How to Keep Your Miles from Expiring

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:

  • Many programs will let you trnasfer points in very low increments through the 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!

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, 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 just signed up for AwardsWallet — a nifty tool, but its a serious handicap that the MAJOR US carriers (AA, DL and UA) won’t play. There’s a workaround suggested for UA I may try — why not for AA and DL?

  2. I have lost some 170,000 LAN Airlines kilometers due to account inactivity. Anybody knows if the is a way to rescue expired miles with LAN?

  3. @Peter The United workaround also works for Delta. I do understand they’re trying pretty hard to work things out with all 3

  4. I have the citi AAdvantage credit card. As long as I use that card at least once every 18 months then my AAdvantage miles won’t expire, right?

  5. A good list but you left off Hilton Hotels Double Dip which lets you post miles to airline and Amtrak accounts without sacrificing your hotel points. I prefer to save the SPG points for hotel stays or 20,0000 transfers that give you 25,000 miles. The dining programs are good, but the shopping programs are so slow and unreliable as to be useless for saving your miles from expiring.

  6. Easiest, cheapest way to extend are the dining programs. I used to buy a burger at Burger King, one for each program each on a different card at $1.00 each. They dropped out so now its a $5.00 Gyro every 18 months. Alternately the miles for magazines which doesn’t dink you for very much if you are in a jam.

    As has been covered in depth the LH M&M program has the strangest expiration policy of any airline. Miles expire permanently unless you have their credit card and make a charge every single month without fail.

  7. Nearly all programs with have a minimum amount to “exchange” directly from one to another as you suggested with UA to AA. And some will only accept exchanges to get more, you can’t exchange out to some other program. All of them will accept any number of incoming points, though.

    US Airways is the only one I know of that has no minimum outgoing. I’ve used it to preserve other programs, and I’m going to miss it after the merger.

  8. Oops, AS to AA is what you suggested. AS now has a 4001 minimum outgoing to exchange to another program.

  9. A timely post. I had forgotten to check some spouse points in Marriott for a long time, surprised they are still there.

    Tried accessing Itunes through the mall, but it didn’t go through.

    Do you know if redeeming, and then cancelling the award will extend the expiration? There isn’t a formal expiration date but they reserve the right to close it if there is no activity in two years.

    Thanks again!

  10. I had some miles that were going to expire in about a month. Ordered a magazine through them. Now I won’t be losig them. Thanks!!!

  11. i think you need to do a better job describing two different kinds of expiration-types between the programs….

    1) some programs expire miles from a SET TIME WINDOW period without redemption activity. (and redemption uses up oldest miles first)

    2) some programs expire ALL MILES without activity during X time period. (conversely, any activity saves ALL miles)

    Thus, for BA Avios miles and LH miles – what is the exact policy? can you clarify?

  12. Gary –

    SkyPesos, the currency that expires when you do! 🙂

    Restrictions on Transfer
    Miles are not the property of any Member. Except as specifically authorized in the Membership
    Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be sold,
    attached, seized, levied upon, pledged, or transferred under any circumstances, including,
    without limitation, by operation of law, upon death, or in connection with any domestic relations
    dispute and/or legal proceeding.

  13. p.s. you should add that LH has the same 3 year expiration policy as ANA. however, LH expiration can be waived if you have a MILES AND MORE card (e.g. from Barclay).

  14. I know we are talking airlines and they are fairly simple to keep alive through partner earnings. I did want to warn people of Laquinta hotels and how they will expire points even with partner earnings. They seem to require a hard stay in my experiences with them.

  15. Lufthansa’s Miles & More is the pits- 36 months period unless you make a purchase every month on their credit card.

  16. I’ve had points post from both skymiles and mileage plus dining for buying restaurant gift cards.

  17. @ Gary: Yes, your post on DL miles was informative!

    The FT conversation is ongoing and entertaining.

  18. Do you know what’s the policy for miles with Air Berlin? Was trying to find on their website but not much luck!

  19. Do you know what’s the policy for miles with Air Berlin? Was trying to find on their website but not much luck!

  20. Aeroplan miles do not expire after 7 years, anymore (they reversed the 7 year expiration rule last year)

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