Points are still expiring in the pandemic — How I just lost 48,000 of them

Mar 9, 2021

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There are a couple of (largely unwritten) cardinal rules of the points and miles world. Rule No. 1 is don’t rack up debt, interest or extra charges on your rewards credit cards to chase bonus points and miles. But if that is rule No. 1, then rule No. 2 is probably … don’t let your rewards expire. The value of points and miles is precisely nothing if you don’t use them.

But we all make mistakes, and it just so happens that I recently violated this second golden rule in the points and miles realm. While I was busy not traveling frequently and not obsessing about every single point and mile balance on my list over the last year, I lost 48,000 hotel points.

While I knew some programs hadn’t fully paused point expiration during this year-on-the-ground, I still slipped up and lost points that TPG values at $288.

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Why I lost my points

There is absolutely value to be found in the Choice Privileges program, which is why I have some Choice points. But it’s not a program that I use or think about every month, especially in the past year.

In fact, it turns out I haven’t redeemed (or earned) any Choice points since the fall of 2019, when we last redeemed points to stay outside of Aspen on a fall foliage trip. As we all know, a few months after that, the world changed dramatically and travel largely got put on the back burner.

Choice points expire after 18 months of no earning or redeeming activity, which is exactly the timeline that transpired from fall 2019 to March 1, 2021, for my “dearly departed” points.

Due to the pandemic, Choice Privileges suspended point expiration until the end of 2021, but — unfortunately for me — this only applies to the elite members of its program.

Choice is not the only program that has continued expiring points during the pandemic. However, it is on a pretty short list of hotel programs that are still zeroing out point balances in this moment.

It also took an unusual approach by only extending points for elite members. In contrast, Hilton has paused point expiration for all members until Dec. 31, 2021. Marriott has paused all point expiration at least through Aug. 1, 2021, and the World of Hyatt, IHG and Wyndham Rewards programs have paused all point expiration at least until June 30, 2021. Best Western points never expire.

I noticed the points had expired about a week after it happened on March 1 and was told by Choice customer service via email inquiry there was no recourse to have them reinstated. (Read to the end for a post-publication update.)

Related: Here’s how to get your points and miles back after they expire

How to prevent your points from expiring

The trend over the last year has been away from expiration dates, even outside the limited-time pandemic pauses. For example, United and Southwest joined Delta and JetBlue on the list of airlines that no longer expire miles. American Airlines will no longer expire the miles of those under 21 years old and even Spirit Airlines no longer expires miles nearly as quickly as before.

But, while some programs don’t expire your hard-earned points and miles, others obviously still do. Thankfully, there are pretty easy ways to keep your points from expiring in most programs.

Double-check the rules

While the rules can and do change over time, you can start by brushing up on what the actual point expiration guidelines are for the programs where you currently have points. This is where I definitely went wrong, as I didn’t really give two thoughts to double-checking the expiration policies for my Choice Privileges points in the last year.

Related: Guide to points and miles expiration policies 

Earn or redeem periodically

In most loyalty programs that do have expiration policies, you can often extend the life of your points simply by earning or redeeming once every 12-18 months or so. There are programs, such as ANA, that will expire your miles after a set period of time no matter what happens during that time frame. Often the U.S.-based programs will extend them as long as you do something such as earning miles via a shopping site, by donating a few miles or by redeeming an award.

Don’t save points … for too long

It’s one thing to save up miles and points for a big trip or redemption — especially right now, when many of us didn’t travel much for the last year. But saving up for some specific trip, or even earning points in a credit card’s flexible points program where you’ll have many eventually uses, is very different than just leaving or saving points in any one particular program for too long.

Those hotel points had likely been sitting in my account for several years, which is precisely the ripe situation for devaluation or even expiration.

Related: The 7 best ways to redeem airline miles without flying

Bottom line

My batting average at getting value out of points is still pretty solid, so I won’t lose sleep or have my own blood pressure raised over losing these 48,000 points. Instead, I’d rather use this as a warning tale that, indeed, points can be lost during this period of reduced travel. And while most travel loyalty programs have their expiration programs paused for now, that’s not unilaterally true.

Additionally, multiple programs are currently set to return to the regular process of expiring points this summer, so there could be lots of would-be travelers who may find that their points balances have reset to zero when the time comes to travel.

Post-publication update: The day after the story published, a member of the Choice Privileges Executive Team reached out and said they had extended my points for 18 months as a one-time courtesy after coming across my story. I did not send the story to them or request special consideration. They said they understood the reality of decreased travel during the pandemic. I asked how others in similar situations could receive the same assistance and was told that anyone facing a similar situation should call 1-888-770-6800. There is, of course, no guarantee of the same outcome, but it’s worth a try.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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