The usual focus of mileage-related conversations is either earning them (easy) or redeeming them (tough). Every bit as important, however, is keeping the miles alive in the interim, between the time they’re earned and they’re cashed in for free trips.
In most programs, account activity — any transaction that affects your account balance — extends the life of all your miles for the next 18 months or two years. With so many opportunities to earn miles, including use of a program-affiliated credit card, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
But the miles in some programs cannot be extended — expiration is terminal. That’s the case with Southwest’s program, for instance. If you don’t earn 16 credits within 24 months, the first-earned credits will begin disappearing and you’ll never have enough credits to earn an award ticket. So the strategy there isn’t to extend miles, it’s to earn enough miles for an award within two years.
Because there’s no industry standard for mileage expiration, staying abreast of the current rules governing mile expiration in your program is crucial to making good use of loyalty programs. (With constant changes the only constant, that’s not as easy as it might seem.)
Following are the current mileage-expiration rules for 18 North American carriers, including fees for mileage reactivation, where available:
- AeroMexico Club Premier – Miles expire after 24 months with no paid AeroMexico flights.
- Air Canada Aeroplan (1) – Miles expire either seven years after they’re earned, or after one year of no account activity. Reactivation fee: 1 CA cent per mile plus CA$30 processing fee
- AirTran A+ Rewards – For Base members, credits expire after 12 months; for A+ Visa cardholders and Elite members, credits expire after 24 months.
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan – No published expiration for miles, but accounts “may” be closed after two years of inactivity. Reactivation fee: $75
- American AAdvantage – Miles expire after 18 months if no account activity. Reactivation fee: $50 for every 5,000 miles, plus tax and $30 fee, through 12/31/2010
- Continental OnePass – No published expiration for miles, but accounts “may” be closed after 18 months of inactivity.
- Delta SkyMiles – Effective January 1, 2011, miles do not expire.
- Frontier EarlyReturns – Miles expire after 24 months of inactivity. Reactivation fee: $50 up to 4,999 miles – $400 for 100,000 or more miles
- Hawaiian HawaiianMiles – Miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. Reactivation fee: $50 for every 5,000 miles
- JetBlue TrueBlue – Miles expire after 12 months if no flights or JetBlue credit card charges.
- Mexicana MexicanaGO – Points expire after 18 months of inactivity.
- Midwest Miles – Miles expire after 36 months of inactivity until January 2011, 24 months thereafter. Reactivation fee: $50 up to 4,999 miles – $400 for 100,000 or more miles
- Southwest Rapid Rewards – Points expire after 24 months of inactivity.
- Spirit Free Spirit – Miles expire if member doesn’t earn at least 2,000 miles within the past 6 months, or make 1 monthly charge on the Spirit MasterCard.
- United Mileage Plus – Miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. Reactivation fee: 1.25 cents per mile, plus $25 processing fee
- US Airways Dividend Miles – Miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. Reactivation fee: $50 for up to 4,999 miles – $400 for 100,000 or more miles
- Virgin America Elevate – Miles expire after 18 months of inactivity.
- WestJet Frequent Guest Program – Points expire five years from the end of the year in which they were earned.
(1) While Air Canada remains the featured airline in Aeroplan, it no longer hosts the program, having spun it off as a free-standing company in 2008.