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Here’s how to get your points and miles back after they expire

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 9/9/2020 Ariana Arghandewal
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It’s been eight months since I’ve redeemed points and miles for travel, and I’m not quite sure when I will again. You may find yourself in the same boat: Unable to put your hard-earned points to use and perhaps even worried about miles expiring.

Most airlines require you to either earn or redeem miles within a certain timeframe to keep them from expiring, but some of us can’t do either of those things right now. While several airlines and hotels have suspended mileage expiration through at least 2020, there are no guarantees beyond that. Expiring miles could be an issue that you might encounter again in the future. You’ll need to know which airlines allow you to reinstate expired miles and whether it’s worth doing when you do.

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Should you pay to reinstate your points and miles?

Buying back expired miles can be expensive and not always worth it. Whether you should pay to do so depends on the number of miles and cost. If you think you’ll get more value out of the miles than the fees you’re paying to reinstate them, it might be worth it. 

TPG’s monthly valuations are a good starting point. If your cost-per-reinstated-mile exceeds these valuations, it’s generally not a good idea to buy back your expired miles. Miles are most valuable when you redeem them for premium awards. So just be mindful of the cost and whether it’s worthwhile for you to spend money to get your expired airline miles back.

How to reinstate expired airline miles

a person sitting at a table with a vase of flowers: (Photo by 10’000 Hours/Getty Images) © The Points Guy (Photo by 10’000 Hours/Getty Images)

Eight different airlines allow you to reinstate miles for a fee after they’ve expired. Some of them charge reasonable flat fees, while others charge by the mile. In some cases, you may encounter a friendly agent who is willing to waive these fees entirely. YMMV, as they say.

Even airlines that don’t have an official reinstatement policy have been known to bend the rules occasionally. For example, there have been reports over British Airways Executive Club members getting Avios back, fee-free, just for asking. 

Regardless of whether your airline lets you reactivate expired miles, it’s worth a try to call customer service and see if you can get your miles back without paying a fee. There are no guarantees, but you might save hundreds of dollars for a few minutes of your time.

With that said, let’s take a look at the eight airlines that allow you to get your expired points or miles back.

Air Canada Aeroplan 

  • Mileage expiration policy: 12 months of inactivity
  • Mileage expiration suspension: 18 months

As of July 20, 2020 Aeroplan is suspending mileage expiration for 18 months. Normally, Aeroplan miles expire within 12 months, giving you quite a bit more time to keep your account active. 

If Aeroplan drops this policy in the future and your miles expire, you can reinstate them by paying one cent per mile, plus a $30 fee and taxes. For example, reinstating 25,000 miles will cost you around $280, excluding taxes.

If you’d rather not pay to get your miles back, there is another option. Within six months of your account becoming inactive, you can reinstate them automatically by flying on an eligible Air Canada flight or getting any Aeroplan credit card.

Alaska Mileage Plan

  • Mileage expiration policy: Two years of inactivity
  • Mileage expiration suspension:  N/A

Alaska Mileage Plan is a bit peculiar, because the airline claims its miles don’t expire, yet it reserves the right to cancel your account after two years of inactivity. At the moment, Alaska is not offering any kind of mileage expiration extension.

So what happens if this pandemic drags on for two years and your precious miles disappear? You have up to a year to reinstate Alaska miles for just a $75 fee. Alaska is currently waiving this fee due to the pandemic, with no announced end date for this policy.

That’s pretty generous, especially if you have a large balance you want to recover. Alaska miles are some of the most valuable airline miles, according to TPG. At 1.8 cents each, you’ll get your money’s worth for that $75 fee if you reinstate at least 4,167 miles.

American AAdvantage

  • Mileage expiration policy:

    18 months of inactivity (not applicable to members under age 21)

  • Mileage expiration suspension: Through Dec. 31, 2020

American AAdvantage miles typically expire after 18 months of inactivity, though in June, the carrier added a new exception for members under 21, whose miles no longer expire at all. In addition, due to the pandemic, American Airlines is suspending mileage expiration through the end of the year. If your AAdvantage miles expire in the future, you have up to 18 months to reactivate up to 500,000 miles for a fee, which can be hefty.

My mom recently let 946 AAdvantage miles expire and upon logging in, was quoted $60 to reactivate them. Considering 946 miles is worth about $13, this is way too high of a price to pay.

Avianca LifeMiles

  • Mileage expiration policy: 12 months of inactivity
  • Mileage expiration suspension: Through Dec. 31, 2020

Between the many buy miles sales and transfer partnerships with Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou, it’s pretty hard to let Avianca LifeMiles expire. But things happen and if you drop the ball, you can reinstate them for $10 per 1,000 miles, plus taxes.

Avianca has paused mileage expiration through Dec. 31, 2020. After that, LifeMiles will expire after 12 months of inactivity — though if you have elite status or hold an Avianca credit card, that timeline is extended to 24 months.

Emirates

  • Mileage expiration policy: Three years from the date earned
  • Mileage expiration suspension: Dec. 31, 2020

Emirates Skywards miles are usually valid for three years, which is one of the most generous expiration policies out there. In addition, Emirates is suspending mileage expiration through the end of the year, so you have plenty of time to earn and plan your next Skywards award redemption.

If your miles do expire, you can get them back by paying $20 per 1,000 miles. You can reinstate a maximum of 50,000 Skywards miles each year. TPG values Emirates Skywards miles at 1.2 cents each, which is less than the two cents you would need to pay to reinstate expired miles. 

I don’t recommend paying to get your Skywards miles back unless you have a redemption in mind that gets you more than two cents of value per point.


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Frontier Airlines

  • Mileage expiration policy: 180 days of inactivity
  • Mileage expiration suspension: Until further notice

Frontier Miles expire after 180 days of inactivity, which is pretty tough considering the limited options for earning and redeeming Frontier Miles. At the moment, Frontier has suspended mileage expiration due to the pandemic. There’s no timeline, but we can assume this policy will be in place until the end of the year. That’s because Frontier has stated that members will be notified 90 days before miles are set to expire and to our knowledge, no such notices have gone out yet. 

If your Frontier Miles do expire, you can reinstate them for $50-$500 depending on the number of miles.

Number of Frontier Miles Reinstatement fee
1 – 25,000 $50
25,001 – 50,000 $100
50,001 – 75,000 $150
75,001 – 100,000 $200
100,001 – 125,000 $250
125,001 – 150,000 $300
150,001 – 175,000 $350
175,001 – 200,000 $400
200,001 – 250,000 $450
250,001+ $500

TPG values Frontier Miles at 1.1 cents each, which is higher than the roughly 0.02 – 0.4 cents you’ll pay to reactivate each mile. So it can be worthwhile, assuming you’re redeeming them for as much as TPG values the miles.

Hawaiian Miles

  • Mileage expiration policy: 18 months of inactivity
  • Mileage expiration suspension: Through Dec. 31, 2020

Hawaiian Airlines has suspended its mileage expiration policy through the end of the year. Barring another extension, the standard mileage expiration policy of 18 months of inactivity goes back into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

While there are lots of ways to earn and redeem Hawaiian Miles to keep your account active, it’s possible to lose track and let them expire anyway. When that happens, you can reinstate your Hawaiian Miles for around $30 per 1,000 miles.

United

  • Mileage expiration policy: Miles don’t expire
  • Mileage expiration suspension: N/A

As of August 2019, United MileagePlus miles no longer expire. If your miles expired before this policy went into effect, you can either buy them back or complete a reinstatement challenge. If you choose to pay the reinstatement fee, the price varies widely — as low as 0.1 cents per mile to a high of nearly 4 cents per mile.

Number of United miles Reinstatement fee
5,000 $50
5,001 – 20,000 $100
20,001 – 35,000 $150
35,001 – 50,000 $200
50,001 – 75,000 $250
75,001 – 100,000 $300
100,001 – 150,000 $400
150,001 – 200,000 $500
200,001 – 500,000 $600
500,001 – 750,000 $700

If you opt for the reinstatement challenge, you just have to pay a $100 fee and either take a United flight within 90 days or apply for and make a purchase with a United credit card. This option is only available if you’re reactivating more than 20,000 miles and could be worthwhile, since TPG values 20,000 United miles at $260.

Airline miles that don’t expire

Several airlines have done away with mileage expiration completely, offering ultimate flexibility. These airlines include Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these policies could change at any moment.

You should always be prepared for the possibility that your airline miles could be subject to a new mileage expiration policy. The best way to protect against this is to get a credit card that earns transferable rewards so you can quickly move points over and keep your account active. 

How to reinstate expired hotel points

a person standing on a dock next to a building: Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Hilton is the only hotel rewards program that allows you to reinstate expired points, at a rate of 0.25 cents per point. So if you’re looking to reactivate 120,000 Hilton points for a night at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives, it would cost you $300. That fee might be worth paying, considering standard rooms at this resort sell for over $2,000 per night. It all comes down to how you redeem your Hilton points

Luckily, this shouldn’t be an immediate concern, since Hilton has paused point expiration through the end of the year.

How to keep miles and points from expiring

The easiest way to keep miles from expiring is to keep earning and redeeming them. With flying not being an easy option these days, you can still earn miles through credit cards, transfer partnerships and more. Even if you’re stuck at home, shopping online and ordering takeout, these activities can count toward keeping your miles active if you utilize a shopping portal or dining rewards program. Here are some ideas for keeping your miles active in quarantine:

Credit Cards

Wallet with cash and credit cards. (Photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images) © The Points Guy Wallet with cash and credit cards. (Photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images)

Most airlines offer their own cobranded credit cards, but not everyone wants a card for every airline. This is why a transferable rewards credit card might be a better fit, as they provide redemption flexibility and an easy way to keep your miles from expiring. In many cases, points transfer instantly, which is great if you realize that your miles are about to expire at the last minute:

If you have credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Marriott Bonvoy points or Capital One Venture Miles, you can transfer rewards to many of the major frequent flyer programs. All four programs have different partners (some of them overlapping), but having one of each is a great way to ensure a diverse points portfolio.

Shopping portals

Virtually every major airline has its own shopping portal, where you can earn miles on your online purchases at popular retailers. Not only will you usually earn at least one extra mile per dollar spent, but you’ll also sometimes get bonus points for meeting certain spending thresholds

We all shop online, and it takes minimal effort to click through an airline shopping portal instead of going directly to the merchant’s website. The miles you earn from these shopping portals will keep your loyalty account active, so your balance doesn’t expire. Just be sure to check a shopping portal aggregator like Cashback Monitor first to ensure you’re earning the most rewards possible.

Related: Your guide to maximizing shopping portals for your online purchases

Dining rewards

a chair sitting in front of a building: Photo courtesy of Getty Images © The Points Guy Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Dining rewards programs are probably the easiest option for earning miles passively. Just sign up, register all your rewards credit cards and you’ll earn bonus miles every time you use the registered card at a participating restaurant. All the major domestic frequent flyer and hotel rewards programs have a dining rewards program

Before the pandemic, I spent a lot of time dining out, and it was always a nice surprise when I got a notification afterward, letting me know I had earned bonus miles on my purchase. These miles are in addition to the rewards issued by my credit card. So even if you drop all your rewards cards in favor of using a debit card, you can still keep your miles from expiring by participating in one of these programs.

Related: 12 restaurant loyalty programs that are worth joining

Donate points to charity

If you have a stash of orphan miles (i.e., a small mileage balance from an obscure airline you don’t plan on flying with again), then donating them might be the best way to use them. Several loyalty programs let you donate points to charity, including the following:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • United

Mileage expiration FAQ

Can I get expired miles back?

You can get expired miles back, but it’s probably going to cost you. Some airlines allow you to get your miles back by paying either a flat fee or a cost per mile — or a tiered model that’s effectively a combination of the two. Others may credit the miles back, free of charge, if you call and plead your case.

How much does it cost to reinstate expired miles?

The cost of reactivating miles depends on the airline and the number of miles. You can expect to pay around one cent per mile in most cases. Keep in mind that you’ll also be liable for processing fees and taxes. 

How do I reactivate my expired miles?

You can reactivate your expired miles by calling the airline. In some cases, like with American Airlines, you can submit your request online.

Is reinstating miles worth the fee?

Reinstating your expired miles can be worth it, depending on the fee, number of miles and how you plan on redeeming them. If you think you’re going to get more value out of the miles than you’re paying to reinstate them, then go for it. But before paying any fees, call the airline and see if they’ll waive it for you. There have been instances where phone agents have made exceptions, so it’s worth a try.

Bottom line

Paying to reinstate expired points and miles isn’t ideal, considering how easy it is to earn miles through credit card sign-up bonuses. It can be tough just to walk away from a large mileage balance that you spent so much time building up, but you shouldn’t let sunk costs impact your decision. It should come down to whether you can get enough value out of your points to justify paying for them. 

In some cases, you might even be able to talk an airline agent into waiving fees. In others, you may only be on the hook for a flat fee. Weigh the cost against benefits and most importantly: Try not to let your miles expire in the first place.

Featured photo by Michael H/Getty Images

SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.

And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free. 

These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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