Frequent Flier Miles About to Crash? You Might be Able to Save Them

Who ever thought that over the decades frequent flier programs would become so expansive and complicated? And with time limits on accounts becoming so common, many airlines are adopting use-it-or-lose-it policies.

If you are concerned about your hard-earned (read: “paid for”) miles flying away, here are some tips for clipping their wings.

Be sure that each frequent flier program to which you belong has your up-to-date email address. If the programs are unable to notify you of expiring miles, you may forget about those miles before they leave the nest.

My Delta Airlines SkyMiles program has a list of the two credit cards (debit cards work as well) I commonly use. If I charge a purchase at an eatery affiliated with SkyMiles, the program is notified by the credit card company and the miles accrue to my account. By having semi-regular activity in that account all my miles stay active.

As Tim Winship of advises, if you use multiple accounts – including ones in various family members’ names – consider assigning each of your cards to a different dining program. Then you can pay with various cards in order to extend expiration dates as needed.

Some programs also include chain retailers in their programs, making it easy to add to – and update – accrued miles.

Airlines also partner with banks to offer credit card programs with the airlines’ name and affiliation, but operated by the banks. But unless you spend more time in the air than an albatross, their annual fees could be prohibitive. If you are not that frequent a frequent flier, you might want to take the airline up on a first-year-free offer and then dump the card by your first anniversary. You’ll get the promotional miles, which will extend the expiration date in your account.

Market research companies are another way to earn miles or, better yet, revive about-to-expire miles. The reason I say “better yet” is because these sites require you to take marketing surveys that can be time consuming because you have to take a lot of surveys in order to reach a certain threshold before they will credit your mileage account., for example, is affiliated with a whole bunch of airline programs. A five-minute survey might earn you 15 points or miles. You’d have to take about 33 such surveys in order to hit their 500-point threshold. It’s a time-consuming way to earn about five bucks worth of points. But if it will save you thousands of already-accrued miles, that’s a plane of a different feather.

Another way to keep your mileage boat afloat (or is it a-wing?) is by taking up the airlines on reducing your miles by using them to purchase something from their “store.” I have done that by buying a one-year subscription to Conde Nast Traveler. It cost me very few miles. I thereby preserved the rest of the miles in that account until the next deadline. Some airlines will allow you to make minimal donations to charities as well.

For lots of tips on frequent flier programs, check out that site.