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TPG Reader Tim sent me a question on Twitter about how to keep travel rewards active:
@ThePointsGuy — “I have a bunch of United miles that are about to expire. What’s the best way to save them?”
One of the most costly mistakes award travelers can make is to let points or miles expire. Once you’ve put all the effort into earning them, it’s a real shame to let your travel rewards go to waste — it’s like throwing money away.
Tim is on top of his United MileagePlus account and recognized that his miles are set to expire soon. United miles expire after 18 months of inactivity, which is close to average among loyalty programs, though there’s a pretty wide range of expiration policies. The question is what to do about it, and fortunately there are plenty of easy solutions.
Not all points and miles expire — Delta and JetBlue deserve praise for having no expiration date on their rewards. Among those that do expire, most can be refreshed by having qualifying activity post to your account. Generally, the size and type of activity doesn’t matter, so earning, redeeming or transferring any number of points can reset the clock. That’s good news, because it means you don’t necessarily have to bank a flight or hotel stay in order to extend the lifetime of your rewards.
Some easy ways to keep rewards active include spending on a co-branded credit card (like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card in Tim’s case), using an online shopping portal to earn bonus rewards for purchases or redeeming for an inexpensive item like a magazine subscription. United also lets you donate miles, which counts as activity and will extend your points’ expiration date — see Zach Honig’s post on The Easiest Way to Prevent Your Miles from Expiring for more info.
My method of choice is to simply move rewards from one of the transferable points programs (like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards) to wherever they’re needed. If none of those options are viable, you can always just buy a small number of points or miles outright. That might cost you $30-$40, but it’s a good investment if the alternative is letting your account go inactive.
Pay attention to how long it takes for rewards to post via these different methods. Some partner transactions (including credit card and shopping portal activity) can take weeks to show up, and you don’t want your account to expire in the meantime. Transfers are good for this reason, because they generally take only a few days or less. If you’re cutting it close and transferring isn’t an option, buying becomes more attractive, as those points or miles usually post within 48 hours.
If your points or miles do expire, you might not be totally out of luck. Some programs will let you reinstate rewards, but you’ll pay for the privilege. Alaska Airlines has a relatively benign $75 charge to reinstate miles up to one year beyond the expiration date. On the other hand, United charges anywhere from $50-$2,500, depending on the number of miles.
The moral of the story is to stay organized. If you keep tabs on expiration dates and refresh your accounts periodically, you’ll save yourself from scrambling to post activity at the last minute.
If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at email@example.com. Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.