Earning rewards points is exciting and getting free or nearly free travel makes the experience all the sweeter. If you’re a points hoarder, however, it’s possible that you could lose your rewards through expiration, which you certainly want to avoid.
I chatted with a woman once who had lost over 50,000 U.S. Bank FlexPoints. She figured that they’d be active as long as she had the card. She was wrong. They ended up expiring, taking up to $1,000 worth of value with them (you can get up to 2 cents per point when you use them to book airfare).
To avoid going through this experience, it’s important that you know the expiration policy of the rewards programs that you hold. To help out, here’s a comprehensive list of major rewards programs and their expiration policies. I’ll also share some tips on how to reset the clock if you’re coming up on an expiration date.
Airline Program Expiration Policy
Air Canada: After 12 months of inactivity
Air France/KLM: After 24 months without a qualifying flight
Alaska: After 24 months of inactivity
American: After 18 months of inactivity
British Airways: After 36 months of inactivity
Delta: Miles do not expire
Frontier: After 6 months of inactivity
JetBlue: Points do not expire
Singapore Airlines: After 36 months from accrual, regardless of activity
Southwest: After 24 months of no earning activity (redeeming points does not trigger a reset)
Spirit: After 3 months of no earning activity (redeeming points does not trigger a reset)
United: After 18 months of inactivity
Virgin America: After 18 months of inactivity
Hotel Program Expiration Policy
Best Western: Points do not expire if you live in North, Central and South America, Asia and South Africa
Choice Hotels: After 18 months of inactivity
Club Carlson: After 24 months of inactivity
Hilton: After 12 months of inactivity
Hyatt: After 24 months of inactivity
IHG: After 12 months of inactivity
Marriott: After 24 months of inactivity
Ritz-Carlton: After 24 months of inactivity
Starwood: After 12 months of inactivity
General Travel Programs Expiration Policy
Amex Membership Rewards: Points do not expire as long as you have an active MR-earning credit card in good standing.
Barclaycard Arrival Miles: Miles do not expire as long as you have an active Arrival Miles-earning credit card in good standing.
Capital One Venture Miles: Miles do not expire as long as you have an active Venture Miles-earning credit card in good standing.
Chase Ultimate Rewards: Points do not expire as long as you have an active UR-earning credit card in good standing.
Citi ThankYou Points: Expiration dates differ depending on how you received the points and which card you used to earn them. Check the fine print on your cardholder agreement for details.
Discover it Miles: Rewards do not expire. In fact, Discover will credit your account with your rewards balance if you close your account or if you have not yet used them within 18 months.
U.S. Bank FlexPoints: 5 years after you earned the rewards
Wells Fargo Points: 5 years after they post your rewards to your account
How to keep your rewards active
With some programs, it specifically states what you need to do to keep your points active (i.e. earning activity only, qualifying flight, etc.). With the rest, there are a handful of things you can do to keep your rewards from expiring.
In some cases, having a co-branded credit card attached to your account keeps your points from expiring. You just need to keep the account open and in good standing. You can also just make a purchase with the card, which earns rewards with that program. Other options* include:
1. Buy miles/points: I don’t recommend going this route unless it’s a last resort. Airlines and hotels charge a premium when you buy miles or points directly from them. For the most part, you won’t get the same value when you redeem them.
2. Gift or transfer: Another option with some programs is gifting or transferring your rewards to someone else. Keep in mind, though, that some rewards programs charge for this privilege.
3. Donate to charity: Some rewards programs allow you to donate your rewards to charity. Making even a small donation will usually count as a qualifying activity, resetting the clock.
4. Earn through a partner: Many loyalty programs have several partners, with whom you can earn rewards. For example, Southwest has hundreds of partners in retail, dining, utility, and travel categories.
5. Any other earning or redemption activity: With some airlines, flying with a partner airline can earn you miles with your loyalty program. Some programs also do social media and other promotions where you can earn points that count as a qualifying activity. On the redeeming end, doing a small redemption can extend the expiration date. An example of this would be using points to get a magazine subscription.
Check out more ways to extend your rewards’ expiration date here.
*With each of these, be sure to read the fine print on your account before trying to extend your expiration. Not all are the same, and some may exclude some of the above options.
Reinstating expired points
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines all list policies that allow you to reactive deleted miles for a fee. With Singapore Airlines, you can delay your miles’ expiration date for 6 to 12 months, depending on your status, for a fee. In some cases with other rewards programs, folks have been able to get their points reinstated just by calling and asking nicely. It’s no guarantee, but it never hurts to ask!
Unless something like this has already happened, though, it’s best to keep an eye on your rewards programs. Know when the last activity was and how long you have before they expire. You’ve worked hard to earn those points, and it would be a shame if you end up losing them.