A question I get with surprising frequency goes something along the lines of “Hey Pat, help! I’ve got 23,000 United miles but they’re about to expire. I don’t want to lose them, but I am not flying before they expire. What do I do?”

And the answer, depending on which frequent flyer program or hotel rewards program you are a part of is surprisingly simple: Do you have $0.99 to spare? If so, I can keep your miles from expiring for that and 5 minutes of your time. So who’s this simple hack for: Anyone concerned about losing miles with American Airlines, Southwest, US Airways, United, Hilton or Marriott. If you’re a member of any other airline or hotel program, I’ve got some advice at the end of the post, just know it will probably be more than $0.99 and 5 minutes.

So first, what are the policies of the programs mentioned above in terms of how often you need to have some sort of activity to prevent your miles or points from expiring?

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 9.32.31 AM

 

I would add one caution, and it’s this: Marriott has conflicting information on it’s website that’s open to interpretation. In section 8 of their general membership terms the direct quote is this: “A Membership Account may be closed at the Company’s discretion if no Points or Miles are accrued during a 24-month period. All Points in the Membership Account will be forfeited at that time.” Sounds good, right? Not so fast, as their FAQ seems to go against what we’re hoping for here: “As long as you make a paid stay at a Marriott hotel every 24 months, your account and points remain active. Otherwise, your points may expire.” The red highlight is direct from Marriott, not from me.

With the rest of these programs, I’m fairly confident in this hack, err, trick. With Marriott, know it’s a bit more of a risky proposition.

Alright, so by now you’re clawing at your computer, desperate to know how to buy yourself another 12, 18, or 24 months to prevent your miles or points from expiring, and to do it all for less than $1. Go to EVReward and search for iTunes. You should get a screen that more or less looks like this:

EVReward iTunes

 

1. Choose the program of choice, and click on it. For the purposes of an example, we’ll use American Airlines.

2. If you’ve previously signed up for a shopping portal, log in and navigate to iTunes. If you’re a newbie (why didn’t you take our advice earlier?), create an account and accurately link your frequent flyer program number to your newly created shopping portal account.

3. I’m paranoid, so I always make sure I log out of iTunes before I click shop in iTunes, that way it has to launch the program from scratch, and I’m more confident the miles will post. No scientific reasoning here to do that, just good ole’ paranoia.

4. So once your iTunes is closed, you’re logged into your portal, and you’ve navigated to the page where it tells you how many miles you’ll earn per dollar on purchase, click the magical shop now button. American Airlines Shopping Portal

5. You’ll most likely get a window something along these lines: Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 9.47.49 AM

6. And then you’re in the iTunes store. Buy a song, rent a movie, do whatever your heart desires knowing that your one simple purchase will add to the quality of your life (if you have good taste, at least), reset the clock on when your miles or points expire, giving you another 12, 18, or 24 months depending on what program, and, oh yeah, earn a whopping 2 or 3 miles for your frequent flyer account.

What if my program doesn’t participate with iTunes?

Fear not, there are still some ways to earn miles or points through other means that should reset the clock. Here are a few options to explore:

1. See if your program has a shopping mall portal at all. Many have portals but don’t partner with iTunes. And so you could still do everything from above, but instead use a different partner and shop for different items to earn your miles.

2. See if there is a dining program. Google “name of your airline or hotel” and “dining program”. Sign up, search a place you like to eat at, make sure your credit card is linked, and then eat.

3. See if they participate in e-rewards. E-rewards is a horrible way to earn points, as you take long surveys for little return, but if signing up and taking a few surveys means you get to keep your points, it might be worth it to you.

4. Rent a car and make sure you get the needed airline or hotel points as credit for it. In some cities on certain days, car rental can be downright cheap. If you don’t rent from an airport location, prices fall even more.

5. Open up their branded credit card. Many programs will make sure your points don’t expire as long as you have their credit card. Not the best strategy for why to open a card, but one to investigate or if you already have a card with them, investigate if it comes with that benefit.

6. Book a flight or hotel stay. Not what you were looking for but maybe this is the way the universe is telling you that you need a vacation. Just make sure to fly or stay before the date your miles are set to expire.

7. If all else fails, call, tweet, or send a Facebook message and ask really nicely. Explain your situation: You just had a kid and have had a pause in traveling, hard times financially, whatever it is, and those miles mean a lot to you and you don’t want to lose them AND (this is important) you REALLY REALLY want to keep the incentive to continue your business when you resume with “insert name of whatever company you’re talking to”. I’ve found that on social media, especially if you seem even remotely influential, companies try much harder to provide quality customer service than the old fashioned 1-800 numbers. And the flip side of things is this, if they hook you up, send some love back: A simple tweet saying you had a positive experience with the company means a lot, and keeps them incentivized to provide quality service to future customers and who knows, maybe even you 24 months down the road when you find yourself in this situation again! =)

Those are our tips and tricks to keep miles from expiring. Now if you want to keep track of miles so expiration doesn’t sneak up on you, I can’t say enough good things about AwardWallet which for $5 every 6 months, keeps track of all your mileage and point activity. Give it a try for free! Long story short, keep airline miles from expiring! You never want to willfully give your miles away because it prevents you from being able to cash those miles and points in for experiences that you probably otherwise couldn’t afford, like this:

Flying business class from Johannesburg in December.

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