Just before Christmas, I wrote about the fact that my wife’s Delta SkyMiles were set to expire at the end of the year. I ended up thwarting this attempt to reclaim her miles by buying 1000 miles for $29.95. Not a perfect solution, but far better letting a ton of miles slip away.
The reason that I bring this up is that airlines are starting to crack down on ‘dormant’ frequent flyer accounts by tightening up their rules regarding expiration. While most programs have traditionally given travelers a three year grace period (i.e., fly at least once every three years and your miles are safe), many have recently begun tightening their belts when it comes to mileage balances. Here are some examples:
AirTran: 12 months
Delta: 2 years
JetBlue: 12 months
Southwest: 2 years
United: 18 months
USAir: 18 months
It’s also important to note that, even though you can earn miles in many different ways, not all account activity is created equally… Indeed, my wife had recently earned a 250 mile bonus for participating in some sort of Delta survey, but it didn’t reset her mileage expiration clock. It’s also worth noting that, even if you don’t have enough miles for a trip, most airlines allow you to redeem your miles for non-travel rewards, such as magazine subscriptions.
Alternatively, there are a lot of frequent flyer credit card signup bonuses out there waiting to be taken advantage of. These cards offer as many as 20,000 bonus miles for signing up and meeting specified spend requirements, and are thus really useful for jump-starting your account, or rounding out reward travel.