Most airlines have some form of expiring miles. Most programs promote that their miles never expire… Are they lying?
No, and yes.
Your miles won’t expire, but your account will become inactive if you don’t have some sort of activity for a defined period of time. And then you won’t have access to your miles anymore. Because they’ll expire.
Actually, expiring miles are where a given mile has to be used within a specified period of time or else it simply goes away. Singapore Airlines miles are like that. No matter how much additional activity you have in your account, each mile is use it or lose it.
Expiring accounts is something different, no activity means everything in the account disappears. That’s what most frequent flyer programs have, and it’s how they can say miles don’t expire or they can more accurately say miles don’t expire as long as you have activity within your account at least every 12, 18, 24, or 36 months (as applies to the particular program).
Delta and JetBlue do not have mileage expiration at all, period, regardless of activity in an account. Both used to. Delta was a leader introducing expiring miles, cleared a bunch of outstanding liability off their balance sheet, and then eliminated mileage expiration. That does make SkyMiles (and TrueBlue) good for the infrequent flyer that doesn’t much pay attention to miles.
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.
With most programs — where account activity is enough to extend the life of your miles — 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 programs.
Here’s a list of the mileage expiration rules for several popular airline frequent flyer programs.
- Aegean Airlines: 24 months of inactivity
- Aeroplan: 12 months of inactivity
- 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
- 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
- Lufthansa: The Miles & More program expires miles after 36 months regardless of activity in your account, unless you have their co-brand credit card and use it every month without fail.
- Singapore Airlines: Miles expire the month following three years after they were earned, but can be extended at a cost for six months (12 months for elites)
- Southwest: 24 months without earning activity
- United: 18 months of inactivity
- Virgin Atlantic: 36 months of inactivity
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:
Here are 10 ways to keep most airline miles from expiring but not that not all programs let you keep miles expiring without flying (Air France KLM Flying Blue) or earning miles rather than spending them (Southwest):
- Points.com A few programs will let you transfer points in very low increments through the Points.com portal, perhaps 4 miles can be moved into a single mile in another program 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. Some shopping portals will credit you a single mile for a very inexpensive purchase, like one song, but be sure to read the fine print — you do not want to make a purchase assuming you’ll extend your miles but find out that it was ineligible. The time lag to posting these transactions is often why I like this method least, even though it can be among the cheapest.
- 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. TGo to your program’s website and find the magazine options, I’d bet there are many many many unwanted subscriptions to Cigar Aficionado out there.
- 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, Chase, Citibank, and Diners Club all have points that transfer into miles.
- 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 (I joined directly rather than through one of their partners, that has allowed me to transfer to any of their mileage partners).
- Donate miles. Many programs will let you donate miles to charity. Choose the smallest number they offer, knowing that your gift probably won’t have any incremental benefit to the charity anyway and the program will likely donate the same amount whether you give or not.
Expiring miles reduces the cost of loyalty programs. That’s actually a good thing for people who keep their accounts active, programs spend their marketing dollars on active members. Expiring miles can be seen as a tax on people who don’t pay attention, and redistribution to those who do. So be one of the ones who do!