You should always sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer program. First of all, it’s free. In addition, having your information on file with the airline saves you some time when making a reservation. You can also put your Known Traveler Number (KTN) into your profile if you have enrolled for TSA Pre✓® or Global Entry, which you should do if you travel even somewhat regularly.
Here are the links to the programs from the major US Airlines along with how long the miles you earn are good for. Note that while many plans will claim your miles will “never expire,” they will deactivate your account, thereby cause you to lose any miles earned, if you don’t have a qualifying activity within a certain time frame.
ALASKA AIRLINES – Mileage Plan
To keep your account active you need to have activity in it every 2 years, either by earning or redeeming miles. Doing so will keep your miles from being removed from your account.
Mileage Plan miles do not have an expiration date and may remain in an active account indefinitely, provided that the Mileage Plan program has not been terminated pursuant to these conditions of membership. Activity in an account includes redeeming a Mileage Plan award or accruing mileage in the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program. However, notwithstanding any term to the contrary, if a Mileage Plan account is inactive for 2 years, Alaska Airlines may close the account, delete any mileage balance and reassign the Mileage Plan number. Deleted mileage can be reinstated for a fee for up to 1 year. To reinstate a Mileage Plan account please contact customer care.
ALLEGIANT AIR – myAllegiant Rewards
This program isn’t so much of a frequent flyer program as you can’t earn miles by flying on the airline. The only way to earn points is with the Allegiant Air credit card. Here’s a great article from One Mile At A Time on why getting this card isn’t a great idea.
AMERICAN AIRLINES – Aadvantage
To keep your Aadvantage miles active, you need to earn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months.
AAdvantage members must have mileage earning or redeeming activity once every 18 months in order to retain their miles. If your account has no qualifying activity in any 18-month period, all miles in the account will expire. Qualifying activity extends the expiration date of all unexpired mileage credit in your account for 18 months from the date of the qualifying activity. Qualifying activity is defined as redeeming any AAdvantage award or accruing mileage credit on any eligible American, American Eagle® or AAdvantage airline participant as well as accruing mileage credit with participating hotels, car rental companies, credit cards, telecommunication providers and other service providers offering AAdvantage mileage credit.
DELTA AIRLINES – Skymiles
Delta SkyMiles don’t expire and Delta doesn’t require any activity in your account to keep miles active. Here are the only restrictions listed on their website (this is a very customer friendly policy compared to most other airlines):
Under the SkyMiles Mileage Expiration policy, miles do not expire. Delta reserves the right to deactivate or close an account under the following circumstances:
- Fraudulent activity occurs
- A member requests an account closure
- A member is deceased
- A member does not respond to repeated communication attempts regarding the status of his/her account
- A member resides in or relocates to a country where membership is prohibited under applicable law
- A member violates the terms of this Membership Guide and Program Rules
FRONTIER AIRLINES – EarlyReturns®
In order to keep your Frontier EarlyReturns miles active, you need to earn miles every six months. According to the airline, this is easy to do…..just get their credit card and your miles will never expire.
As of March 7, 2015, mileage in a member’s account does not expire as long as the Member generates accrual activity every six months. The good news is, your miles need never expire. Just continue to earn miles every six months by flying with us or earning miles using the Frontier Airlines MasterCard. Unredeemed mileage accumulated in your account will expire at the end of the six-month period after your last activity date.
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES – HawaiianMiles
Any earning or redemption activity will prevent your miles from expiring for 18 months.
If a Member fails to earn or redeem miles for eighteen (18) consecutive months, Hawaiian will expire the mileage accrued on a member’s account. Expired miles may be reinstated for a fee. Members will need to call the HawaiianMiles Service Center toll-free 1-877-HA-MILES (426-4537). for assistance with the reinstatement of expired miles and payment of the associated fee.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS – TrueBlue
You don’t require any account activity to keep your TrueBlue points active. These are the only requirements on the JetBlue website:
TrueBlue Points do not expire. Should a Member close his or her TrueBlue account, the Points in that account will be terminated. As set forth in these Program Rules, JetBlue has the right to cancel all or some of the Points in a TrueBlue Member’s Account should JetBlue determine, in its sole discretion, that the Member has violated these Rules or otherwise engaged in fraud, misrepresentation, abuse or other improper conduct.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES – Rapid Rewards®
While Southwest only requires you to have “Qualifying” account activity every 24 months to keep your points active, note that their list of activities is quite limited. Don’t lose your points like I did.
Upon enrollment, Members’ accounts are active for 24 months. Members’ accounts will remain active as long as the Member has a Qualifying Activity at least once every 24 months. The Member’s account expiration date will be 24 months from the date of the last Qualifying Activity. If a Member fails to have any Qualifying Activity in 24 months, the Member’s account will become inactive and all points, awards, rewards, and promotional incentives will be forfeited. Southwest Airlines reserves the right to cancel the membership of any inactive Member. “Qualifying Activity” means (a) points earned from flights booked through Southwest Airlines, (b) points earned from our Rapid Rewards Partners and posted to Member’s account prior to the expiration date, (c) points purchased through Southwest.com, and (d) gifted/transferred/donated points received and claimed by the recipient. Gifted/Transferred/Donated points are a Qualifying Activity for the recipient only. Examples of activities that do not count as Qualifying Activities include but are not limited to: cancelled trips; nonrevenue travel such as Reward or Companion Pass travel; for the donating Member, points donated by a Member to a charity; and other travel such as charter flights, service-charged, reduce-rate, tradeout, extra seat, and paper tickets.
SPIRIT AIRLINES – Free Spirit
Can I mention I think that this is probably the only time “Free” and “Spirit” are used in the same sentence about the airline.
Don’t worry, they get back into their groove when it comes to mileage expiration. You need to fly once every THREE MONTHS (you poor soul) to keep your miles active or have their credit card and use it at least once EVERY MONTH.
As long as you earn any miles within the previous three months, your miles won’t expire. If you don’t meet that requirement though, any miles older than three months will expire.
Another way to earn miles and keep them from expiring is to get our Spirit World Mastercard® and make at least one purchase per month.
UNITED AIRLINES – MileagePlus
You have to have some account activity every 18 months to keep your United miles active. I like the part near the end where they tell you they’re not responsible for telling you your miles are going to expire.
“Account Activity” shall be deemed to occur when a Member either (a) accrues mileage in such Member’s account in any manner recognized by the Program, including without limitation the use of a MileagePlus credit card, or (b) redeems any MileagePlus or Partner (as defined in Rule 12 below) award by the use of mileage in the Member’s account. In cases where mileage is for any reason removed from an account, as for example the redemption of an award, and there is a subsequent cancellation of the award or removal of miles and a redeposit of the miles to the Member’s account, the cancellation of the award or removal and redeposit of the mileage to the account shall not qualify as “Account Activity.” Neither United’s correction of mileage in an account nor Prohibited Conduct shall qualify as Account Activity.
Any Member who fails at any time to engage in Account Activity for a period of eighteen (18) consecutive months is subject to termination of such Member’s membership and/or forfeiture of all accrued mileage. United may, but shall have no obligation to, send a Member a notification of miles nearing expiration.
VIRGIN AMERICA – Elevate
If you’re flying on Virgin America, you can still sign up and earn miles with the Elevate program. Note this will only be through the end of 2017 and as of that date the program will merge into the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program. Here is the expiration policy for Elevate points until the end of the year. It’s unclear how long points transferred into Alaska’s program will remain good for:
As an Elevate Program Member, you can retain all of your Elevate Program reward Points as long as you have earning or redemption activity posted on your own Elevate Program account at least once every 18 months (such as flights on Virgin America, completed reward travel, or purchases on your Virgin America co-branded credit card or with our other partners
Once activated, your account may become inactive if you fail to earn or redeem any reward Points over 18 consecutive months. If your account becomes inactive, all reward Points and related rewards in the account will be forfeited, leaving a zero balance in your account.
If you’re starting out, I’d recommend getting signed up for an account with any of the airlines that you normally fly with. You don’t lose anything by having the account. This is also a good time to get started with a program, such as AwardWallet, to keep all of your account information together in one place.
It’s not hard to keep miles active with most programs, as they only require activity once every 18 to 24 months. If you’re not taking a flight, you could always earn some points with a dining program, shopping portal or even by buying points (only as a last resort and/or if you’ll be losing a large amount of points). to keep your account alive. I’ll be going over ways to keep accounts active in the future, so let me know what airlines you are most interested in and I’ll focus on those first.
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