Airline miles that no longer expire the new card perk?

More airlines are making the shift to programs with long-lasting miles – and thus attracting new customers


With United joining Delta in never letting their miles expire, not-so-frequent flyers can now apply to major airline cards without worrying about keeping their account active.

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Dear Cashing In,

I heard that some airlines are changing the way their frequent flyer programs work. Does that mean I should get an airline card? – Bryan

Dear Bryan,

United Airlines announced last month that its frequent flyer miles will no longer expire – which could represent a big shift in how airlines treat one of the perks that rewards card holders prize the most.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

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See related: Are in-flight airline credit card sign-up offers worth it?

Who does the change affect?

United joins Delta Air Lines in offering miles that don’t expire – leaving American Airlines as the only carrier in the top three whose miles are still subject to disappearing. American miles are forfeited if the customer has no account activity in an 18-month period. Southwest miles also dissolve after 24 months of inactivity.

Since United and Delta miles don’t expire anymore, cardholders no longer need to rush to spend those miles or devise ways to keep their accounts active.

Some of the more popular ways to log account activity without flying include using airlines’ shopping portals or donating a small number of miles to charity. Those workarounds are now becoming obsolete.

For people who fly regularly or who have airline cards and use them, the shift is also unlikely to make any difference, because flying and charging on cards counts as account activity.

But the move toward never-expiring miles could make a difference to another group of consumers: Those who seldom fly but sign up for cards just for the miles.

Sign-up bonuses on airline cards can be big – up to 60,000 miles – and that helps lure in all kinds of people to sign up for the cards, even those who don’t fly often.

Top airlines and their card offers

The major airline cards with introductory bonuses are:

Chase United Explorer Card

  • Airline: United.
  • Sign-up bonus: 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in first three months.
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • Airline: American.
  • Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in first three months.
  • Annual fee: $99, waived the first year.

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

  • Airline: American.
  • Sign-up bonus: 50,000 miles and a companion certificate if you make a purchase within the first 90 days and pay the annual fee.
  • Annual fee: $99.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

  • Airline: Delta.
  • Introductory bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
  • Annual fee: $99, waived the first year.

You can see the number of frequent flyer miles given as sign-up bonuses varies significantly among the cards. Each airline also has different versions of the cards.

Some are bare-bones, with fewer miles and lower annual fees. Others are more high-end, with club access and higher annual fees.

But these are the bread-and-butter cards you might consider if traveling is an important reward for you. Beware, of course, that the American miles still expire after 18 months.

This change could provide peace of mind to those interested in applying for an airline card but aren’t necessarily a frequent flyer. If you’re interested in applying, keep in mind what kind of flyer you are and which card would benefit you.

The information about the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by The card issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy. 

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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