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The Easiest Way to Prevent Your Miles from Expiring

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The sign-up offer for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card has been increased from 40,000 to 50,000 points after $4,000 spent within the first three months. You can earn an additional 5,000 points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first 3 months as well.

There are few things worse than watching your frequent flyer miles vanish in an instant. Today, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig outlines one great option for extending the life of your miles with only a minute or two of work.

With only a few exceptions, including Delta and JetBlue, frequent flyer miles are set to expire after a certain period of inactivity. You can often pay a fee to have them reinstated, but it’s very easy to prevent this from happening in the first place, as I’ll explain below.

Note: If you have a co-brand credit card, such as the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, your miles won’t expire as long as your card account remains open.

The balance and expiration date before (left) and just a few seconds later (right).
The balance and expiration date before (left) and just a few seconds later (right).

For this experiment, I decided to try my hand at extending the expiration date for my father’s United MileagePlus balance. A few weeks ago, he had 27,638 miles that were just days away from expiring — enough for a round-trip domestic flight in coach or a one-way flight in business or first. These miles were definitely worth saving, especially if there wasn’t a cost involved.

You can do some good while also benefiting your frequent flyer account.
You can do some good while also benefiting your frequent flyer account.

If he had let the miles expire, it would have cost $200 to reinstate them. Instead, I took advantage of United’s miles donation program, which lets you transfer your miles to a handful of large charities for free. Because any activity will extend the expiration date by a full 18 months, I decided to transfer 1,000 miles to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The account expiration was instantly extended and we helped a Make-A-Wish participant get a bit closer to an award flight to their dream destination.

I could have also transferred miles from a program like Chase Ultimate Rewards. I have plenty of Chase points on hand from travel spend and sign-up bonuses, such as the 40,000 bonus points you can receive after spending $3,000 in the first three months with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Here are the mileage expiration policies from several major frequent flyer programs:

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

Donating your miles to extend their expiration date is a win/win. You get to keep most of your miles, and you’re helping a charitable organization in the process. If you don’t have plans to use your miles and you’d rather not keep an eye on the balance, you can always transfer your entire balance to a charity. It sure beats having your miles completely disappear!

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