Airline blackout dates survey survey: few blackout dates, but restrictions still apply

Finding out that you've earned enough points from your credit card reward program to jet down to Mexico for free can be gratifying. But if you are trying to figure out which travel reward card you should apply for, it can be a tricky process full of ambiguous language and unforgiving fine print. To assist with your effort, we have dug through the nitty gritty on all of the major reward programs and found where each stands on blackout dates, caps on points earned and expiration dates.

Here are the highlights:

  • In a comparison of 16 reward programs among the top 10 credit card issuers, only six had blackout dates. The Bank of America WorldPoints Platinum Points Visa is one of them, but it gives customers the option of using their airline partners to fly on those blacked out dates instead.
  • Seven credit cards with reward programs that we researched have a cap on rewards. Wachovia's reward program is one, but with a cap of 1 million points, only one who travels as many miles as Santa Claus will reach the limit.
  • Six of the reward cards' points do not expire. Eight do have an expiration date, though most don't expire for five years.

The details of each card is below. For the full story, see "Despite 'no-blackout' promises, frequent fliers' freebies limited."

Issuer Card Blackouts? Cap on points? Points expire?
American Express Blue Sky No blackout dates for travel or seat restrictions Yes No
American Express DELTA SKYMILES No blackout dates or restrictions for travel and no minimum fare restrictions Miles do not have an expiration date if travel is made through Delta Airlines at least once every three years. No
Bank of America Rewards American Express Card Fly free on major U.S. airlines anywhere in the continental U.S. with no blackout dates No Points valid for 5 years
Issuer Card Blackouts? Cap on points? Points expire?
Bank of America WorldPoints Platinum Points Visa Earn round-trip airline ticket within the 48 continental U.S. states. Fly with U.S. Air partner airlines on blackout dates. No
Points valid for 5 years
Bank of America US Airways Visa Signature Yes Preferred cardholders are not eligible for double mile earnings and are subject to a limitation of accruing 50,000 dividend miles per calendar year. There is no limit to the number of dividend miles which may be earned using the Visa Signature or Platinum Plus credit card. Never expire as long as account stays active
Issuer Card Blackouts? Cap on points? Points expire?
Capital One No Hassle Miles Rewards Cardholders earn "no hassle" rewards miles while shopping and without fear of limited airline usage, blackout dates, or seating restrictions. No No
Chase Continental Airlines MasterCard Yes, blackout dates No cap No expiration
Chase British Airways Visa Signature Yes, blackout dates No limit on points you can earn If a member has not earned or redeemed mileage for 36 consecutive months, all mileage that has accrued to that date will expire.
Issuer Card Blackouts? Cap on points? Points expire?
Citibank All Online travel booking tool is powered by Expedia and allows you to travel when you want, how you want and on an airline you want. There are no limits on seat availability, advance purchase rules, limited airline choices, blackout dates or minimum point requirements. Some Sponsors may set limits on the amount of points you can earn through their Sponsor Account. Limits are specific to the individual sponsor. However, there is no limit to the number of points you can earn for qualifying purchases on Expedia, on your Smith Barney FMA Card linked to a personal financial management account or for shopping with participating network retailers. Yes
Issuer Card Blackouts? Cap on points? Points expire?
Discover Miles No blackout dates No Miles earned do not expire unless the account is closed or remains inactive for a 36 month period.
US Bank Corp WorldPerks Visa No blackout dates on award travel, no cap on miles earned. (PerkSaver award travel is subject to seat availability. Increased availability is offered through PerkPass pricing option.) No cap on miles, but cap on tickets Do not expire
Issuer Card Blackouts? Cap on points? Points expire?
US Bank Corp SKYPASS Visa (Korean Air) Korean Air may, among other things: (i) withdraw, limit, modify, or cancel any award; (ii) change program mileage levels, conditions of participation, rules for earning, redeeming, retaining or forfeiting mileage credit, or rules for the use of travel awards; (iii) add an unlimited number of blackout dates; or (iv) limit the number of seats available for award travel (including, but not limited to, allocating no seats on certain flights) or otherwise restrict the continued availability of travel awards or special offers. No No
U.S. Bank Corp U.S. Bank Travel Rewards Visa Platinum No blackout dates Yes Reward points expire 5 years from the date earned.
Issuer Card Blackouts? Cap on points? Points expire?
Wachovia Possibilities Rewards Program Award is limited to major carriers at the discretion of the travel consultant. A 21-day advance purchase and Saturday night stay are required. All flights must return to the original destination city. Open jaw, circle trips and one way flights are not allowed. Offer subject to availability, other restrictions may apply. Yes, 1 million Your unused points expire at the end of the 60th month from the month in which they are posted to your Wachovia Possibilities Rewards account.
Washington Mutual None N/A    
Issuer Card Blackouts? Cap on points? Points expire?
Wells Fargo Optional Enhanced Rewards Program Fly within the continental U.S. on any major U.S.-based airline with NO blackout dates for just 25,000 points. Air travel good for coach class seating only and requires 21 day advance purchase, Saturday night stay, and only on an ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation) approved airline. Yes The December billing statement five years from the end of the year they were earned.

Related story: "Despite 'no-blackout' promises, frequent fliers' freebies limited."

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Updated: 03-24-2019