My Frequent Flier Miles are about to Expire! What Can I Do to Save Them?

So, I’m checking my mail the other day and came across a notice (advertisement really) from United Airlines Mileage Plus center saying my mileage balance would expire in March. I immediately went on-line to check my account and sure enough my balance was set to expire. Most airlines generally have policies that will allow them to expire your entire mileage balance if there’s been no activity after a set time (amount varies by airline). We’ve throttled back our airline travel over the last couple of years; consequently, not much activity on the frequent flier mileage.

The lesson here is that you really need to keep an eye on your frequent flier accounts. If you haven’t had any activity (mileage earned and/or mileage used), they can, and will, cancel your miles. The advertisement I received is somewhat unusual; generally, the airlines will give little or no notice of your expiring miles.

So, what to do if your miles are about to expire and you’re not planning a flight anytime soon? The good news is there are lots of ways to earn miles. The best part is you only need some kind of activity, even if its only for a couple of miles, to keep your account active. Here are some easy ways to earn miles:

  • Use a mileage credit card. You earn miles every time you purchase something with the card. I used to have one of these, but got rid of it a few years back. There’s usually a hefty annual fee on these cards and I find that it’s much more economical to use a cash reward card than one that rewards with mileage.
  • Register with an affiliated retailer, restaurant, or grocery store. Each purchase earns mileage for every dollar spent. You really don’t have to do anything special: you can just register your credit card at places you already visit and get mileage for your purchases. The amount of miles you can earn is usually limited, but at least you’ll have enough activity on your account to keep it active.
  • Earn miles through frequent customer programs at hotels and rental car companies. Most of these places offer points for free hotel nights or car rentals. At most places, you can earn airline mileage instead of points.
  • Make a gift of airline mileage; or, perhaps that special someone in your life might give you a mileage gift. Either way, it puts activity on your account and preserves your miles.

So what was the solution to my mileage expiration dilemma? Well, we’re always looking for new dining experiences, so we had dinner at a local bar and grill that I’ve driven past many times over the years, but never tried. I found I could earn United mileage at this establishment , so we gave it a try. It was kind of a dive, but the food was excellent, the service was great, and I earned enough frequent flier miles from the experience to keep my account intact.


About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company ( After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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