I should have let my miles expire — reader mistake story

Jan 3, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Haley, who paid (twice) to keep her frequent flyer account active:

I used to live in Orlando, and I commuted frequently between Cleveland and Orlando on Frontier Airlines. I spent some of the miles I earned from those flights, but years after moving away, I still had 20,000 miles in my account, and I couldn’t wait to find the perfect time to use them for a trip back to Orlando.

Frontier miles expire after six months, but they’ve always given me the option to purchase miles in order to keep my existing miles from expiring. It cost me $50 to buy a few thousand additional miles, and I figured it was worthwhile because I’d eventually use the original miles and still feel like I got some kind of deal.

This year, I didn’t get the usual email notice that my miles were expiring, and I didn’t notice until four days too late. I called Frontier and was informed it would cost me $100 to reinstate my miles. The trip I’m planning to Orlando (which I was going to pay for with miles) only costs $200, so paying $100 to reinstate the miles didn’t make sense to me, especially after having spent another $100 to keep the miles active. I should have just given up on the miles months ago.

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Haley’s mistake was not so much letting her miles expire as failing to adequately assess whether preserving those miles was worthwhile in the first place. Before you pay to reinstate expired rewards (or prevent them from expiring), you should weigh how much they’re worth and how soon you need them against the cost of keeping them active. A valuable stash of rewards that you’ll redeem in the near future is worth saving, but stray balances with no clear use probably are not. Haley’s initial $50 outlay would have made sense if she also had an immediate plan to redeem her miles; I think it’s a poor investment otherwise.

When you’re evaluating the cost to reinstate or preserve rewards, take the transaction at face value. Any money you’ve already spent is a sunk cost, and it shouldn’t factor into your decision. In Haley’s case, the decision came down to paying $100 for (approximately) 20,000 Frontier miles; the $100 she contributed previously is gone, and the fact that those miles used to be “hers” is irrelevant. Her options were to either pay and have the miles, or not pay and not have them.

Buying points and miles without a promotional bonus is typically a bad deal, so you should only do it as a last resort to keep your account active or top up for an impending award. Instead, look for inexpensive options like transferring points in from another program or making a purchase through an affiliated online shopping portal — Frontier Airlines doesn’t have its own portal, but does have a handful of earning partners that can help you log qualifying accrual activity. Finally, this story is a reminder that whether by devaluation or expiration, points and miles are a bad long-term investment, Use them or lose them!

Related: How I lost 168,000 miles (and how I plan to get them back)

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Haley a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by David-Prado/Getty Images.

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