For many of us, earning enough airline miles for that free trip can take a while. Sometimes using a co-branded airline credit card can help speed things up. But while we’re waiting to collect enough, we might risk losing what we’ve already earned. While each frequent flyer program has its own set of rules, most will erase your miles if you don’t use them or earn new miles for a period of 12–24 months.
Check your airline’s loyalty program to see how long you have before your miles disappear. And if your expiration date is looming, consider one of these strategies.
Join an airline dining program
Since you can “reset the clock” on your frequent flyer miles with even a small purchase, airline dining programs offer an easy way keep your miles alive. While each airline’s program includes different restaurants, and the number of miles you’ll earn will vary, they all work similarly: You sign up for the program, dine at a qualifying restaurant, then earn bonus miles for each dollar you spend. (See related: Best Credit Cards for Dining Out)
Shop through an airline shopping portal
If you don’t want to deal with a complicated dining program or dine at specific restaurants, using a rewards shopping portal is another easy way to save your miles. Nearly all major airlines offer an online mall or portal that lets you earn extra bonus miles for each dollar you spend with e-tailers you access through the site. You simply go to the portal, search for the store you want to shop with, and then “click through” the airline portal to the retailer’s site to make your purchase. And remember, any purchase will reset the clock on your airline account. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars. A simple $5 online purchase (or less!) will do the trick.
Cash in miles for a gift card
While earning more miles can keep your stash of airline currency alive, so can redeeming miles. If you don’t have any travel planned or are saving up for a big trip, consider cashing in a small number of airline miles for a gift card. Only certain programs offer this option, and you may also need the program’s co-branded credit card to be eligible.
While you usually won’t get as much bang for your miles by buying a gift card as you would redeeming them for flights, this can still be an effective strategy for keeping your account active.
Donate miles to charity
Various programs let you donate miles to causes you believe in. Check with your frequent flyer program to see if donating your points is an option and which charities are available. If you aren’t going to be able to use your miles, anyway, this is a good way to use them rather than letting them expire.
If none of the other options seem appealing for your situation, there’s a final solution to consider: buying miles. By buying miles, you can keep your current stash of airline miles alive.
Unfortunately, it is seldom cost efficient to fork over real cash for airline miles. Then again, it could be well worth spending a small amount to keep a large stash of miles alive if you have no other option.