Do Frequent Flyer Miles Expire? Generally Yes, But…

While collecting miles to save on travel is a great idea, it is also important to know the rules of the program you are collecting into to maximize your efforts.

It’s especially important to know what the rules are regarding the expiration of your miles. After all, if you, let’s say need 20,000 miles for your award ticket, you don’t want all your miles to expire just shy of that goal (or ever).

Below, I look at the different timeframes in which miles expire, as well as at the ways to extend their validity, among other things.

Do Frequent Flyer Miles Expire? Generally Yes, But...
If you find yourself at an airport a lot and collect a lot of airline miles, make sure you know the expiration rules of the program you use.

 

Do Frequent Flyer Miles Expire?

By this point, you likely know the answer to whether frequent flyer miles expire or not. It’s “it depends.”

That said, in general, there are three types of miles: those that expire after a certain period of inactivity, those that expire after a certain period since their accrual, and those that never expire.

Miles Expiring After a Certain Period of Inactivity

In most programs, frequent flyer miles expire after a certain period of inactivity in your account.

In other words, you will lose all your miles if you don’t earn or spend any miles for a certain length of time. The length depends on each program. In some cases, like with Southwest Airlines, only earning miles counts.

For example, while Alitalia miles expire after 24 months of inactivity, Aeroplan miles do so after only 12 months.

Alitalia
Alitalia miles expire after 24 months of inactivity.

Miles Expiring After a Certain Period Since Their Accrual

As for the second type of miles, those that expire after a certain period since their accrual, there is no way to extend the validity of those. However, unlike with the previous case, they will not expire all at once.

Instead, they will expire gradually from the oldest ones. They are spent in that order as well.

Some of the programs that use this method include miles in programs like ANA Mileage Club and Emirates Skywards. Miles in the former expire 36 months after earning, in the latter they expire after 3 years.

While it might sound like there is no difference between 36 months and 3 years, there is.

For example, if you earn ANA miles on May 10, 2020, they will be valid until May 31, 2023.

However, if you earn them with Emirates, they will be active until your birth month in the third year. So, if your birthday is in, let’s say, August, they will be valid until August 31, 2023. However, if its in February, they will only be valid until February 28, 2023.

ANA Miles
ANA miles expire 36 months after their accrual and there is no way to extend that.

Miles That Don’t Expire

Finally, in some programs, miles never expire.

Those include Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus miles among others.

There are also cases when miles that would normally expire will not do so for holders of certain credit cards or elite statuses. That’s the case with Lufthansa, for example.

Collecting miles that do not expire is a good strategy if you don’t fly often.

However, it is still no excuse to hoard miles (unless you earn so many of them that you cannot keep spending them). The reason for that is that from time to time, airlines devalue miles. In other words, they increase the prices of award tickets.

For example, instead of charging 4,500 miles for a certain ticket, they increase the price to 7,000 miles. Practically, it’s not too different from some of your miles having expired.

On a side note, that’s also the reason why you should not buy airline miles without a specific and fairly immediate use in mind.

Delta Air Lines Miles
Delta miles never expire.

 

How to Extend the Validity of Your Frequent Flyer Miles

While airline miles do expire, the good news is that – with the exception of a few programs like ANA Mileage Club and Korean Air Skypass – there are ways you can extend their validity.

In the case of Emirates Skywards, for example, you can the validity of up to 50,000 miles for 20 dollars per 1,000 miles.

However, below, I will talk about extending the validity of miles that would otherwise expire after a certain period of inactivity. Considering that you don’t have to fly to keep your account “active,” it’s fairly easy to extend the life of these miles more or less indefinitely.

Fly with Your Program’s Airline or One of Its Partners

This is the most obvious way to keep your miles from expiring. Take a flight with either the airline that you have your miles with or with one of its partners and credit them to your account.

Just keep in mind that, like with most other cases of earning miles, the miles do not credit instantly. As such, make sure to take the flight at least a week or two before your miles are due to expire. Ideally, even longer.

The alternative to this is, of course, spending some of the miles you have to buy an award ticket. In that case, the miles will be taken off your account as soon as you book the ticket.

Flying to Keep Miles from Expiring
Flying on your program’s airline or one of its partners is the easiest but also an expensive way to extend the validity of your miles.

Buy or Share Miles

Another option you can keep a frequent flyer account active is by buying miles. While in some cases, miles that you buy credit instantly, in other cases, it can take a few days. As such, if you decide to go with this method, make sure to do so with enough time to spare.

Some of the airlines that sell miles include Aegean, Emirates, Alaska Airlines, and Avianca.

If you want to learn more about this strategy, you can read my complete guide to buying airline miles.

Alternatively, some programs allow you to share miles with your family members (or friends in some cases). While doing so – i.e. transferring miles from your account to someone else’s – comes with a fee, it’s an option nonetheless.

Transfer Hotel or Credit Card Points

If you have convertible hotel or credit card points – i.e. those that can be transferred to a variety of airline programs – then that’s an option too. That is, if your hotel or credit card program allows for transfers into the airline program in which you have miles that are about to expire.

Before relying on this method, make sure to find out how long it will take for the points to transfer. While in some cases it might be instant, in others it might take a few days or more.

Buy Something from Your Airline’s Partners

Many if not most airline programs partner with a variety of retailers.

In some cases, they are brick-and-mortar store where you can earn miles for purchase. In most cases, they are online stores where you can shop through your airline’s shopping portal to earn miles on your purchases.

Unless you are doing a large purchase, you will not earn a significant amount of miles. However, even the smallest purchases will be enough to keep your account active. That’s assuming the miles credit before those in your account are about to expire, of course.

Stay at a Hotel Through Agoda or Rocketmiles

Some hotel booking websites offer the option to earn miles for your stays. Two of those are Agoda and Rocketmiles. You can utilize those to earn miles – and thus keep your mileage account active – if you are planning to book any hotel nights.

However, keep in mind that generally the miles are credited after your stay. As such, you don’t want to be relying on this method if you need to stay at a hotel in, let’s say, March 2021 but your miles are expiring in December 2020.

Stay at Hotel to Extend Mileage Validity
Some hotel booking sites offer the option to earn miles.

Use a Co-Branded Credit Card

Unlike credit cards that earn transferable points, co-branded credit cards earn airline miles directly. As such, whenever you spend money using that credit card, you will earn miles into the airlines program – and thus keep your account active.

While this can be a good way to keep your miles “alive” if you are able to get a cheap or no annual fee co-branded card, in other cases, cards that earn convertible points are better as they are more versatile.

Donate Miles

The last option I will mention here is donating miles to a charity. Not all programs allow that, but if yours does, it’s a great way to extend the validity of your miles while doing something good.

It’s also a good way to use miles that you have no use for and that would otherwise expire in a program like Miles & More where the validity cannot be extended.

I wrote more about donating miles here.

 

The Last Resort: Reinstating Expired Miles

You should never let your miles expire since in most programs, once they are gone, they are gone for good. That said, some programs do allow for expired miles to be reinstated for a fee.

As such, if you lose a significant amount of miles for one reason or another (for example, you lose track of your miles’ expiration dates), Google “[airline] reinstate expired miles” or similar. In some cases, you might be lucky.

If the amount is significant and you cannot find any information online, you might also want to try calling the program’s customer support center.

Airlines that allow for miles to be reinstated include, among others, American Airlines, Emirates, and Qatar Airways.

Keep in mind, though, that the service fee is usually dependent on the number of miles you want to have reinstated. As such, you will have to figure out for yourself whether having the miles back in your account is more valuable to you than the fee you will have to pay to get them back.

To repeat myself, though, you should never let your miles expire and get yourself into this situation. I recommend tracking your miles’ expiration dates either in a spreadsheets or using an automated tool like AwardWallet.

 

Overview of Mileage Expiration Policies

The table below gives you an overview of the mileage expiration policies of some of the most popular frequent flyer programs.

While I try to keep it up to date, airlines change these policies every now and then. As such, I recommend you to always check for the latest information directly on the airline’s website.

Airline / ProgramExpiration policy
Alaska Mileage PlanExpire after 24 months of inactivity.
Alitalia MilleMigliaExpire after 24 months of inactivity. Only earning miles counts as activity.
American AAdvantageExpire after 18 months of inactivity. Expired miles can be reinstated for a fee.
ANA Mileage ClubExpire at the end of the 36th month since their accrual. Validity cannot be extended.
British Airways Executive ClubExpire after 36 months of inactivity.
Delta SkyMilesDon’t expire.
Emirates SkywardsExpire in the third year since their accrual, at the end of your birth month. Validity can be extended and expired miles can be reinstated for a fee.
Flying Blue (Air France, KLM, etc.)Expire after 24 months of inactivity. Only flights on Air France, KLM, and partner airlines – and purchases using eligible credit cards – count as activity. Miles of Silver, Gold, and Platinum members don’t expire.
JAL Mileage BankExpire at the end of the 36th month since their accrual. Validity cannot be extended.
JetBlue TrueBlueDon’t expire.
Miles & More (Lufthansa, etc.)Expire at the end of the quarter that includes the 36th month since their accrual. Miles of status and certain credit card holders don’t expire.
Qantas Frequent FlyerExpire after 18 months of inactivity.
Qatar Airways QmilesExpire at the end of the half that includes the 3rd year since their accrual. Validity can be extended and expired miles can be reinstated for a fee.
United MileagePlusDon’t expire.
Virgin Atlantic Flying ClubExpire after 36 months of inactivity.

 

Summary

While miles never expire in only a handful of programs, in most programs, the validity of miles can be extended indefinitely if you keep your account active. Luckily, keeping an account active is – in most cases – fairly easy as it can be done through anything that either earns you at least a mile or that you spend at least a mile on.

Some of those programs even offer the option of reinstating expired miles. However, considering that it costs money, you will want to avoid having to do so.

As for those miles that you cannot extend the validity of, there is not much you can do beyond spending them on flights or other awards before they expire.

Whichever is the case with your program, I recommend using AwardWallet to track your miles and to never miss and expiration date.

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