As part of my travel consulting business, I often hear some pretty strange travel requests — in fact, having somewhat unusual or out-of-the-norm #vacationgoals are often what bring people my way in the first place. But one of the most common questions I get is about how to keep your miles from expiring.
Simply phrased: what do you do if your airline miles are about to expire, but you don’t yet have enough miles to book your dream trip?
Well, in most cases it’s pretty easy to keep your hard-earned miles alive. You just have to know the rules: generally you’ll just need to either earn or redeem any amount of miles before your expiry date in order to keep your balance “active.” But some methods for doing so are more cost effective than others. Here are my top three favorites:
Go out to eat at a restaurant in the airline’s dining program.
Almost all the major domestic carriers with miles that expire (American, United, Alaska) offer a dining rewards program, in which you register a credit card number with the program, link it with your mileage account, and then get points in return if you visit a restaurant that’s part of their dining program.
We’re not even talking particularly fancy-pants restaurants here. In Austin, a coffee shop that I’m a fan of makes the list. That means a $4 latte every 18 months is enough to keep your miles active.
And if it’s actually hotel points instead of miles that you’re worried about expiring, the dining strategy can still work: IHG and Hilton have similar dining programs to the airline versions, while Starwood and Hyatt will give you points for eating at one of their in-property restaurants.
Take out a magazine subscription.
If you’re like me, then you’re a sucker for airport magazine stands. If I show up to the airport unprepared, I’ll almost always end up shelling out at least $10 on a copy of People or Martha Stewart Living.
But most of the airline rewards programs actually allow you to buy a magazine or newspaper subscription with your points, and it ends up being a pretty good deal, too.
On American, for example, you can get their cheapest magazine subscription for just a 100 miles redemption. Assuming a 1.4 cents per point current industry value for American miles, that means you pay roughly $1.40 cents to keep your miles alive for another 18 months, and also get a “free” magazine subscription along the way.
Buy almost anything through the program’s shopping portal.
I’ve talked about shopping portals before as they’re a great way to earn miles. And since you can use them to earn miles, using them can keep your miles from expiring, too. Before you make a purchase at nearly any major online retailer, just sign in via the shopping portal and follow its link to your destination.
But there are two keys here that you need to know about: first, it can take a fair chunk of time before these points hit your account — we’re talking like two to three MONTHS in some cases. So keep a close eye on when your points are actually set to expire, and make sure you have enough time for the points to actually post.
Second, remember that most of the shopping portals now restrict you from earning points if you also use any sort of coupon code. As such, this isn’t the time for my usual couponing recommendations. But the good news is that virtually any purchase counts — regardless of dollar amount.
Using these three strategies, you can keep your miles from expiring virtually indefinitely, and can absolutely keep your balances growing towards your next dream vacation.