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Yesterday morning, we got a tip from a reader about an unfortunate experience he had with his Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Account.

Mike Wilkes had accumulated over 400,000 Southwest Rapid Reward points for a summer of trips with his family. That’s worth about $6,000, according to the latest frequent flyer valuations from The Points Guy.

He’d been a loyal Southwest frequent flyer for the past 15 years. Just in the past two years, he flew more than 10 flights paid for with Southwest Rapid Rewards points. And he had big plans for his remaining stash of points.

“We had been waiting for the Hawaii route to open up for Southwest,” Wilkes said about his plans for the summer. “We were also planning on going to Cabo San Lucas and a wedding in Colorado.”

He even recently left his business career to become a high school teacher, knowing he could afford to take his family on trips with all of those Southwest points.

Then, one day, Wilkes and his wife logged on to the Southwest website to find that all of their points had vanished. Apparently, in the ten days since he had last checked his account, the points in his account had reached the 24-month expiration date imposed by the airline.

With the discovery, Wilkes called customer service. He was told that sustaining Southwest points requires points-earning activity  — not just points-burning activity. That meant those flights he had taken using points didn’t help extend the expiration date of his other Rapid Rewards points. Agents told him this information was available in the program’s terms and conditions. They also said that they send out a warning email 60 days prior to the expiration date.

“When I heard that I went and I checked all of my spam emails, all of my folders, pretty much every possible location and email could’ve gone and I confirmed that I never received an email,” said Wilkes. “Then I was told that actually — it’s a courtesy email and [they’re] not responsible for sending those out. No one ever told me if there is a cut-off point for people who get those emails and who doesn’t.”

Wilkes also recalled a time two years ago in which he spoke to Southwest customer service and was given misinformation. “I was told by an agent that any points activity keeps my account active,” said Wilkes. He was then told that Southwest agents that it’s a “mutual responsibility” for customers to know the policy. “My response was: since it’s a mutual responsibility — is Southwest not liable for what an agent said over the phone two years ago?” he added. TPG reached out to Southwest for comment on this but the airline did not reply in time.

7 Ways to Keep Your Southwest Rapid Reward Points From Expiring

Southwest, however, did confirm that the company’s policy does require points-earning activity to prevent expiration. Southwest also said: “Before a Rapid Rewards account expires a member will receive a message alerting them of the expiration timeline Once expired, it’s rare for a Rapid Rewards account to be fully restored.”

Despite its reputation for top-notch customer service, Southwest Rapid Rewards isn’t very forgiving when it comes to breaching policy — so it’s best to read the fine print when it comes to that program. If you’ve been saving up miles, you can ensure they don’t expire by doing one (or more) of the following things every few months:

  • Fly on a points-earning Southwest Airlines flight (be warned, this doesn’t mean flying on points; it means flying on a paid fare.)
  • Using Southwest Airlines credit cards
  • Earn points through the Southwest Rapid Rewards shopping portal
  • Earn points through the Southwest Rapid Reward dining program
  • Earn points through a Southwest Rapid Rewards hotel partner
  • Earn Points using SuperShuttle
  • Buy Southwest Rapid Rewards Points

You could also use AwardWallet to track the status of your points, though it can be tricky: you have to set your email to forward statements to AwardWallet.

Wilkes has since been in contact and raised this concern with Southwest on Twitter, but has yet to receive a refund or reinstatement of his points. “This incident has literally devastated my family, the others we intended to visit, and cost us thousands of additional dollars as travel plans had to be re-arranged once our Southwest travel plans were terminated,” said Wilkes.

Featured image by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

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