This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

The Business Gold Rewards card offers 3 points per dollar in your choice of category, including airfare.
Online shopping portals offer bonus points and miles, and is an easy way to keep your accounts active.

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

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.