Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Frequent Flyer Programs Accelarate Expirations

Just before Christmas, I wrote about the fact that my wife’s Delta SkyMiles were set to expire at the end of the year. I ended up thwarting this attempt to reclaim her miles by buying 1000 miles for $29.95. Not a perfect solution, but far better letting a ton of miles slip away.

The reason that I bring this up is that airlines are starting to crack down on ‘dormant’ frequent flyer accounts by tightening up their rules regarding expiration. While most programs have traditionally given travelers a three year grace period (i.e., fly at least once every three years and your miles are safe), many have recently begun tightening their belts when it comes to mileage balances. Here are some examples:

AirTran: 12 months
Delta: 2 years
JetBlue: 12 months
Southwest: 2 years
United: 18 months
USAir: 18 months

It’s also important to note that, even though you can earn miles in many different ways, not all account activity is created equally… Indeed, my wife had recently earned a 250 mile bonus for participating in some sort of Delta survey, but it didn’t reset her mileage expiration clock. It’s also worth noting that, even if you don’t have enough miles for a trip, most airlines allow you to redeem your miles for non-travel rewards, such as magazine subscriptions.

Alternatively, there are a lot of frequent flyer credit card signup bonuses out there waiting to be taken advantage of. These cards offer as many as 20, 000 bonus miles for signing up and meeting specified spend requirements, and are thus really useful for jump-starting your account, or rounding out reward travel.

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13 Responses to “Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Frequent Flyer Programs Accelarate Expirations”

  1. Anonymous

    I tried your site for magsformiles and google could not find it. I am trying to get some magazines for expiring miles and I don’t know the mailing address to which the selection must be sent before a date in April. Perhaps you can help. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous

    I ordered Martha Stewart Living in exchange for 1600 miles in response to a communication from United. This was confirmed in Mar. 2009. On 4/23/09 I was informed that this order could not be processed as this was part of another order. There was no other order, only Martha Stewart Living. On 4/27/09 i received a communication from [email protected] stating that they were unable to receive authorization from United so they were unable to continue to fulfill my selection. I have written to United Airlines Rewards twice and submitted all the information as indicated above. As of this writing, I have not received the courtesy of a reply.

    Thank you.
    Anne Abrams

  3. Anonymous

    RE: Delta……I used to have tons of miles. I accumulated them by flying, using credit cards and anything else I could use that would get me miles. I also used the mileage back when you “could”. I’ve been trying to get to Europe for three years. They keep telling me unless you book a year in advance you may not get a seat…and that has been the case. I don’t know a year in advance if I can take the trip!!!!!! I’m not retired! I’ve found it impossible to fly domestically too…unless I’m going to Fargo or Butte or something like that. They don’t put enough freq fly seats on the plane while at the same time they hand out the miles like candy. Gee’s, you think this might come back to bite you some day and you’ll end up pissing off your customer base? Well, I guess you have to care first.

  4. JohnH: Are you serious? By that logic, coupon expiration is unconstitutional… After all, you buy coupons in advance (inside the Sunday paper) and they are (effectively) a proxy for US dollars.

  5. Anonymous

    I think that the expiration date is constitutionally illegal, and if someone fights it they will succeed.

    FF mileage is purchased in advance by flyers as they buy tickets. It’s money that you bank in anticipation of future flights. So it is proxy for US dollars, and since US dollars do not bear an expiration date the FF miles can’t expire either.

    FF miles are NOT a gift from the airline. Only a fool would believe that. They are stated by the airline program to have a small value and you can buy more miles. You can trade miles to another person.

    If someone fights this in court they will win.

    All FF programs should be eliminated anyhow. They are programs that demand loyalty from customers without providing any loyalty from the airlines.

  6. Anonymous

    You should note that JetBlue’s miles expire one year from when they’re earned — period. If you fly in October 2006, the points you earned on that flight expire in October 2007, even if you’ve flown with JetBlue since then.

    In other words, you need to fly a lot on JetBlue *within one year* to earn a flight. Worst policy ever.

  7. Anonymous

    How to Keep Your Airline Frequent Flyer Miles From Expiring- The Facts

    I spoke with both United Airlines and American Airlines representatives by phone and they both indicated that your expiration date will be reset if you do any of the following:

    1. Miles that are redeemed in any manner (such as redeeming 400 miles for a magazine subscription). Thus redeeming your miles for “non-air” purposes will do the trick. See the appropriate airline’s Web site to find these non-air redemptions, may be as low as 300 miles.

    2. Another option is to “buy miles”. American offers 1000 miles for $27.50. An advantage to this option is that your miles continue to increase unlike option 1.

    3. You may get an airline credit card (Citibank AA Advantage or United Mileage Plus Chase cards for instance) and use it to gain mileage points. These cards will give you a large chunk of miles (~20,000) when you first sign up which will reset your expiration date. Also, whenever you use the card you accrue miles which, again, resets your miles. Disadvantages: Very high interest rates. Annual fees (although first year is generally waived).

    Bottom line:
    If you have tons of miles and just need to reset your expiration date, simply buy a magazine subscription, you won’t miss the measly 300-400 miles and you can do this with a push of a button on the airline’s Web site. If you are just over the top of getting an award I would use option 2 and buy some minimal miles. Remember, you only have to do this once every 18 months at most. I would only get a credit card if by obtaining one the extra 20,000 miles would put you over the top for an award. The hassles of having a credit card with such a large interest rate would otherwise not be worth it in my opinion.

    Keep track of the expiration date of your miles. Once they expire you cannot get them back. The mileage statements and information on the Web sights are not very clear about exact expiration dates. Call the airlines, they will tell you the exact expiration date.

  8. Anonymous

    If you realize you are close to losing your miles, here are a few ways to show activity in your account:

    -Fly on the airline, or one of its partners.
    -Purchase something from one of its retail partners. You can find these on the airline’s website (make sure you purchase through the website to get the credit).
    -If you aren’t realistically close to 25,000 miles for a free ticket, use the miles for a hotel room or merchandise.
    -Transfer your miles to another frequent flier member.

    Compare your rewards with other offers at

  9. Anonymous

    You can also just order a magazine subscription from Delta. Thats what I did. There needs to be activity (mile in, or miles out) so a simple 500 mile transaction gets you a magazine for a year and you keep the rest of your miles.

  10. Anonymous

    Just use the Rewards Network program for your airline program. Sign up any credit card with it, and find a restaurant you already patronize. Eat there, use your card, get some new frequent flier miles, postpone your expiration.

    Seems pretty easy. There must be an awful lot of people that don’t earn miles except for actually flying. I was one of those until the Rewards Network program for American Airlines ( Now I earn some miles here and there from eating out. I usually double it up with coupons and other loyalty programs.

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