Top 3 Ways to Keep Miles From Expiring

Top 3 Ways to Keep Miles From Expiring

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Once you’ve accumulated a few points in various rewards programs, it becomes easy to see them as you do money. This makes sense as they truly are a currency that provides immense value upon redemption. As such, it’s natural to be tempted to treat them as you would money. This makes sense in a lot of areas except one; saving. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to save up points for a specific vacation goal and then use them. But you definitely don’t want to have a long-term points saving plan. This isn’t a 401(k) where the idea is to put your savings on auto pilot, stock them away, and then don’t look at them until your 65. Points don’t earn interest like money in the bank. Add that to the constantly changing rules, and the longer you keep your points, generally the lower value they will provide.

That being said, there are times when you may have a point balance, whether it be bank points or specific travel reward program points, that carry over from year to year. You may sign up for several large bonuses with a certain trip in mind, and then change plans and realize you don’t need the points for the particular trip you are going on. No problem; save them for your vacation next year. Once you get to this point though, you need to familiarize yourself with expiration policies. There’s nothing worse than logging into your American Airlines account after a prolonged period of time thinking that you’ve got 100,000 points to book some round-trip tickets to Hawaii, only to see a zero-point balance.

If you’re reading this post, you have nothing to fear. I’m going to explain the top 3 ways to keep miles from expiring. But first, let’s make sure we know the expiration timelines for all the different rewards programs.

miles expiration

Expiration Timelines

Airline Programs

AirlineExpiration Term
Alaskan Air24 Months
British Airways36 Months
DeltaNever
Flying Blue: Air France/KLM20 Months
Frontier6 Months
JetblueNever
Southwest24 Months
UnitedLast day of the 18th month with no activity
Virgin America18 Months

Hotel Programs

HotelExpiration Term
Club Carlson24 Months
Hilton12 Months
Hyatt24 Months
IHGNever
Marriott24 Months
Starwood12 Months

Bank Programs

Bank ProgramExpiration Term
American Express Membership RewardsNever
Barclay PointsNever
Chase Ultimate RewardsNever
Citi Thank You Points36 Months from the date you earned them

How to Keep Points from Expiring

1. Spend on a Co-Branded Credit Card

Co-branded card

This is by far the easiest and most effective way to keep your points from expiring. Every time you swipe your card it will earn points in your rewards program. This creates activity on the account and resets the expiration clock, even if it’s just for a $1.50 candy bar at the gas station. For example, let’s say I keep my Citi AAdvantage Platinum card in my wallet and use it often. American AAdvantage points have an expiration time frame of 18 months. So, it’s easy to assume that if I earn the points in January of 2017, that my points will expire in July of 2018. However, every time I swipe that Citi card, my timeline resets. So as long as I’m actively using that card, my points are safe for another 18 months.

This is fine and dandy if you’ve only got a couple cards. But once you’ve been doing this for a little while, your butt would really start hurting if you kept all those credit cards in your wallet. Plus, people would look at you funny since you’re always sitting uneven. Any who… shiny squirrel. The point is you’re going to have a stack of credit cards sitting somewhere in a drawer that you don’t keep in your wallet, because you’ve probably gravitated towards your favorite card to do a majority of your spending while you’re not working on a particular sign up bonus. Mine is the Chase Ink Plus; I love Chase Ultimate Rewards.

What I like to do, to make sure that none of my points ever expire, is to just pull that stack out every three to four months and just make sure I make one purchase on each of them. This makes paying bills for that month a bit tedious since I have to remember to login and pay for each card (there are ways to automate this, but I’m a nerd and prefer to consciously know what’s going on with all my accounts). Regardless of how manual or automated the process, doing this every few months ensures that your points will never expire. In addition to that, it also establishes a better relationship with the bank that issued the card. Banks don’t want to see you sign up for a card, spend just to get the bonus, and then never spend on the card again. This will be a benefit when applying for cards with that bank later down the road.

Though the easiest and most efficient, this method does have one drawback; the annual fee. Sometimes it’s worth it to pay the annual fee and keep the card. Especially if it has a rewards program you like, and even better, if it has an anniversary bonus. You can check out a post I wrote on that topic here. Other times it doesn’t make sense to pay the annual fee. Many cards have a no annual fee card to which you can downgrade. The Barclay Arrival Plus for example has a no fee counterpart called the Barclay Arrival. You can call Barclay to request a downgrade once the anniversary rolls around to keep all your points while avoiding the annual fee.

However, when the annual fee comes up and there are no anniversary bonuses or cards available for a downgrade, just part ways with the card. You can then use any of the options below.

2. Shopping Portals

Shopping Portal

Shopping portals allow you to earn points without a credit card by shopping online. Basically, how it works is the shopping portal purchases points from rewards programs to provide an incentive for people to shop on their portal. The retailers that provide the products pay the portal a cut. So as long as the portal owner makes more from the retailer commissions than they pay to the rewards programs, they make a profit. But really the big winner here is the consumer, because it allows them the option to get points without booking a stay/flight, or having to spend money on a co-branded credit card.

An added benefit is that if you do spend with a co-branded credit card, you’ll now double your points. Let’s use the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for example. As of the date of this post, the Chase shopping portal offers 5 points per dollar spent at GNC. If I make a $100 purchase at GNC through the Chase shopping portal with my Chase Ink card, I would rack up 600 Chase Ultimate Reward points. I would get 1 point per dollar that I get just for using the Chase Ink, plus the 5 points per dollar spent through the online shopping portal. Let’s get creative and say I’m working on both Chase Ultimate Reward Points AND AAdvantage points. I could make the same purchase with my Citi AAdvantage or Barclay Aviator card and get 100 AAdvantage points and 500 Chase Ultimate Reward points. As you can see, there are a lot of different programs you can earn rewards with just because there are multiple portals that offer points for every rewards program, and if you add the benefit of making a purchase with the co-branded card, you get those per dollar points as well. The chart below contains many of the popular rewards programs with links to their associated online shopping portal.

Rewards ProgramPoint TypeLink
American AirlinesAAdvantageAAdvantageEshopping
British AirwaysAviosBA
Miles Estore
ChaseUltimate Rewards PointsUltimate Rewards Shopping
CitiThankYou PointsThank You Shopping
DeltaSkymilesSky Miles Shopping
Hawaiian AirlinesHawaiian MilesHawaiian Airlines eMarket
HiltonHHonors PointsHilton HHonors Shop to Earn Mall
SouthwestRapid RewardsRapid Rewards Shopping
UnitedMileagePlus PointsMileage Plus Shopping

3. Dining Rewards

Dining Rewards

This is an often-overlooked method of gaining bonus points. Like shopping portals, most rewards programs have a dining rewards program. Most of them operate similarly, you sign up and register with a credit card. Then whenever you go out to eat, you see which program your restaurant is in, then you use the card you registered in that program to pay the bill.  Depending upon the program and restaurant, you could get a 2 to 3, and even up to 8 points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. Many of them also have signup bonuses if you spend a certain amount at qualifying restaurants in a certain time frame (much like credit card bonuses). Below are the links to sign up for dining rewards programs.

Dining Rewards ProgramPoint TypePoints Per Dollar
Low | High
Sign Up BonusSpending RequirementTime FrameLink
AmericanAAdvantage1 | 5Up to 3,000 Points$25 at first restaurant
then 3 more restaurant visits
30 DaysAAdvantage Dining
DeltaSkyMiles.5 | 5Up to 3,000 (3,500 for Medallion Members)$30 at each of 3 restaurant visits 30 Days
Completion of an online survey is required within 30 days of each visit
SkyMiles Dining
UnitedMileagePlus.5 | 5Up to 3,000$25 at first restaurant
then 3 more restaurant visits
30 DaysMileagePlus Dining
AlaskaAlaska Air Miles.5 | 51,000$30 at one restaurant, and complete a survey that will be emailed to you30 DaysAlaska Mileage Plan
JetblueTrueBlue Points1 | 2N/AN/AN/ATrue Blue Dining
SouthwestRapid Rewards.5 | 3Up to 1,000$25 at each of 3 restaurant visits 30 Days
Completion of an online survey is required within 30 days of each visit
Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining
HiltonHHonors Points2 | 81,000$25 at any restaurant and complete online review within 30 days of dining30 DaysHilton HHonors Dining
IHGRapid Rewards1 | 8Up to 3,000$25 at each of 3 restaurant visits 30 DaysIHG Rewards Club Dine & Earn

Conclusion

With the exception of a few rewards programs, most points will expire one day. It’s important that you know the expiration timelines for all rewards in which you participate so you don’t ever lose them unnecessarily. There are several ways to keep your points from expiring. Three of the best ways I like to use are to spend money on a co-branded card, shop through rewards shopping portals, and participate in dining rewards programs.

What are some of the ways you keep your points from expiring. I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


16 Replies to “Top 3 Ways to Keep Miles From Expiring”

  1. Banks are quick to get us to sign us up for credit cards. I end up with more than 10. However, if I were to use them all, I would be spreading my rewards points thin among the various cards. So I concentrate my usage on 1 or 2 depending on the promotion for the season. This way, my points accumulate faster and I can redeem stuff sooner.

    1. I completely agree Solomon. For every day spending to earn points it’s best to limit to one card so you can build up points in the program of your choice. I prefer to do that with bank cards like the Chase Sapphire, Citi Thankyou, or American Express Membership points cards. This is because the bank points are flexible and can be transferred to travel partners when you’re ready to redeem.

      Having multiple cards is simply a result of signing up for a card just for the sign up bonus points, which is where the real earning power is. But once I have the sign up bonus on a particular card, I always switch back to my main card.

  2. What great information! Everything we need to know in a nice and concise post. It is interesting to see the ones that never expire. I have now decided that I love Delta 🙂 I like to fly with them anyway, but this just changed the way I book travel for sure. I thing that 12 months for any airline is a bit ridiculous. The average family does not travel enough a year to even make it matter. So it makes good sense to pick your airline wisely for sure.

    1. Thanks for the comment Matt’s mom. 

      Delta really is a great airline. They’re pretty much the Cadillac of the airline industry  I flew a lot with them when I had a job that made me travel a lot and they are the airline I had the least issues with. They’re rewards points aren’t always the highest in value as compared to others. But the fact that they never expire is really nice. And it’s an all around solid program.

      Happy travels.

  3. I’ve done marriott points laying around unused because I’ve been too busy for any vacation these days. I was just about to accept my date that these points will excite, until I learn about these three great tips from you! Personally, I love that co-branded credit card as it’s very easy to use. And since I’m doing quite a bit of online shopping, this is a very easy way to keep my points active. Thanks a lot for this great tips bro!

    1. No problem. I’m glad I can be of help. I just hate to think of all the earned points that go unused. I’m glad you’ll be able to keep your Marriott points now.

  4. I must say this is well thought out and full detailed article. You obviously know your trade.

    I think this article will very handy on my next adventure. I never thought there will be anything more helpful than see. But as it is you really narrowed things down.

    The point basis and the timing you enumerated is exceptional and now i know why many of the points i earned mostly go to waste.

    Thanks for the great insight. will surely bookmark this.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and reading Richard U. I hope it helps you keep any of your points from going to waste. Credit card bonus points have really enriched my life. I hope you’re able to get deeper into it. Please let me know if you have any questions.

  5. It is true, when there is a certain amount of management needed when using several points cards. I always do my research before I commit to any points cards, then I focus on the one that will give me the most bang for my buck. I also run every payment allowable, (utilities etc, I tried to put my mortgage thru, no go!) to add the points up faster. Do you know if there is any way to combine points from different cards on to one trip?

    1. Hi Judith. Yep it’s a lot of work to make sure you keep everything tracked and in order. But completely worth it as the value is worth tens of thousands of dollars if done right.

      To answer your questions about combining points for a single trip, the answer is absolutely. We have with every trip we’ve gone on. When we went to Hawaii we combined points we earned from multiple Chase Ultimate Point reward cards as well as the United Explorer card. On our first trip to Europe we used point from our Citi Aadvantage card for airfare, while using Club Carlson, Marriott, and Fairmont points for our hotels. On our second trip to Europe we used points from our Citi card again but combined them with Aadvantage point we got from the Barclay Aviator card for our airfare, and used mostly Hilton, Hyatt, and SPG points for hotels.

      We are currently planning a trip to New England. We got our airfare covered with Southwest points as well as the Southwest Companion Pass. We haven’t got all of our hotels booked yet, but we will be pulling from points we’ve acquired through multiple cards.

      Hopefully this answers your question. Let me know if I can be of any further help. 

  6. These are good ideas to avoid losing our points but in some cases it’s unavoidable. When I was traveling from Malaysia to UK quite often my points were fine.

    However, when I stopped traveling I couldn’t maintain them with KLM and I lost all of them. Maybe if I had access to your site back then I may have been able to retain them. Can you think of a way in which I could have done this with KLM?

  7. Great post, thanks a lot for this.

    I think it’s great that you’ve tapped into this side of travel. So many of us don’t even bother to think about points or where we could potentially save money.

    For those travel addicts out there (myself included) it’s amazing how much money can be saved over time by using these methods.

    1. Thanks, Stephan! These methods have certainly saved us thousands of dollars and made it possible to travel to the places we had only ever dreamed about. If you have any questions on how to maximize your points so you can feed your travel addiction, I’d be happy to help.

  8. I don’t travel too often, but I know a friend who seems to somehow be on vacation every other week. Lol. I think she uses flyer miles but I haven’t heard her mention anything about hotel points or dining rewards. I’m going to show her this article. It may save her a lot of money.

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