration waived” for having the Explorer card. Kudos for the very timely announcement.

  3. It’s nice that miles don’t expire but the award chart going away is bad news. Gonna have to book my award travel soon methinks…

  4. How is this good for people who are diligent about miles saving for premium rewards – Delta made this ‘work’ with its gutting of Skymiles

  5. So I stupidly let my miles expire and was planning on paying to reinstate. I guess under the new policy I’d still have to pay since it seems they are only giving a grace period of a month?

  6. Miles which United periodically devalues will not expire. Big deal. It’s turned into a sucker’s game anyway.

  7. “The question, then, is whether American AAdvantage will feel they need to match both Delta and United.” The questions isn’t if AA will feel the need….it’s when “will it happen”?

  8. Thanks for the news, Gary! I watch miles & points accounts for a few of my friends via AW. One friend just had a measly 2000 miles expire around July 31. Given that he served in the US Marines, I intended to donate them to Fisher House in July, but I forgot.

  9. Those are some insightful views on the “costs” of customer retention (on the miles/loyalty side)… With this it’s actually less about United spending less/none on people who don’t really care about their miles anyway, and more of them focusing on how to tweak their devaluation of redemption on routes and cabin classes.

  10. @Asian Miler

    “Those are some insightful views on the “costs” of customer retention (on the miles/loyalty side)”

    I think that’s it actually.

    Imagine you have a customer who flies once every year or so, they may be loyal to an airline.

    Now the look at their account and instead of seeing a nice number of miles they see a zero.

    Even if they aren’t offended and wanting to leave, they may say

    “Since I have 0 miles, I may as well reevaluate what airplane I’m flying on anyway”

    By leaving the couple thousand infrequent flier miles in the account the customer always remains slightly incentivized to stick with their airline!

  11. I had 200,000 Frontier miles expire. Frontier was good bombarding me with weekly sales emails but they never informed me my miles were expiring. I complained and they said tough luck.

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