I got a text the other day from a friend who took my travel hacker workshop last year. Since then she has opened a number of travel credit cards, resulting in thousands of frequent flyer miles – much to her delight. But on this day she was frustrated. “I accidentally let 21K in Southwest Airlines miles expire,” she texted. “I knew there was an approaching deadline and I got the date wrong – dang it!” She’s not alone in making that mistake. Another friend once let about 250K Alaska Airlines miles expire, simply because she didn’t know about mileage plan expiration dates – until she went to use her saved up miles to fly to Peru and they simply weren’t there.
One of the easiest travel hacks out there is this: once you have those precious frequent flyer miles and hotel points saved up, don’t let them expire! Here are some ways I’ve avoided losing miles and points to deadlines.
Use your miles & points. So many people treat miles/points as something to hoard and save until some rainy day when you’ll finally use them. Unfortunately that may not always be the best policy. You run the risk of losing them due to expiration dates (usually miles last something like 18 months to 2 years after the last activity on your frequent flyer account). Also the entire mileage plan world is changing… Your points might not be worth as much later. If you got them, use them.
Do your research. The Points Guy has a similar article to this one that includes expiration policies for major airlines and hotel chains. Note that there are companies that don’t have mile/point expiration policies (for example Delta airlines). Knowing what the rules are goes a long way towards keeping your miles and points safe.
Use a tracking tool. The one I (and many other travel hackers out there) like to use is Award Wallet. It’s an amazing tool if you have multiple mileage and hotel plans that you belong to – as you can log in and see all of your plans and mile/point totals in one place. If you pay a small fee (about $5 every 6 months) you get access to the paid version which includes automatic expiration date tracking for each mileage plan you add. Expiration dates that are soon approaching are highlighted with red font. It’s an easy way to keep an eye on your miles/points and keep them alive. If you don’t use this tool – put reminders in your calendar or on your phone.
If getting close to expiration – take action. Most plan expiration dates are based on the last time the account had any activity. If you have a credit card attached to that mileage plan, simply use the card to use a latte, and that will deposit a small amount of miles into your account after the next billing cycle closes (be sure that this will be in time!).
If you no longer have a credit card associated with the account you can also accrue miles or hotel points the old fashioned way – by taking a flight or staying in a hotel.
Many plans have shopping or dining portals/programs that will deposit miles in your account for dollars spent via their program. Donating to charity is another route to take. I donated 5000 Alaska miles to a local charity and it counted as activity and extended my expiration date (and felt good too).
You can also buy miles or points which then counts as activity in the account. Some companies do allow you to pay a fee to reinstate miles/points once they expire – but sometimes it’s a steeper cost than if you would have bought 5000 miles yourself.
Don’t transfer bank reward cards to mileage or hotel plans until you are ready to use them. One of the perks of cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Amex Membership Rewards cards is that you then accrue points that can be transferred to airlines like United or Delta. They also don’t usually expire (until you close the card). But once in the mileage plan, they are subject to expiration dates. So only move them once you are ready to use them.
Keep your miles alive, and even better yet – use them! What are you waiting for?