My Points Disappeared With No Warning — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader John, who misunderstood an expiration policy:
I just got off the phone with a Southwest Airlines customer service agent and learned that all the points in my account (over 100,000) are gone and won’t be coming back.
A couple of years ago I took advantage of Marriott's Hotel + Air packages I read about on TPG. I redeemed 370,000 Marriott points and got a seven-night, Category 8 hotel certificate and 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. This was before Southwest changed its policy on transferred hotel points, so that transaction also allowed me to earn the Southwest Companion Pass for all of 2017 and 2018.
Fast forward to today: I checked my Rapid Rewards account to look at booking a vacation flight for my family, only to realize the points were gone. I knew Southwest had a policy that points would expire if an account was inactive for two years; what I didn’t realize is that keeping an account active meant earning points, not spending them. I had used Southwest points to book flights within the last two years, but I had not earned any.
I checked my email to see if I had ever received a notification from Southwest, but there wasn't one — I've gotten emails from American Airlines about expiring miles in the past, which helped me keep my account active. I called Southwest to see if there was any way to recover my points, but was told that would only be allowed in extreme circumstances (like a grave illness or death).
I'm disappointed Southwest doesn't send a reminder email to customers whose accounts are about to hit the two-year mark of inactivity, but I am responsible for understanding the terms and conditions of the account and paid the price for my misunderstanding. Hopefully this can save some of your readers from going through this experience in the future!
Nearly all rewards are subject to expiration, but while most travel providers allow you keep points and miles alive with almost any account activity (including redemptions), Southwest does not. As John points out, you can only keep Rapid Rewards points active with qualifying earning activity, such as taking a revenue flight, spending on a Southwest credit card or earning with one of the airline's partners (like a hotel or dining program); redeeming points does not reset the clock. The terms and conditions are ambiguous about whether transfers from another program count, but in practice, only transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards are viewed as qualifying activity. Transfers from hotel programs like Marriott are not.
Southwest's expiration policy may seem Draconian compared to some — like Delta SkyMiles and JetBlue TrueBlue points, which simply don't expire — but many programs have similar rules or worse. Flying Blue and LATAM Pass (among others) also exclude award redemptions from qualifying activity, while some programs (including ANA Mileage Club and Singapore KrisFlyer) offer a hard expiration date with few exceptions regardless of the nature or frequency of activity in your account. To protect your rewards, follow John's advice by making sure you're familiar with expiration policies, and keep track of your accounts so you won't be caught by surprise.
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 John 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 email@example.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!