Mileage Expiration – How Long Are Your Miles Good For? And How Can You Get them Back?

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There are two main challenges that most people perceive frequent flyer miles as challenges: 1) difficulty in finding awards when they want to travel and 2) miles expiring. The perceived hassle of managing both of these challenges is probably why a significant percentage of the flying public doesn’t accumulate miles.

We will address the issue of finding award seats another week. However, mileage expiration is actually very easy to manage even if you don’t fly often. Any activity, whether it be an earning opportunity or redemption opportunity, will extend mileage expiration by another 18 months, the industry standard. If your miles are about to expire, the cheapest point redemption is usually ordering magazines from the airline’s magazine partner. The magazine partner usually has one or two magazines for 600 miles. That said, here are the expiration periods for American, Delta, United and US Airways:

  • American: 18 Months. Any activity will extend expiration
  • Delta: No mileage expiration.
  • United: 18 Months. Any activity will extend expiration.
  • US Airways: 18 Months. Any activity will extend expiration.

Now what do you do when you have miles that have already expired?

American Airlines:

  • The official policy for American Airlines reactivation of miles that have expired is here. American Airlines wants between $200 and $600 plus 7.5% tax to reactivate expired miles.
  • Unofficially, American Airlines will offer two re-engagement challenges: 1) Earn 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 miles with at least 3 partners — e.g., credit cards with Citibank, flower with FTD, Netflix; or, 2) Fly on 1 or 2 roundtrips with American Airlines depending on how many miles you have expired. It’s cheaper to do the re-engagement challenge than buying the miles back.
  • If you have upcoming flights, take the re-engagement challenge as it’s the easier challenge to get through.
  • Call American Airlines AAdvantage Customer Service to enroll.

Delta:

  • Delta changed from an 18 month mileage expiration to no mileage expiration on March 1st, 2011. If you have miles that expired prior to March 1st, 2011, the options are to buy it back. There are no reports of re-engagement challenges to have expired miles re-instated.

United:

  • The official policy for United is here. United will reinstate miles that expired up to 12 months ago for 1.25 cents per mile + $25 processing fee + 7.5% tax. This is a 50% discount on the standard buying miles from United.
  • The unofficial policy is an re-engagement challenge where you pay $200 and a roundtrip on United within 3 months to have your miles reinstated. $200 is worth approximately 20,000 miles at 1 cents per mile. Take the challenge if you have more than 20,000 miles that are expired. If you have less than that, buying the miles is a cheaper alternative.
  • Call United MileagePlus to enroll.

US Airways:

  • The official policy for US Airways is listed in the member guide under Reactivation Policy. It is relatively inexpensive to buy miles back from US Airways.
  • One nice feature is if your account is within 15-17 months of inactivity, you can extend mileage expiration for another 18 months for a small fee of $9.

There are also easy steps to prevent miles from expiring:

  1. Dining Programs: Sign up for them. Let’s say you have miles with the United and American program; if your local sandwich shop is in the dining program, buy a sandwich with a credit card registered with United and chips & soda with a credit card registered with American.  Do that and your miles are good for another 18 months.
  2. Airline Shopping Portals: Use them.

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