When Expiration Dates Do Not Make Sense — and Why
It is ludicrous for frequent travel loyalty program miles and points to expire, in my opinion — and vouchers should not expire either.
When Expiration Dates Do Not Make Sense — and Why
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.
Promotions are designed to increase business for a limited period of time. We see plenty of promotions in the travel industry. 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.
It is bad enough for companies who continuously run promotions, as they become expected by their customers. After all, why pay full price for something you can either get at a discount or earn a bonus?
However, when a company repeatedly runs the same promotion over and over again — such as is typically the case with Choice Hotels or the bonus of 100 percent when you purchase US Airways Dividend Miles, which seems to occur more often than not — customers can tend to get bored to the point 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.
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.
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 and airport parking companies. 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.
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.
Life happens. I have 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 now I can use them for an upcoming trip next month 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.
A glance at this sampling of lengthy discussions posted on FlyerTalk illustrate the angst that FlyerTalk members can endure concerning expiring frequent travel loyalty program miles and points:
- Consolidated “How to Keep/Refresh Expiring Miles” Thread [Merged]
- How To Keep Hilton HHonors Points From Expiring: The Definitive Thread
- How prevent miles / AAdvantage account from expiring / expiration (consolidated)
- US Airways miles expiring, how/when keep/reinstate them (merged)
- eVouchers expiring => rescue plan
Delta Air Lines set an example for frequent flier loyalty programs when it was announced 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.
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.
Miles in the United Airlines MileagePlus and American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty programs still expire after a period of inactivity — typically 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.
By the way, this is not a “knock” against National Car Rental. 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 — end of story.
Please tell me where I am wrong here. Do you believe that frequent travel loyalty program miles and points — as well as vouchers — should be allowed to expire; or should they simply have no expiration date? I look forward to reading your comments. Thank you in advance.
Graphic illustration ©2012 Brian Cohen.