One of the more regular complaints I hear from vacationers new to the miles and points game is that their airline miles expire before they get a chance to use them – so they don’t see the point in collecting them. Unlike miles and points junkies, most people are much more interested in getting the cheapest ticket possible rather than building up a mileage balance, so it can be a couple of years (or more) before they fly on the same airline twice. This can be a issue when airlines like American, United & US Airways all have 18 month expiration polices on their miles.
For those of you who fall into this category there is good news:
Firstly, not all airline loyalty programs impose expiration dates on their miles (take a bow Delta and SouthWest!).
Secondly, to prevent your miles from expiring you just need to have some activity in your account – and you don’t have to fly to generate this activity.
‘Activity’ is defined as any movement in the milage balance in your account so, if you were to redeem miles from your account, that would reset the date of expiration for any remaining miles (which would give you another 18 months in the the case of American, United and US Airways). Likewise, anything you do to increase the miles in your account will also reset the expiration date of your miles – starting from the date of the last transaction.
This last point is the one I’d like to focus on as it is by far the easiest way to keep your miles in play, even if you never pay for a flight again!
It’s never been easier to earn airline miles/points without flying and you don’t have to go out of your way or change your spending habits to do so. Here’s a list of my favourite ways of earning miles with little or no effort:
1) Online Shopping Portals
All the major domestic airlines have their own shopping portal: American has AAdvantage eShopping, United has MileagePlus Shopping, US Airways has Dividend Miles Storefront, Delta has SkyMiles Shopping and SouthWest has RapidRewards Shopping. All these sites are home to most of the major retailers in the US (Apple, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Staples, Nike, iTunes etc.).
The principle is similar for all the portals: register using your frequent flyer details and shop online using the links they provide for each of the retailers. Typically users will earn between 1 and 7 miles per dollar spent, but some retailers offer even higher payouts of up to 30 miles/$.
These miles can take some time to post to your loyalty program account so don’t leave the shopping to the last minute if you’re relying on this to keep your milage balance alive. The best policy is to remember to use the portals when you’re shopping online in the normal course of everyday-life. That way you’re constantly extending the expiration date of your miles and you’re not spending any money that you would not have spent otherwise.
It’s worth noting that if you’re based in the UK you can employ the same tactic for both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic who also have their own portals (British Airways Gate 365 and Virgin Atlantic Shops Away).
2) Dining Programs
As with the shopping portals, the major domestic airlines also have their own dining programs. The premise here is quite simple:
Users sign up online and register one or more credit cards with the dining program. Then, when they dine at any of the many establishments supported by the program (you can search for establishments in your local area on the dining portal sites), they earn 3-5 miles/$ spent (providing they use one of the credit cards that they have registered on the site).
Note: You can be a member of as many dining programs as you like, but any given credit card can only be associated with one dining program at a time. So if you’re trying to maintain a milage balance with more than one airline, be sure to register different credit cards with the different dining programs.
Just like the miles earned from shopping portals, these miles can take some time to post to your loyalty program account, so don’t leave it to the last minute if you’re relying on this to keep your milage balance alive.
3) Airline Co-Branded Credit Cards
All the major airlines have their own co-branded credit cards but, whilst the methods of keeping your miles alive which I’ve discussed so far don’t cost you any money that you wouldn’t have spent otherwise, this one may cost you a bit.
All airline credit cards will earn you points in their respective loyalty programs. This means that, by using them to make just one transaction every 17 months (you need to give the miles time to post), you can keep your miles from expiring. The catch (albeit a small one) is that airline reward credit cards almost always come with an annual fee so this isn’t a “cost free” method for preventing your miles from expiring.
Having said that, some card providers are known to offer promotions whereby the annual fee is waived for the first year and, when you combine that with the signing up bonuses (usually 30,000 – 50,000 miles), then these can be a good option for those with a healthy credit score.
Note: These airline co-branded cards are not for those who cary a balance on their credit cards from month to month. The banks have to pay for those miles somehow and the way they do that is by charging significantly higher rates of interest on any balances that aren’t fully paid off (when compared to regular non-milage earning cards). If you cary a balance this isn’t the method for you!
4) Other Credit Cards
You don’t have to have an airline co-branded card to be able to earn miles in your preferred loyalty program. Many of the banks have cards whose own loyalty points can be transferred into a variety of other loyalty programs, including those belonging to the major airlines. When you transfer points into your airline loyalty program it counts as “activity” so the countdown to expiration is reset once again.
Good examples of these cards are the American Express Cards which earn Membership Rewards, the Chase Sapphire and Sapphire Preferred cards and the Starwood Amex card. Out of all of these the Starwood Amex is the most versatile, but you should do your own research to determine which card would be suitable for your needs.
As with the airline co-branded credit cards, these cards come with an annual fee so this isn’t a “cost free” method for preventing your miles from expiring.
5) Other Ways To Prevent Miles From Expiring (without incurring added costs)
- Hotels – if you have a hotel stay booked, consider adding your airline loyalty number to your reservation. Many of the large chain hotels have agreements with the airlines whereby miles are awarded for stays.
- Rental Cars – If you’re booking a rental car then you can usually add your airline loyalty number to your reservation and get miles for your purchase. (Note: this often only works when renting direct from the rental company, so it may not be the most cost effective way of earning miles – you’d have to forego andy discounts you may have received had you booked through a consolidator like Priceline).
- Donations to Good Causes – Why not help out someone else while benefit yourself? American Airlines gives AAdvantage miles for every dollar donated to organisations like the USO, Cancer Research and UNICEF.
Truthfully, there are a lot more ways to earn miles without ever setting foot on an aircraft but the 5 points set out above are, in my opinion, the best and easiest ways to go about this. You don’t have to be a miles junkie to keep your miles from expiring and you really don’t have to go to any great effort either.
Your golden rule should be this: Don’t ever spend money just to earn miles – that makes no sense at all. It simply negates the value of the miles. It is easy to introduce milage earning into your everyday life without spending a penny more than you would have done otherwise, so there’s no excuse for your miles to expire. Ever!