How to keep your points and miles from expiring

Sep 30, 2019

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Expiring points and miles are an unfortunate reality of the travel rewards game that we love. After all, who wants to let (nearly) free travel go to waste? Fortunately there are many ways to keep your accounts active that don’t require hopping on an airplane or taking a mattress run. In fact, more often than not, you can reset the expiration date on the various hotel and airline currencies from the comfort of your desk or couch.

In this article, we’ll show you when the most popular airline miles and hotel points expire and highlight ways to keep them from expiring.

When do popular points and miles expire?

Most loyalty program currencies expire after a certain period of inactivity, most commonly two or three years. This means that if you go 24 or 36 months without earning (or in some cases, redeeming) points or miles in some way, you’ll lose any accumulated balance. Some programs vary from this rule by imposing either more restrictive expiration policies or more lenient ones. To help make this easier, below you’ll find a chart that shows how the most popular airline miles and hotel points expire.

Airline mile expiration

Airline Expiration Term
Aeromexico 24 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Air Canada (Aeroplan) 12 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Alaska Airlines 24 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Alitalia 24 months from last activity, can extend with activity
American Airlines 18 months from last activity, can extend with activity
ANA 36 months from earning, no way to extend
British Airways 36 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles) 36 months from earning, no way to extend
Delta No expiration
Emirates 3 years from earning, no way to extend
Etihad 24 months from earning, no way to extend
Flying Blue: Air France/KLM 24 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Hawaiian Airlines 18 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Iberia 36 months from last activity (not including this year’s 90,000 Avios promotion), can extend with activity
JAL 36 months from earning, no way to extend
JetBlue No expiration
Korean Air 10 years from earning, no way to extend
Lufthansa (Miles & More) 36 months from earning, no option to extend. No expiration if you have a co-branded credit card or elite status.
Qantas 18 months with no activity, can extend with activity
Singapore Airlines 36 months from earning, no way to extend
Southwest 24 months with no earning activity, can extend with earning activity
United Airlines No expiration
Virgin Atlantic 36 months with no activity, can extend with activity

As you can see, these policies are all over the map. Some programs count any activity as eligible to extend the expiration date, while others don’t allow any extensions. The winners here? Delta SkyMiles, JetBlue TrueBlue and United Airlines. These programs removed their expiration policies within the last several years, so you don’t need to worry about losing your account balances in either one.

Hotel points expiration

Hotel Program Expiration Term
Best Western Rewards No expiration
Choice Privileges 18 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Hilton 12 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Hyatt 24 months from last activity, can extend with activity
IHG Rewards 12 months from last activity; can extend with activity. No expiration for elite members.
Le Club Accorhotels No expiration with activity once per year
Marriott Bonvoy 24 months from last activity, can extend with activity. No expiration for Lifetime Elite members.
Radisson Rewards 24 months from last activity, can extend with activity
Wyndham Rewards 18 months with no activity, and 4 years overall

Here again there’s a wide range of policies, ranging from completely flexible (Best Western points never expire) to more restrictive. However, all of these programs at least allow you to extend the validity period of your points with activity, unlike some of the airline programs discussed above.

How to keep your miles and points active

Keep your miles active so you can redeem for more business class seats!
Keep your miles active so you can redeem for more business class seats! (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

So, now you know when your points and miles expire, but how do you keep them active? Luckily, there are several ways to do this. Here’s a list of the easiest — but feel free to tell us your preferred method of keeping your accounts active in the comments. If possible, perform these tasks at least a couple of months before your points or miles are set to expire to provide adequate time for the activity to post to your account. And be sure to pay close attention to the policies above; some programs (including Emirates Skywards and Singapore KrisFlyer) don’t allow extensions of any sort.

Take a flight or complete a stay

The traditional way to keep your points and miles active is by taking a flight on applicable airline (or one of its partners) or by completing a stay with the hotel chain in question. While this isn’t practical for everyone, if you have travel coming up, it’s an easy way to kill two birds with one stone; you get to your destination and extend the validity period of your points or miles. For most airlines and hotel programs, you can book a paid flight/room or book an award ticket/stay to keep your accounts active, because both earning and redeeming are considered activity for the majority of programs. Just note that paid flights or hotel stays generally don’t count until after the applicable points and miles post to your account (generally a few days after flying or checking out).

Donate to charity

One of the easiest ways to keep your points and miles active is by donating them to charity. American, United and many others offer point-donation programs, and generally speaking the minimum amount you can donate is 1,000. The points or miles are typically debited from your account immediately, extending the expiration date of your remaining account balance the second you hit the confirm button. This is perfect if your miles are expiring in the next day or two, and you’re giving to a good cause at the same time!

Open a credit card

Some airlines and hotel chains waive mileage expiration for those holding their cobranded travel credit cards. One example of this is United Airlines: If you have a United Explorer Card or United Club Card, your miles never expire while your United credit card is open and in good standing. This also could be due to the automatic elite status the card confers; the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, for example, provides automatic IHG Platinum status, and one of the perks of this tier of elite status is that your points will never expire.

However, not all cobranded cards offer this benefit. For example, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® does not keep your miles active by simply having the card in your wallet. However, a $1 transaction on the card will add a mile to your AAdvantage balance and extend your expiration date at the end of your billing cycle.

Join the dining rewards network

Many airlines and hotel chains have their own dining programs through the Dining Rewards Network. In short, you link any credit card in your wallet to the corresponding dining program, and you’re awarded airline miles or hotel points when you make a purchase at over 10,000 participating restaurants. You can keep your account active by signing up for the loyalty program’s dining program and going out for a meal at a partner restaurant. In some cases you can just buy a cup of coffee!

We’ve found that the points usually post within a week of purchase, though be aware that you can’t double- or triple-dip with the same card at multiple programs. However, you could (for example) add the Chase Sapphire Reserve to the Alaska Airlines dining program and then your American Express® Gold Card to the American Airlines dining program. If you ask the waiter at a participating restaurant to split your bill between those two cards, you’ll extend the expiration date of your miles in both those programs.

Make a purchase through the program’s shopping portal

Young woman shopping online in cafe with laptop. (Photo by filadendron/Getty Images)
If your points or miles are set to expire, consider making a purchase through an online shopping portal. (Photo by filadendron/Getty Images)

This may be the easiest option for most people: just make a purchase through the loyalty program’s shopping portal. Most major hotel chains and airlines have a site where you earn miles by starting there and then clicking through to a participating merchant before making an online purchase. Any purchase will keep your miles active — even something as inexpensive as a music download or movie rental. Just note that many vendors exclude gift card purchases, though I’ve read reports of these transactions still resulting in points or miles.

Transfer miles from a credit card or hotel program

Transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards will keep your miles active too. Since any amount of miles will generally reset the expiration clock, you should transfer the minimum amount possible, though most programs require at least 1,000 points when transferring to partners.

Don’t have a transferable points credit card? First of all, you should consider changing that fact now, as these programs provide incredible flexibility. However, you can also transfer points from most hotel programs to keep your airline miles active. Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, Wyndham Rewards and others allow transfers to several airline partners. Even though many of these programs have less-than-favorable exchange rates, they could be a good option if you need to save your miles in a pinch.

Check out TPG’s lists of best credit cards and rewards credit cards to find the card that works for you and your spending habits.

Bonus option for American: Comment on the AwardWallet Blog

I’m terming this final strategy a “bonus” one since it only applies to a single program. A free way to keep your American Airlines miles active is commenting on a post on the AwardWallet blog. All you need to do is link your AAdvantage account to your AwardWallet account, and use that AwardWallet account when commenting on a post on their blog. Each comment earns five American Airlines miles, up to five per day. Just be aware that these miles take five days or more to post to your account, so don’t wait until the last minute!

Speaking of AwardWallet, this is one of our favorite methods to track the expiration dates of points and miles in many programs, so if you haven’t already done so, I’d highly recommend signing up for an account and linking your various loyalty numbers.

What if my points or miles have expired?

Of course, all of the above suggestions apply to those of you who are proactively trying to keep your account balances active, but what happens if your points or miles have already expired? This may seem like a “too bad, so sad” situation, but depending on the program, all hope may not be lost. A handful of airlines and hotel chains allow you to reinstate your points or miles, typically with a fee. Here’s a list of some of the most popular:

  1. Alaska: You can reinstate expired miles for a $75 fee up to one year after expiration.
  2. American: You can reinstate miles expired after 2002 for a fee that varies from $40 to $2,000, depending on the number of miles that expired.
  3. British Airways: While not a published policy, you may be able to reinstate your Avios by calling customer service, though it may take reaching a U.K.-based agent for the request to be processed.

It’s worth noting that Hilton Honors added the ability to reinstate expired points back in 2017, but based on the current terms & conditions of the program, it appears that this is no longer an option.

Whether incurring this out-of-pocket expense makes sense depends on the value of the points or miles you’ve lost, but for large balances in these programs, it could very well be worth it!

Bottom line

Knowing both when your miles and points expire and how to keep them active is essential. While most airline and hotel programs differ in their expiration policies, your account balances in almost every one will be at risk without some qualifying activity in a defined period of time. Bookmark this page and refer to it whenever you’re questioning when your miles expire or wondering the best ways to keep them active. Remember: saving your expiring miles could mean the difference between flying economy or business class on your next vacation!

Featured photo by John Rowley/Getty Images

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