Two Programs Failing Members, Continue To Expire Points During Coronavirus Crisis

United, Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue miles do not expire. American Airlines, whose miles expire after 18 months of inactivity, has paused expiration until July. They were slow to do this, but finally recognized at least a temporary need.

Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt has paused points expiration as well though Marriott will start expiring points again in September while neither Hyatt nor Hilton will expire points for the rest of the year.

  • Customers can’t travel now
  • They can’t redeem their points for travel
  • They can’t earn with travel partners
  • Many have lost their jobs

Loyalty programs will need their program members again soon. These are the people who can be incentivized to fill seats and rooms. They’re the ones who will either be chased away by a program which treats them poorly during this challenging time, or lured away by a program who treats them well.

So I think it’s especially notable which programs are still expiring their members’ miles.

  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan usually thought of as one of the most consumer-friendly programs, their miles expire without account activity every 24 months. It’s not hard to keep an account active, redeem a few miles for magazines for instance, but some will be surprised to see them as a holdout.

  • IHG Rewards Club is reducing status qualification requirements, offering reservation flexibility, but still… are expiring points. And IHG points expire after 12 months of inactivity.

Airlines expire points because those points are a liability on their books. They can recognize revenue, and show the elimination of future cost, through expiration. However when Delta eliminating expiring miles, then-program head Jeff Robertson explained,

that expiring miles was the biggest complaint that they received, more so than even award availability. That they were spending millions just to notify members about expiring miles, the revenue from re-activation wasn’t especially great, and so they believed it was in their long-term interest to no longer antagonize members who would otherwise need to earn perhaps 20 miles to extend an account’s lifetime (not very profitable to the airline) or who would just redeem their miles in anger and walk away from the airline (creating a redemption cost and a lost customer).

I reached out to Alaska Airlines and to IHG to ask about their intention of fixing this. Alaska responded with a list of ways to earn points without flying. IHG Rewards Club has not yet replied.

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. @ Gary — IHG’s response to COVID-19 has been a joke. A 25-30% reduction in elite status requirements? WTH? Why not save themselves a lot of grief and angry customers (both of which drive away their best customers and result in wasted time/$ on hundreds of thousands of phone calls and emails to handle “exceptions”) and just go ahead and extend everyone’s status by a year? We are certainly not going to put our health at risk to renew an elite status. If we lose our 16-year RA status over this, we are done with IHG. I hope they read your blog.

  2. Maybe what AS is saying “if you have our credit card” there’s no reason for your miles to expire ? For year Alaska has pushed it’s credit card at one time it’s “companion fare” was a killer deal with first class ticket now it’s a coach ticket but still a good deal personally I do not care for Bank of America as a card issuer however it’s a good card to have if your in the western mountain and west coast.

  3. I too would appreciate any insight on Singapore — I wrote an email and got back a “thanks, we are aware of Covid and our customers and your loyalty are important and blah, blah, blah…” but it wasn’t clear that they were extending expiring miles — that expire this month.

  4. Generally inactivity means no points earning. Sometimes it also includes using points. Ideally if you have a credit card or points in a cc program you can transfer over a token amount and it will extend the expiration date.

    Like anything, you need to check the details.

  5. Air Canada is also being stingy (which isn’t surprising, since their normal 12-month activity window to prevent expiration is already pretty stingy). They’re pausing expiration *briefly*, but “Effective May 15, our normal expiration policy will once again apply, meaning that miles will expire if an eligible transaction has not been completed prior to this date.”

  6. @ghostrider5408 wife & I just applied for the AS biz CC with a 40k bonus after spending $2k. Bought flights for our fly of 4 to Kauai for Thanksgiving – hopefully the curve is flattened by then. Yesterday I received an email from AS advising my 8-yr old that his account (and 5k miles therein) will be deleted in July due to no activity in the last 24 months. It’s the same situation for my other son too. I don’t see us planning/making a trip in the next 4 months or applying for cards in their name. Any recommendations from others who find themselves in a similar situation?

  7. Gary, another two airlines that need to be shamed – JAL and NH, both of whom are offering double elite qualification mile for all trips taken till June/July to entice elites to do mileage running. I think it is downright irresponsible given how this create unnecessary risk not only to not only the flier but others they come into contact to. Given that Japan Is about to announce state of emergency I think more pressure should be done to prevent this kind of reckless promo. They should just follow others’ lead and extend elite members’ expiration by a year or at least run such promo when it’s actually safer to fly.

  8. Multi-year Alaska 75K here.

    Their response on the Mileage Plan side has been awful.

    A lot of Mileage Plan’s benefits and advantages are legacy features. It’s stuff that’s been in the program for a long time.

    I’m looking at this event as an opportunity to see where current Alaska leadership wants to take Mileage Plan.

    This is a unique situation. It’s a “green field” for loyalty programs.

    How each plan reacts tells you A LOT about how the host company views the plans AND views the plan members.

    And that in turn will tell me how to view the plan, and where to take my business.

  9. Alaska has always been one of the most consumer-friendly programs, so I expect they will jump on the bandwagon soon. Maybe they have other priorities right now.

    IHG however has thus far had a rather half-hearted response compared to competition. No across-the-board extension of Ambassador status – which actually has an annual membership fee! (though rumors of 3 month extension) and no extension of Ambassador 241 weekend nights. Mediocre compared to competition.

  10. My big complaint about all this is “why is this even an issue” why should points or miles ever expire even in good times? It’s silly and drives me away from those programs.

  11. I had thought the same about Alaska Airlines being customer friendly, however I can’t cancel an award flight from Japan to the US next month without paying $125/ea to have the miles reinstated. My outbound was on United which I cancelled already surprisingly without any fee. Japan won’t even let me into the country for the foreseeable future, certainly not in May.

    I’m taking your advice and waiting them out. JAL already cancelled flights to the US for April. When they cancel May’s flights I’ll try again to get the fee waived. I miss having gold status and could cancel for free whenever I wanted. Maybe that’s why I felt Alaska was customer friendly.

  12. In my experience IHG has been the best at dealing with during this situation. I had a number of IHG reservations, including the Intercontinental Frankfurt, booked and several were advance deposit, no refund cancellations. All were quickly cancelled, any deposit returned to my credit card and any booked with points returned to my account.

    Also, as for points/miles expiring. All you need to do is have a credit card charge (or dining program, shopping portal, etc.) to refresh the miles and keep them active. While I think it is good PR for the airlines/hotels to extend expiration dates I wonder how many people that actually applies to. Now extending status is a totally different matter and more important (although I have either lifetime or credit card top tier (or next to top tier in some cases) status on a number of airlines and 6 hotel programs so that really doesn’t impact me.

    One program not mentioned here is Caesars Rewards. I gamble a good bit and have almost $1100 in comps with their program. It is set to expire after 6 months of inactivity. Luckily I earned points in mid March so had until mid September but obviously didn’t want to lose the comps I could use for future hotel/restaurant charges. I don’t have their credit card but may get it. Outside of 10,000 RCs ($100) for $750 spend in 3 months the earn rate, even at Caesars properties, is bad and I would likely never use the card. However, it has no annual fee so an easy decision to get if needed to keep my account alive. As a test I order flowers from 1-800 Flowers from their portal. Sure enough I got 1200 RCs added and the date pushed to 10/1 for expiration. I’ll likely still get their card but good to know just ordering something like flowers keeps my almost $1100 alive since I don’t know if casinos will be open this fall or not and Caesars has NOT extended expiration rules.

    Bottom line is get creative on any program you have points in and look at ways to earn (or in some cases use) points. Any valid activity keeps the account alive and starts the clock over again

  13. Credit cards offering Club Access (such as United Chase Mileage Plus Card) should also extend next yearly fee capture since they’re not able to deliver the main promised benefit. (United Clubs are closed indefinitely yet I’m paying annually for the card).

  14. What about Flying Blue? I had an award flight cancelled and have not been able to contact Air France. I had booked the flight in November with points transferred from a Chase account because I had some miles that were set to expire in July and the AF flight was perfect my for needs. Now the flight has been cancelled and I have no idea what is happening with those points. If they go into my account, will they expire in July since the only way to keep points from expiring is to actually take a flight? Adding points does not count. And AF seems to only be offering a voucher and not redepositing the points either into my Flying Blue account or back into my Chase account.

  15. @Art_Czar
    You could sign them up for the shopping portal, and buy something every 23 months through their sign-ups.

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