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Tricks and tips to keep frequent flier miles from expiring

Buying a song or eating out can be enough to renew miles

By Randy Petersen

Cashing In
Cashing In, Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen is editor and publisher of Inside Flyer, which is considered the leading publication in the world about frequent traveler programs. At CreditCards.com, he writes Cashing In, a weekly feature in which he answers readers' questions about credit cards rewards programs.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Cashing In,
I belong to the American Airlines Advantages Miles program and currently have 23,880 miles accumulated. I haven't had any activity on the account in 18 months and the miles are about to expire. Do I have to buy a ticket by the expiration date or is there anything else I can do to keep the miles active, like buying an extra 1,000 miles or something?
-- Julia

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Julia,
This is always a good question because the answer can help many people in your situation -- no matter which frequent flier program they belong to. Over the past 18 months, several frequent flier programs have made adjustments to the mileage expiration policies. Granted, these changes have relatively little -- if any -- impact upon the road warriors who belong to these programs, but there are a substantial number of members who do have miles that they have saved from prior travel and need some advice on just how to extend the life of their miles.

First, here are a few things you need to know: 1) It is not necessary that you fly in order to keep your miles active, despite the fact that there is this misconception that you do, and 2) It is not necessary that you use your miles before they expire. This is not a case of "use 'em or lose 'em."

With that out of the way, let's look at your options. I never suggest to any member of any program to fly or travel to keep miles active. It is the policy of the American Airlines AAdvantage program that as long as you have some activity in your account over an 18-month period, your miles will not expire. 

Here's one of the easiest and least expensive ways for you to keep your miles from expiring: Listen to music. AAdvantage has a program called AAdvantage eShopping.

This program features a regular online shopping mall where you can earn AAdvantage miles for each purchase. These purchases count toward activity in your AAdvantage program, and each purchase will extend the life of your miles. There is, however, a small caveat that you want to consider. It can take up to eight weeks for these miles to post to your account, so you want to make sure you plan ahead a little.

My all-time favorite merchant from this program is the iTunes program from Apple. Yes, by just spending 99 cents with iTunes to purchase a song, my miles will never expire. It's easy -- most people have some sort of music device to which adding a song would be welcome, if not for you, then surely as a gift for someone. There are hundreds of other merchants, so if you have ever bought something online, the odds are that one of the common merchants you shop with will likely be a part of this shopping network. But I still like the idea that for as little as 99 cents, you can keep your miles from expiring. Frankly, it doesn't even need to be a song you like, an artist you have ever heard of; we're buying peace of mind here!

There's another program with American AAdvantage that I like just as much. Called AAdvantage Dining, it offers you the possibility to earn miles when dining at any of more than 10,000 restaurants here in the United States. Like most people, I dine out at least once a month, and have found that the listing of restaurants contains at least five restaurants that I typically have dined with in the past. There's no pain, I just register all my credit cards in the program, and it automatically keeps track of when I've eaten there and used one of the registered credit cards to pay my bill. I can tell you -- without a doubt -- that many times in the past year I earned miles from this program ... without even remembering I was earning the miles. Remember, in my case there were at least five restaurants in the program that I normally frequent. Plus, you aren't paying anything additional, and actually are using your normal activities such as dining out to both earn additional frequent flier miles (we really do need to get you an additional 1,120 miles so you turn a worry about expiring miles into a positive of having enough miles to actually use for award redemption) and to extend the life of your miles.

So I hope two things were accomplished in my answer to your question: 1) You learned that you do not need to fly or travel to prevent your miles from expiring, and 2) There are some very inexpensive and simple things you can do to extend the life of your miles.

Thanks for the question. Now, what kind of music are we going to get with that iTunes purchase?

See related: How to find the best airline rewards bonus miles deal, Debunking myths about frequent flier programs, How the IRS treats frequent flier credit card rewards, Track reward program changes before they happen

The Wall Street Journal refers to Randy as "... the most influential frequent flyer in America," while The New York Times tagged him "the world's leading expert on airline frequent flier programs." Randy is editor and publisher of Inside Flyer magazine -- considered the leading publication in the world about frequent traveler programs. He is a regular speaker at business travel seminars and conferences around the world; and is often called upon by the industry itself for his comments and suggestions about the future of frequent traveler programs.

Send your question to Randy.

Published: March 19, 2009


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