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Keep Your Points Active by Knowing Expiration Policies

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Allowing points and miles to expire is one of the cardinal sins of award travel. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr discusses strategies for keeping your travel rewards active.

Here’s a scenario you don’t want to find yourself in: after checking your calendar, confirming award flight availability, and clearing your vacation time with work, you hop online to book free hotel nights with Marriott Rewards. Once you log in, however, you find your account balance is a big fat zero. It sounds like a bad dream, but it could too easily be a reality, especially if you didn’t keep up with the news and notice Marriott’s new Rewards expiration policy.

Today, I’ll help you avoid situations like this by illuminating individual airline and hotel loyalty program expiration policies, showing you how to avoid losing your hard earned points and miles, and explaining what you can do to recover expired balances.

The most important step in keeping your rewards active is to stay informed, both about the status of your loyalty accounts and the various expiration policies. There are tools that can help you stay organized by tracking your rewards balances. Now let’s look at the expiration timeline for individual airline and hotel programs.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
You could have all the points and miles in the world, but they’re no good to you if you let them expire! Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Airline Miles Expiration Policies

Airline Expiration Term
Air Canada 12 Months
Alaskan Air 24 Months
American 18 Months
Avianca 24 Months
British Airways 36 Months
Delta Never
Flying Blue: Air France/KLM 20 Months (qualifying flight required to extend)
Frontier 6 Months
JetBlue Never
Singapore Airlines 36 Months (fee required to extend)*
Southwest 24 Months
Spirit 3 Months
United Last day of the 18th month after last activity
US Airways 18 Months
Virgin America 18 Months

*KrisFlyer miles due to expire the first time may be extended by paying a fee; they can be extended for 6 months for non-elites and 1 year for elites. Miles due to expire after the original extension may be extended in 3-month blocks for another fee.

Hotels

Hotel Expiration Policy
Best Western Never (for members in the Americas, Asia, and South Africa)
Choice On Dec 31 – 2 years after the year of last activity (non-extendable)
Club Carlson 24 Months
Hilton 12 Months
Hyatt 24 Months
IHG Never
Marriott 24 Months
Starwood 12 Months

Unless otherwise noted, the programs listed above reset the clock with any qualifying activity. This means paying for a flight or hotel night isn’t the only way to extend the expiration date. There are plenty of other ways to engage in qualifying activity and keep your miles from expiring:

1. Spend on a Co-branded Credit Card — Spending even a single dollar on a card like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card or the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card (which currently offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles) is enough to credit mileage to your account and reset the ticker. Even paying the annual fee on cards with generous anniversary bonuses like The Hyatt Credit Card will earn you points equivalent to that fee, and again your expiration clock will reset.

2. Earn with a Partner — Using United as an example once more, take a stroll through the 14 different categories of partners that offer MileagePlus miles, and surely something in your everyday life will be covered. You can even boost your accounts with certain checking accounts and banking relationships.

3. Use a Shopping Portal — Make a $1 purchase (like an iTunes song) through a hotel or airline online shopping portal. Earning that one point is enough to keep your balances safe.

4. Dining Programs — Log on to dining programs like SkyMiles Dining and see if your favorite local restaurant is an affiliated partner. You can earn between 0.5 and 5 miles per dollar spent on your bill. I don’t recommend divulging to your significant other you’re taking them to dinner only so you can keep your points from expiring.

5. Make a Small Redemption — Many airline programs allow you to redeem as few as 400 miles to get an annual magazine subscription, and since redemptions count as activity, this too will reset your expiration date. Check out Nick Ewen’s recent post on What to Do With Small Points and Miles Balances for more ideas.

6. Buy, Gift, or Transfer — British Airways Avios and United Airlines MileagePlus specifically qualify buying, gifting, and transferring as ways to extend your expiration date. Conversely, the new Marriott cancellation policy says gifting, transferring, or earning points through social media interactions does not count as qualifying activity. Make sure to read the fine print when you’re trying to extend your expiration date.

7. Donate to Charity — US Airways, United, American, and Alaska are just some of the airlines that allow you to donate as few as 500 miles to charity.

Reading the fine print is essential when it comes to expiration policies.

Living overseas for the last two years, I’ve found the best strategies for keeping my points and miles from expiring are the ones that happen automatically. For example, I pay the annual fee on the co-branded credit cards with anniversary bonuses I like, and those points reset my timer. I also have a checking account that earns AAdvantage miles based on my monthly balance, so I keep those miles active just by holding some funds there. For programs that I don’t use often, or are hard to access here in Japan, I use shopping portals so I can make my mom and sister happy with some flowers.

Note that you don’t see Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards on these lists. That’s because they don’t expire so long as you have a qualifying card account open and in good standing. Eligible credit cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus for Ultimate Rewards, and the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card and Amex Everyday Preferred Credit Card for Membership Rewards. By earning points in those programs, you won’t have to worry about rewards expiring.

Points Already Expired?

If you’re already panicking because the expiration date for your points has come and gone, fret not. There is hope depending on which kind of account you’re trying to reinstate.

Don't panic quite yet, there may be something you can do to recoup your expired balance.
Don’t panic quite yet, you may be able to recoup your expired balances. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Alaska — Mileage Plan accounts can be reinstated up to one year from the expiration date for a $75 fee.

American — If your miles expired after 2002, you can pay between $200-$600 (plus a 7.5% federal excise tax) to have them reinstated.

British Airways — I’ve read mixed reports about reinstating expired British Airways Avios. Some folks on Fyertalk have reported no success even when offering to pay, but others have had their miles reinstated simply by calling and asking politely. I reached out to British Airways to inquire about the policy, and my question of whether miles can be reinstated was met with “not normally, but how recently did they expire?” My guess is that it’s worth a few phone calls to ask.

United — United will allow you to reinstate miles that expired in the last 18 months, but not for charity. It will cost you between $50-$2500 depending on how many miles you would like to claw back.

US Airways — With the impending merger of Dividend Miles and AAdvantage accounts, now is the time to reinstate any Dividend Miles that may have expired. You can log in and pay a fee ranging from $9 to a reported $400 to reinstate your balance that expired within the last 36 months, and have it sent to your AAdvantage account.

The following programs do not allow reinstatement after expiration: JetBlue, Southwest, Frontier (used to), Virgin America, Flying Blue, and Singapore KrisFlyer.

I booked my friend's flights to the Maldives. Afterwards, he told me he planned his wedding date to ensure the honeymoon would be prior to his points expiring. He felt silly after I told him this post's information. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
A friend planned his wedding to ensure the honeymoon would take place prior to his points expiring. Use these strategies to rule your points; don’t let them rule you! Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

When it comes to hotel programs, reinstatement policies are less black and white. For example, although the Hilton HHonors terms and conditions state “Once the points have been forfeited, the Member may not retrieve any forfeited points”, there are reports of members receiving a type of “stay challenge” to recover lost points. In that case, you would get half of your balance back immediately and the other half after staying some set number of nights. If you need to reinstate hotel points, I would try making polite phone calls until you reach a sympathetic agent and receive a definitive yes or no.

As with many other facets of this hobby, expiration terms and conditions are always changing. Use a tool like AwardWallet to track your expiration dates (as well as these other tools to help keep your award travel organized), and read the fine print to determine if your expiration date is extendable, and what activity is eligible to reset the clock.

What’s your strategy for keeping points and miles from expiring?