“Points/Miles Never Expire” is a phrase you’ll see in advertisements from airline loyalty programs. While technically true, there’s a big caveat in that statement that could end up costing you all of your miles. What they actually mean is your points will not expire as long as your account remains active. What constitutes an active account? Well, that depends on which program you’re talking about.
One of the big problems when trying to understand frequent flyer programs is airlines use terms like point expiration and account inactivity interchangeably so it’s impossible to differentiate between the two. Leaving technical jargon aside, let’s try to decipher the practical meaning behind all of the rules.
Points Never Expire
Delta and JetBlue have programs where your points never expire. You don’t need to have any account usage and if you only fly once every three, five or ten years, you’ll keep accumulating points. JetBlue’s program explicitly states points never expire. Delta does set some guidelines where they can cancel an account:
- 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.
Some Account Activity Required
The rest of the programs will allow you to keep your points, as long as you have some kind of “qualifying activity” within a defined time period. That means once you earn miles from taking a flight, you’ll need to continue using your account or those miles will expire, or your account will go inactive, or you’ll forfeit your points. Whichever term you use, it means you’re account balance will end up looking like this.
How often you need to have qualifying activity depends on the airline. Here are the current rules for US airline programs:
- Alaska – 2 years
- American – 18 months
- Frontier – 180 days
- Hawaiian – 18 months
- Southwest – 24 months
- Spirit – 3 months
- United – 18 months
So what’s a qualifying activity?
If you thought things were confusing before, here’s where it really gets complicated.
Every airline has their own rules for what constitutes “qualifying activity.” Some will count earning or redeeming miles while others will only count when you add more points to your account. Having a co-brand credit card from the airline may help you keep your points active but you might need to spend money on the card every month, like with Spirit and Frontier.
The best advice I can give is to check the rules of the airline’s program on their website.
Some points do expire
While none of the U.S. airlines have points that expire as long as you have account activity, there are some foreign airlines where points do expire. This list is by no means exhaustive and there are other plans where points expire after a certain amount of time.
- ANA – miles expire 36 months after accrual
- Singapore Airlines – miles expire after three years at the end of the equivalent month in which they were earned
- Lufthansa – miles expire after 36 months
- Cathay Pacific – miles expire 36 months from earning
- JAL – miles expire 36 months from earning
Since all the US airline programs allow you to keep points active with account activity, there’s no excuse to let your points expire, unless that’s what you want to happen. Using a service like Awardwallet will help keep your points organized. They even send you notices before your points will be expiring. So while your points may never expire, it might take a bit of effort to keep them from expiring. If you can make sense of that statement, there’s a job in airline loyalty marketing with your name written all over it.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary