MileagePlus Miles No Longer Expire Effective Immediately

Effective immediately, MileagePlus miles no longer expire, according to this official announcement which was released from United Airlines earlier today, Wednesday, August 28, 2019 — meaning that members of the MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program will purportedly never need to worry about their miles expiring for any reason.

MileagePlus Miles No Longer Expire Effective Immediately

“We want to demonstrate to our members that we are committing to them for the long-haul and giving customers a lifetime to use miles is an exceptionally meaningful benefit,” said Luc Bondar, who is the vice president of loyalty and president of MileagePlus at United Airlines. “Our MileagePlus program provides customers more ways to earn and use miles than any other U.S. airline. More customers used miles to book award trips in 2018 than in any year before, and we expect with today’s announcement that even more will use miles to travel the world in the years to come.”

Delta Air Lines led the way for frequent flier loyalty programs with this initiative when an official announcement was released back in February of 2011 that SkyMiles no longer expire regardless of activity. While that does not particularly affect frequent fliers — whose constant activity usually keeps the frequent flier loyalty program miles from expiring, typically within 18 months — it is nice to know that there is one less thing about which to be concerned if something happens and frequent fliers temporarily need to stop traveling for a significant period of time.

That policy is still in effect to this day.

Do Expiration Dates on Miles and Points Make Sense?

“Is it good business to lose the occasional customer simply because of an expiration policy?” is what I asked in this article pertaining to whether expiration dates on miles and points make sense on Thursday, August 20, 2015. Back then, I noted that the trend was that more frequent travel loyalty programs were either initiating or strengthening their policies pertaining to the expiration of miles and points. As two examples, consider that effective as of Monday, February 1, 2016, members of the Marriott Rewards frequent guest loyalty program who do not have qualifying activity in the prior 24 months will forfeit all accumulated Marriott Rewards points; and effective as of May of 2016, members of the IHG Rewards Club frequent guest loyalty program who do not have qualifying activity in the prior 12 months will forfeit all accumulated IHG Rewards Club points

…and it is not just about redeemable miles and points. How would you like to find out one day that your lifetime miles have vanished, which is reportedly what happened to FlyerTalk member oenophilist in 2015?

I just tried to combine my US Airways Dividend Miles and AAdvantage accounts, as I did a ton of travel on US Airways in the past. The person said that because I hadn’t used US Airways in awhile, that my account was “dormant” and that I have lost all of my lifetime miles. This is ALOT of miles that I flew between 1993 and 2005. They said there is nothing they can do, yet I just checked my account merely 6 months ago and it wasn’t “dormant”. What is going on? Have I now lost all my mileage history from U.S. Airways? No one notified me that this would happen, and the AA Rep blamed US Airways.

Although they may not be as enticing as in the past, we see plenty of promotions in the travel industry, which are designed to increase business for a limited period of time. The companies within the travel industry change the promotions — typically on a quarterly basis throughout the year — in order to keep interest by their customers piqued.

In the case of promotions, expiration dates are necessary to increase business for a limited period of time without devaluing the product or service being sold — especially when that product or service reverts back to full price. It causes customers to take advantage of opportunities to save money or receive bonuses which they may or may not ever see again — as well as use a “short cut” of sorts to earn something which would normally require more time, effort and money.

Companies which continuously run promotions instead of offering them occasionally eventually condition their customers into eventually expecting promotions, rather than treating them as special offers. After all, why pay full price for something you typically can either get at a discount or earn a bonus?

However, when a company repeatedly runs the same promotion over and over again, customers can tend to get bored where those consistently unchanged continuous promotions can potentially backfire — to the point of devaluing the product or service being offered, as the promotion becomes the norm instead of the exception. This has typically been the case with Choice Hotels as an example which seems to occur more often than not.

Frequent travel loyalty program miles and points — as well as cash vouchers which usually represent a form of compensation or the residual value of an original purchase — only become artificially perishable at the behest of airlines, lodging companies, rental car companies, airport parking companies and Internet travel agencies. Unlike promotions or truly perishable products, you have earned those frequent travel loyalty program miles and points. They should be yours to do as you will, when you want. You earned them.

There are items which are expected to expire: when you go shopping at a grocery store, you expect to purchase food products that are as fresh as possible. Purchasing a container of milk which has become a sort of ersatz cheese usually does not lead to the most palatable gastronomic experience — unless, of course, you enjoy sour lumpy milk. The expiration date printed on the container is absolutely necessary because it is supposed to protect you and I from purchasing old milk and other perishable products by informing us as to when they are expected to expire.

I get the argument that frequent travel loyalty program miles and points — as well as cash vouchers — can be considered liabilities on the “books” of companies which operate frequent travel loyalty programs; and that they can appear more profitable by initiating methods to purge them. I also understand that expiration policies are part of the contract to which you agreed when you signed up for the frequent travel loyalty program. That still does not render the fact that you earned those frequent travel loyalty program miles and points any less important, in my opinion.

There are people who argue that if you do not travel frequently enough — if you cannot participate in a simple activity to keep your miles or points “alive” — then you should not complain if you lose those miles or points. Yes, there are services which are designed to remind you of pending deadlines in your account — or perhaps a simple entry in your digital calendar with an alarm could be all you need to keep your miles and points from expiring…

…but the argument that it is called a “frequent flier” loyalty program went out the window with the apparent perception that partnerships with affiliated credit cards seem to be more valued than earning those miles or points with — as is often said by frequent fliers — your “butt in the seat” and physically flying as a passenger or sleeping in a hotel room.

Besides, life happens. At one point, I had been unable to use a certain amount of points I have in my frequent airport parking loyalty program account due to a major issue which has occurred in my personal life, for example — and those points expired as a result. A quick e-mail message to the proprietor thankfully restored those points and I was able to use them for an upcoming trip when I park my car at the airport — but should those points have expired in the first place? I earned them by parking at that airport parking lot and paying for parking there. Why should they expire?

Battling with a company to restore what you already earned but lost can leave the customer with a negative perception of that company when they are unwilling to resolve the issue in your favor. This is why companies will usually honor the requests of customers who ask to have their expired frequent travel loyalty programs restored — usually, but by no means always.

Some companies use the expiration of miles and points as a profit center of sorts instead of offering a goodwill gesture of restoring the miles or points free of charge — without even considering offering that goodwill gesture only once in a lifetime. Consider American Airlines, whose reactivation rates for expired AAdvantage miles are as follows:

  • $40.00 for 1 – 5,000 expired AAdvantage miles
  • $250.00 for 25,001-35,000 expired AAdvantage miles
  • $500.00 for 50,001-75,000 expired AAdvantage miles
  • $2,000.00 for 250,001-500,000 expired AAdvantage miles

Although the value of each mile restored could be as little as 0.4 cents per mile, that only depends on how many miles were in your account at the time they expired. Paying to reactivate them may not be worth the money, as you may as well wait for a sale to purchase them if you really want to replenish your account. Do not look for any leniency unless you have earned elite level status; and even then, you might be granted the possibility of having those miles or points restored at a discount or at no charge at all.

At least the expiration dates become extended with activity — unlike years ago when they expired no matter what you did. I was thankful for the opportunity to convert 30,000 of my United Airlines Mileage Plus — in the days when Mileage and Plus were separated by a space in the official name — frequent flier loyalty program miles into 120,000 Hilton HHonors frequent guest loyalty program points just before they were about to expire forever. In those days, frequent flier loyalty program miles basically expired three years after you earned them — and there was virtually no way to save them from expiring, so you were forced to use them.

Summary

Frequent travel loyalty program miles and points should not have expire — and vouchers should not expire either, in my opinion.

Although greater than eight years have elapsed since Delta Air Lines announced that SkyMiles never expire, United Airlines finally followed the lead of Delta Air Lines. Whether or not American Airlines or other airlines based in the United States will implement a similar policy remains to be seen, as miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program still expire after 18 months unless there is activity.

National Car Rental Emerald Club frequent car rental loyalty program points expire; and they must be used before the expiration date. I lost enough credits worth a total of four free days of renting a car even though I earned those credits. After an exchange of e-mail messages, National Car Rental had promised to restore them in my account — but they never did do so; and I had not been able to continue the exchange to fight for them for a variety of reasons.

By the way, this is not a “knock” against National Car Rental — even though I now rarely rent vehicles from that company. As a member of the Emerald Club frequent car rental loyalty program for years, I would personally recommend National Car Rental over its competition, as they have been good to me in the past; and I am reasonably certain that if I asked — which I eventually plan to do — they would possibly restore those credits…

…but should we have to go through the time and effort to restore what we have legitimately earned? I do not believe so. We all have better things to do with our time. Expiration dates belong on perishable products and limited-time promotions. Anything earned by you and I should not expire, in my opinion — end of story.

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

One thought on “MileagePlus Miles No Longer Expire Effective Immediately”

  1. Barry Graham says:

    I actually noticed the change before it was announced. Last night I was looking at my account and I saw that it said “Miles never expire”. I googled “United miles expire” and even United’s web site said they expired after 18 months still. So I knew this announcement was on its way (I actually posted a comment about it on TPG). Looks like United rolled it out before they told anyone.

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