How Should I Use Leftover Miles from an Airline I Never Fly?
TPG reader Frank sent me a message on Facebook looking for advice on what to do with miles he doesn't plan to use:
“I have about 4,700 Delta miles and 3,800 American miles, but I only ever fly United or JetBlue. I was told my miles will expire in the next few months. What should I do with them?”
My loyalty account balances go up and down, and I typically earn rewards in my favorite programs at roughly the same rate as I redeem them. However, I sometimes end up with just a handful of points or miles in a program I rarely use, and while I might not have an immediate plan for them, I try not to let them go to waste. Learning how to use those small balances will help you maximize your travel in the long run.
For starters, it's important to know the program rules. While I'm often critical of the SkyMiles program for other reasons, Delta deserves credit for having one of the most friendly expiration policies of any airline. Barring deactivation or closure of your account, SkyMiles never expire, so you don't have to worry about losing them. On the other hand, AAdvantage miles do expire if your account is inactive for 18 months.
If you're confident you'll never earn enough miles to redeem for flight or upgrade awards, then you have a few options. You can donate to charities like Kids in Need or the American Red Cross — this is convenient because you can contribute odd amounts (starting at 1,000 miles), so you won't have to leave any rewards behind. Another possibility is to redeem miles for magazines, which can actually provide a decent value depending on the publication.
Aside from that, you can buy gift cards through Points.com or shop through the SkyMiles Marketplace, though you'll get a terrible exchange rate in either case. I don't recommend those options, but if you just want to cash out, they're better than nothing.
Personally, I don't think you need to liquidate those rewards. There are plenty of ways to keep miles from expiring, and you never know when they may come in handy down the line. Even if you prefer other airlines like United and JetBlue at the moment, circumstances change (along with frequent flyer programs), and it's not hard to imagine a scenario where your loyalty shifts to another carrier.
Just make sure to log some activity in your AAdvantage account before the expiration date; earning even a few miles from a small purchase made through an online shopping portal will do the trick. If your miles don't post in time, you can always pay to reinstate expired rewards, but I generally wouldn't recommend it for small balances.
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