Airline miles, hotel points, and flexible travel points make it easy to see the world at a discount — and sometimes even free. Unfortunately, the devil is often in the details since points and miles can be difficult to use. If you’re using airline miles in particular, you must find an award seat on the flight you want before you can redeem them. That can be pretty easy or extremely difficult, and you may not know which until you’re actually ready to book.
But worst of all are those pesky expiration dates. If you don’t use certain types of points and miles within a specific length of time, your loyalty program will simply take them away — poof!
For example, did you know that American AAdvantage miles expire after 18 months of inactivity? The same is true for United Airlines miles, Hawaiian Airlines miles, and others. Meanwhile, Southwest Rapid Rewards points expire 24 months after your last account activity.
Eight Ways to Keep Your Airline Miles and Rewards Points Alive
If you bothered to earn airline miles or hotel points, you shouldn’t let them wither away. But what if you’re not ready to travel yet? Fortunately, most loyalty programs allow you to “reset the clock” with certain types of activity. Here are seven ways to ensure your points and miles live another day.
1. Join a dining club.
If you don’t have any plans to travel any time soon, but want to keep your stash of rewards alive, a dining club may be just what you need. Airline loyalty programs like American AAdvantage, Southwest Rapid Rewards, and Delta Air Lines all have their own dining programs that let you earn miles each time you dine at a participating restaurant.
These programs tend to have “signup bonuses” you can earn right away, usually in the 1,000- to 3,000-mile range if you dine at three participating restaurants within a few months. You may only earn a few miles per dollar you spend after your bonus posts, but that’s not the point. Earning even 10 miles will count as “activity” that resets the clock for your miles to expire, so dining clubs are an easy way to buy more time.
2. Use a shopping portal.
Another way to earn easy points or miles is something you should be doing anyway — starting your online purchases by way of a shopping portal.
Most airlines and many hotel brands have their own shopping portals, as does Chase Ultimate Rewards, and each time you click through the portal to make a purchase at a participating store, you can earn additional loyalty points on stuff you’d be buying anyway.
You may only earn 1-3 miles for each dollar you spend, but these rewards can add up in a hurry. Plus, each point you earn resets the clock on your balance and buys you more time until you’re ready to redeem your rewards.
3. Pick up a co-branded credit card.
If you want to boost your point haul in a hurry, consider signing up for a credit card that lets you earn rewards in your favorite program. There are airline credit cards, hotel credit cards, and flexible travel cards to choose from, so make sure to explore your options.
Many of the best travel credit cards offer big signup bonuses worth $500 or more after you meet a minimum spending requirement within a few months. On top of that, you’ll earn points or miles for every dollar you spend.
Fortunately, these miles will serve another purpose, too: Each one you earn will start the clock over and extend the time your points remain intact.
4. Transfer points.
If you do pick up a flexible travel credit card that lets you transfer points to airline and hotel programs, keep in mind that transferring points is another way to keep your stash of rewards alive.
Let’s say you have United miles about to expire, and you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. In that case, you could easily transfer the minimum of 1,000 Chase points to your United account to reset the expiration clock.
If you don’t have a flexible rewards credit card that lets you transfer to hotel and airline programs, now is a great time to get one! Make sure to compare travel credit cards and look for options that let you redeem in more than one way, including point transfers.
5. Take a survey.
Some rewards programs allow you to complete simple tasks to earn more points — things like tweeting a specific post on Twitter with a specific hashtag, or sharing something else on social media. These initiatives are usually a one-time thing, though, and you usually have to follow the brand on social media to find out about them.
Some programs also let you earn points or miles for completing surveys. This includes Southwest Rapid Rewards, which allows you to earn small amounts of points and miles for completing surveys through eRewards or Rewards for Opinions. You may not earn a lot of points for these surveys, but they can help you keep your balance from expiring.
6. Redeem some points.
Also note that you can keep your points alive simply by redeeming some of them. While cashing in a chunk of points for airfare or hotels will of course qualify as account activity, you may also be able to redeem fewer points for merchandise or gift cards.
Make sure to check with your program to see which options are available to you. Many airline programs allow you to redeem points for inexpensive merchandise, which can be a smart move if you need to prevent points from expiring in a hurry.
7. Make a charitable donation.
Also remember that some loyalty programs, including American and United, allow you to donate miles to a charity of your choice. You usually need to do so in increments of at least 1,000 miles, but this can allow you to restart your expiration countdown while helping others.
8. Buy points or miles.
As a last resort, many airline and hotel programs allow you to buy points or miles for their programs. These offers are generally a bad deal, since you’ll normally pay 2-3 cents per point this way (and potentially more). However, it can be money well spent if you’re otherwise about to lose a big cache of miles. You can restart your timeline for the minimum purchase, which is usually 1,000 miles.
The Bottom Line
With so many ways to keep your rewards alive, there’s no reason to let them expire. Make sure to learn about your loyalty program and know the rules so you can take steps to prolong your points until you’re ready to use them. If you forget and let them expire, you could live to regret it.