What to Do if Your Credit Card Points or Miles Are Expiring

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Earning airline miles, hotel points, or cash back on daily purchases is easier than ever, thanks to the prevalence of rewards credit cards. But do hotel points and airline miles expire? Sometimes, especially if you don’t use your card for a while or forget you’ve accrued them.

And often, once they disappear, you either can’t get them back or you have to pay to reinstate them. Luckily, keeping tabs on them is relatively painless. Here’s a guide to how rewards expiration works and how to make sure you don’t inadvertently lose your travel points or miles.

Many hotel and airline loyalty programs have said they won’t enforce normal expirations on miles or points because the coronavirus pandemic has made travel so difficult. Check with your program for details on how much extra time you may have.   

Four Ways Miles and Points May (or May Not) Expire 

Each credit card and loyalty program has its own set of rules, so it’s crucial to read through your program’s fine print to determine if and when your points will expire. Policies can often be found in the rewards guide or frequently asked questions listed online. Generally speaking, there are four different ways programs deal with expiration:

  • Points or miles don’t expire as long as you’re in the loyalty program. For example, Delta SkyMiles—which can be earned with or without a credit card—don’t expire. 
  • Points or miles don’t expire as long as your credit card account is open. Chase’s Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cards, both part of the Ultimate Rewards program, give you 30 days after your account is closed to use your points. And sometimes even closing your account doesn’t put them at risk. In the case of the Discover it Miles card, your account will be credited with the cash value of your rewards balance if it’s closed. 
  • Points won’t disappear unless there’s a period of inactivity. Programs such as Choice Privileges and AAdvantage from American Airlines will penalize you if you've been inactive for 18 months. Different programs have different requirements for “restarting the clock,” but usually it simply requires a purchase with the credit card (or the earning or redeeming of points in some other way.)  
  • Points expire on a certain date, and account activity doesn’t impact expiration. For example, points might expire three years after the month that you receive them, or five years from the end of the year in which you earn them. 

Check your program’s online account or mobile app, which may show when points or miles will expire.   

How to Prevent Expiration Due to Inactivity 

If you’re on the verge of losing your rewards stash due to inactivity, as long as you catch it in time, you don’t have to book a trip to restart the clock. Usually, you can become active again simply by making a purchase on your credit card (and thereby earning some points or miles.) 

If you’re a member of a loyalty program but don’t have an associated credit card, you have a number of other options. For one, you can sign up for a credit card—the card may even offer a bonus if you charge a certain amount in your first months. You can also buy something through your program’s online shopping portal, if it has one, eat out with one of their partner restaurants, or redeem points for a gift card.

If your rewards have already expired due to inactivity, some programs will let you pay to have them reinstated. The United Airlines program, for instance, lets you buy back miles you’ve lost in the past 18 months. The cost is incremental. For example, pay $50 for up to 5,000 miles, or $100 for 5,001 to 20,000 miles.

Keep in mind you can also lose points if you misuse them, claim bankruptcy, or your account status changes because of missed payments, among other reasons. Check your terms and conditions for specifics. 

How to Spend About-to-Expire Rewards

If you’re planning to close your credit card account or have unused points or miles that are about to expire, you may not be able to travel, or you may not have enough to make a dent in the cost of a trip. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other redemption options that are more easily undertaken.

  • Redeem for cash: If this is an option, it’s definitely the most versatile, though you may not get the bang for your buck. 
  • Redeem for merchandise: Use your miles or points for non-travel options such as gift cards, apparel, electronics, magazine or newspaper subscriptions, and more through an online portal. Again, this may very well not get you the best value per point or mile.
  • Donate: Some programs allow you to donate miles to various causes of your choice.
  • Transfer to family or friends: With some programs, you can transfer rewards to family and friends, or give miles to your employees. The recipient should also have a points or miles account to receive your transfer, and there may be a fee involved with a transfer. 
  • Transfer to another loyalty program: Flexible rewards programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and American Express Membership Rewards will let you convert card points to eligible airline or hotel programs. This can be a great way to effectively keep your points for future travel. Just keep in mind it’s not always a one-for-one exchange.  

Article Sources

  1. Delta. "Membership Guide & Program Rules." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020. 

  2. Discover. "Discover It Miles." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020. 

  3. Chase. "Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards Program Agreement." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020. 

  4. Choice Hotels. "Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020. 

  5. American Airlines. "AAdvantage FAQs." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020. 

  6. United Airlines. "Give Your Expired Miles a Second Chance." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020. 

  7. Chase. "Chase Ultimate Rewards." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020. 

  8. ThankYou from Citi. "Points Transfer." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020. 

  9. American Express. "Membership Rewards." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020.