One of the most common reasons why people think frequent flyer miles are worthless is because they had a bad experience with miles expiring. After all the effort put into collecting miles, it would be quite a shame if they expired without taking you on a dream vacation.

If you’ve ever had any of these questions, you are in the right place for answers: How long do you have until your miles expire? What can keep them from expiring? If you close a credit card, do the miles expire? Are the rules the same for all miles and points? Answers to the these FAQ are addressed below.

Will closing my co-branded card cause my miles to expire?

Closing a credit card that is co-branded with an airline (such as the Citi AAdvantage card or Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card) will never, by itself, cause your miles to expire. Co-branded credit cards deposit the miles you earn from signup bonuses and spending directly into the account you have with the airline, so they are no longer linked to the credit card. I have an AAdvantage Citi Business card. You can see the section to the bottom of the screenshot of my credit card account that is dedicated to my AAdvantage miles accumulation.

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If I click the View Miles Earned, it will redirect me to the AAdvantage home page. 
Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 2.46.46 PMThat means the accounts are separate– the miles earned with the Citi AAdvantage card are automatically transferred to American Airlines.

And I confirm that by logging into my AAdvanatge account. So if I ever cancelled that card, the miles would still be safely in my AAdvantage account.

What will cause my miles to expire?

What does cause miles to expire, however, is a lack of activity in the program account for a specified period of time.

Examples:

  • Aeroplan miles expire after 12 consecutive months of account inactivity
  • American Airlines, United Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines’ miles expire after 18 consecutive months of account inactivity
  • British Airways Avios expire after 36 consecutive months of account inactivity

Miles that Expire Despite Account Activity

Etihad Guest miles expire two years after the last day of the month in which they were earned- despite whether or not there is account activity (unless you have status–then they last three years). ANA and JAL follow similar policies– they expire 3 years after the month in which they were earned.

All Asiana miles earned after October 1, 2008 will expire seven to 12 years after accumulation (depending on your status). All Korean SKYPASS miles earned after July 1, 2008 will expire 10 years after accumulation.

Those are the only commonly used miles I know of that have an expiration policy apathetic to account activity. If you know of others, let us know in the comments.

Miles That Never Expire

  • Delta
  • JetBlue

Full details on the expiration policies for some major airline loyalty programs can be found here:

The danger of mile expiration does often come when you cancel a credit card. If I cancel my Citi AAdvantage card, I am no longer earning American Airlines miles on purchases. I have to make sure that there is some sort of activity–either earning or redeeming–in my AAdvantage account within the next 18 months, or I will lose all my miles.

Luckily keeping your miles from expiring is trivially easy. Any earning or redeeming keeps them active.

How can I keep my miles from expiring?

If you are coming up on an expiration deadline and need a way to keep your miles active, there are a number of things you can do.

  • Dining programs: Signing up for dining programs allows you to earn miles when you eat out at certain restaurants. Read more details on how to use dining programs to keep your miles active here.
  • Purchase miles: Purchasing miles is normally a bad idea, as you end up paying more than the value of the mile. However, if you need to keep your miles active, you can purchase a small number of miles in the program you need to keep active. United charges $70 + 7.5% tax for 2,000 miles for example. Google “purchase [airline] miles” to quickly be taken to any airline’s mile purchase page.
  • Donate miles: All the major carriers allow you to donate miles to non-profits such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Operation Hero, UNICEF, and various other charities. While this is best done out of the goodness of your heart, a donation of miles will also keep your account active. Learn more about donating miles here.
  • Flying: These seems like an obvious one, but if your miles are danger of expiration, don’t foret to input your frequent flyer number when booking a revenue ticket with the airline or one of its partners. The activity from earning miles will extend the life of your account.
  • Shopping Portals: Shopping portals allow you to earn miles by making your normal online purchases through your favorite online stores. Just by starting at the loyalty program’s portal and using its link to your favorite online retailer, you can get extra miles for your purchases.
  • Move some transferrable bank points: You can’t normally move points around willy nilly between mileage accounts (there are some exceptions– but it’s not the norm). But points like Citi ThankYou Points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints are a different story entirely. They do transfer for free to dozens of types of airline miles, at which point they become those airline miles. The influx of miles is activity that counts towards extending the life your miles.
  • Watch out for free giveaways and/or promotions, like this AAdvantage one from Rocketmiles I wrote about last month.
  • Rent a car: for example, you can earn AAdvantage miles by renting a car through aa.com. This is the case with many major airline loyalty programs.

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What if my miles have already expired?

Hopefully you are reading this before your miles expire. If, however, you let your miles expire, some programs let you buy back the miles you lost for a fee. These reactivation policies vary from program to program.

For example, American Airlines allows you to reactivate any miles that expired dating back to 2002. They charge $200 for up to 50,000 miles, $400 for up to 75,000 miles, and $600 for 75,000+ miles. Alaska Airlines will even let you buy back expired miles for only $75–any amount of miles– for up to one year after they were deleted.

In general, buying back your miles is a good deal. But of course it’s better not to let your miles expire and have to pay the fee. To keep track of all your loyalty programs and miles balances, try Award Wallet. It will help you keep tabs on the expiration dates.

What about my bank points?

All that was about frequent flyer miles. Bank points are quite different.

Closing a credit card that earns bank points can cost you all of the points in the account. These cards hold the points that you earn in the credit card account–for example, the Ultimate Rewards points that you earn using your Chase Sapphire Preferred card are held in your Chase Sapphire Preferred account. If you were to simply cancel this card, you would lose all the points you worked to accumulate.

Luckily, transferrable points are easily transferred to another account within that loyalty program. In order to avoid losing transferable points when you cancel a card, transfer them into another account within that loyalty program before you cancel.

In our example of canceling a Sapphire Preferred, you would need to transfer your Ultimate Rewards into another account of yours that holds Ultimate Rewards to avoid the points disappearing. You could achieve this by transferring them into your Chase Ink Bold account or your Chase Ink Plus account. Just be careful before doing this, because sometimes it doesn’t work and is only a temporary solution, like in the case of cards that earn Citi ThankYou Points. Let’s say before you canceled your Citi Prestige, you moved the ThankYou points earned by that card to your Citi Premier ThankYou Account. That would extend the life of those points by 90 days, but they would expire nonetheless after that point.

Of course, you could always transfer bank points to one of the airline, hotel, or rail partners, but just make sure the program you transfer to is a type of mile you find valuable and useful.

Bottom Line

Frequent flyer miles do not expire when you close the credit card used to earn them, but they do usually expire after a set number of months of inactivity within that airline’s loyalty program account (and in some cases with foreign programs, they expire despite account activity after a set amount of time).

In order to keep the majority of your miles from expiring, do anything that changes the account balance like redeeming miles, signing up for a dining program, purchasing miles, or donating miles. If you accidentally allow your miles to expire, some airlines allow you to reinstate them for a fee.

Transferable bank points will disappear from your account when you close the credit card used to earn them. In order to avoid losing these points, transfer them to a transfer partner or another account within that bank’s loyalty program before you close the credit card.

Don’t want to worry about your miles expiring? Collect Delta Skymiles or JetBlue TrueBlue points

The JetBlue Plus Barclaycard earns 30,000 TrueBlue Points after spending just $1,000 on the card within the first three months of opening the account. 

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