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Points from credit card spending and airline miles are a great way to book travel. They can save you thousands, if you use them well.
But travel is the last thing on the minds of millions of Americans right now. With record unemployment levels and a recession due to the coronavirus pandemic, not too many people are planning big vacations. If you’re saving the points and miles you’ve accumulated for later use, you should be aware that they can expire.
Now is a good time to take stock of your inventory. Some of them could be expiring soon.
“A lot of people let their points expire because they’re simply not keeping track of them. They have no idea what the various hotel and airline expiration policies are,” says Ariana Arghandewal, Points and Miles Editor at The Points Guy, which is owned by the same parent company as NextAdvisor.
So, when do points and miles expire?
It depends on the type of points or miles you have.
For example, credit card points like American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou points and Capital One Venture miles never expire, as long as your account is in good standing. If you are paying your bills on time—or you have been in touch with the issuer if you need financial assistance—you don’t have to worry about those points going away. (You could lose your credit card points if your account is closed for misuse, fraud or bankruptcy, so you’ll want to stick to the terms and conditions that came with the card)
Airline and hotel points and miles expiration dates, though, are a different story.
While virtually every major hotel chain and airline has extended its points and miles policy at least through the next few months, many airline and hotel points and miles do expire eventually, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on them.
Among the major U.S. airlines, American Airlines miles expire 18 months from your last activity (and do not expire for customers under 21). Delta miles, United miles, JetBlue points, Alaska Airlines miles and Southwest points never expire. It’s worth noting, though, that if there is no activity in your Alaska Airlines account for two years, the account will expire and your miles will be deleted. American is temporarily pausing mileage expiration through December 31, 2020, and miles that expired since July 1 will be reinstated. Miles that were set to expire through December 31 will now expire on January 1, 2021.
Spirit Airlines miles usually expire within three months of having been earned — faster than any other airline. Their expiration will be paused through September 30. Frontier Airlines miles set to expire March 1 or later have been paused until further notice.
Even if you’re not traveling right now, you can prevent your points and miles from expiring — and save them for future use.
Here are the timeframes for when your points expire at popular hotel chains.
- Marriott: 24 months from last activity
- Hilton: 12 months from last activity
- Hyatt: 24 months from last activity
- IHG Rewards Club: 12 months from last activity
That said, many hotel chains have updated their policies amid the pandemic. The above four chains, for example, have all paused their points expiration until December 31, 2020.
How to Prevent Points and Miles From Expiring
So while you might have a little bit of leeway until your points and miles expire, you certainly don’t want to wait until the last minute to prevent that from happening. Even if you don’t see yourself stepping foot into a hotel or on a plane in the near future, there are ways to make sure you can keep all of your valuable currencies.
“The best way to keep your points from expiring is to keep earning them,” Arghandewal says.
She suggests looking into a co-branded hotel or airline credit card — including some that carry no annual fee — and using it to make regular purchases. This will ensure your account stays active.
Another strategy she recommends is taking advantage of the airline or hotel’s shopping portal or dining rewards program. These are programs that fly somewhat under the radar for more casual travelers, but are an easy way to earn points and miles for shopping online or dining at a restaurant.
Here’s how it works: Airlines partner with various retailers — Saks Fifth Avenue or Bloomingdale’s, for example — and when you shop through the airline portal that will direct you to the store, you’ll earn airline miles when you shop.
Similarly, airlines partner with local restaurants. You can earn airline miles when you sign up for an account, register your card and dine at one of the eligible establishments.
“Not only will you earn extra points or miles by clicking through a shopping portal or dining at a participating restaurant, you’ll keep your points from expiring,” Arghandewal explains.
You can also always buy points or miles to top off your accounts, although it’s not recommended, because, you’ll end up paying more than the value of the points and miles you are buying.
Many airlines, such as American and United, will also allow you to donate your miles to charity. This will create “activity” in your account and reset the clock—all while helping a cause you care about. Charities accepting donations of points and miles include Make-A-Wish, the American Red Cross and Shriners Hospital.
While you can’t turn your credit card points or miles into cash, some issuers will let you pay for part of your bill with them. For example, Chase recently introduced a new feature called “Pay Yourself Back.” Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred cardmembers can apply points to pay for all or a portion of their expenses — including in grocery stores, home improvement stores and dining establishments (takeout and delivery included).
Citi cardholders who also have a Citi checking account can use their ThankYou points to pay for all or a portion of their credit card balance.
You can also use your Citi credit card points to shop at Amazon, although it’s typically a poor use of your points since the retailer values them at far less than what they are otherwise worth.
If you’ve earned airline and hotel rewards that are set to expire, there may be a way to keep your account active without having to travel.