Update: This post has been updated with the current expiration policies and transfer rates for every transferable mileage currency.
Originally posted on 02/18/15:
Expiration of credit card points:
-Points earned from an airline or hotel credit card, where the points are deposited monthly into your airline/hotel account, are not forfeited by closing the card. The points are subject to the normal expiration dates listed in the chart below. Some representatives use scare tactics and say that all of your points or tickets will be lost if you cancel the card, but it’s just misinformation.
-Proprietary credit card point programs (American Express Membership Rewards, Barclays Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Chase Ultimate Rewards) do not expire as long as you keep at least one card open that is enrolled in their respective program. Some programs store points individually under each card account, so be sure to transfer points from that card account to another account before cancelling that card. If you do accidentally close a card before moving the points to another card you can try reactivating the card, moving the points over, and cancelling the card once again.
Keeping points alive:
There are a thousands of ways to generate activity to keep points alive. One easy way is by redeeming a few hundred miles for a magazine subscription. Redeeming miles is safer than the various methods of earning miles as point earnings don’t always post and it can turn into a fight in case your account expires. But as with everything else in life when you’re paying for something you can be sure that it will always post without any fighting required
There are actually get some pretty sweet deals, like The Economist for 3,200 miles. Delta miles don’t require activity, but still 3,200 Delta “Skypesos” for a year of The Economist isn’t bad at all!
–MagsForMiles offers redemption options for Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, Spirit, and United
-Newspaper Rewards offers newspaper redemption options for Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and United
-Points.com Alaska Magazine Offers
-Points.com American Magazine Offers
-Points.com Delta Magazine Offers
-Points.com JetBlue Magazine Offers
-MagazineRewards United Magazines Offers
United’s MileagePlus X app allows you to earn miles when buying gift cards and it also a good way to renew miles.
Just having a Chase United Explorer card miles United miles never expire for as long you remain a cardholder.
If you have transferable points you can move points from AMEX, Chase, Citi, or Starwood to an airline to keep your entire account alive. Note that some airlines (like American) require the name on the Starwood account to match the name on the American account. You can transfer Starpoints to anyone living at the same address and from there transfer points to an airline. If your Starpoints themselves are expiring, all you need to do is make a simple transfer from you to your spouse or someone else living at your address and that counts as activity that will keep both of your accounts alive for another 18 months.
Some people have also had success booking an award flight to hotel stay to extend the validity of their points and then cancelling it after the points have been deducted. Others have said that it’s not a foolproof system and the old expiration may still be in force.
Personally I booked an IHG points stay and then cancelled it and it did extend the points expiration date for another 12 months.
Note that cancellation policies vary by airline. American doesn’t allow free cancellations on awards even within 24 hours. United allows 24 hours to cancel for free. British Airways only charges the lessor of taxes of $55 after 24 hours, so a one-way domestic flight cancellation after 24 hours would only cost you $5.60.
Reactivating expired miles:
I have saved the miles of family members and close friends by crediting past car rentals towards their airline mileage accounts. Most car rentals earn a nominal amount of airline miles, but you can call the car rental company to credit anyone’s airline mileage account up to a year after the car rental. If someone lost their miles 6 months ago you would have to locate a car rental from more than 6 months ago, but less than 12 months ago. Shortly after the miles post to their account it should automatically reactivate all of their miles retroactively to the date of the car rental. Just don’t forget to add new activity to prevent that from happening again!
There’s even a market for old car rental credits on DDF.
The same process would work for past hotel stays or other activities that can be credited towards airline miles.
Some airlines, like British Airways, will actually reinstate miles for free and give you 3 additional months to use or redeem some miles to keep your account alive for another 3 years.
Other airlines like United and American will charge to reactivate miles, but those are often worthwhile if you don’t have any other avenues. American also has a unique challenge that I wrote about over 5 years ago that allows you to reactivate miles by completing tasks like opening a credit card or flying on a paid AA flight. Since then they’ve added a small fee to take that challenge, but it should be much cheaper than paying to reactivate the miles outright.
Mileage expiration policies:
View the complete 54 program chart after the jump: