Required Reading for Frequent Flyers
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Taking Back Your Miles
[Feb 2009 Issue]
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Should you buy back your miles if they expire? We weigh the options and give advice on whether you should take advantage of buy-back policies.


Poof, your miles are gone! There's nothing more unsettling than finding out your miles have expired, especially if you have, or should we say, "had" a lot of miles. Despite several online account management/reminder services out there, like MileageManager.com, mileage expiration still seems to creep up on even the most aware frequent flyers. We did research on the expiration policies of 10 domestic airline programs and the chart below shows what we found.

But is it worth buying back your miles?

Once you get over the shock of finding your miles have flown their coop, it's time to sit quietly and look at your options. Some programs make it easy for you--as in--you're out of luck. You can't get them back. Begging "might" work--along with reservations to show that you are definitley going to be flying them again. But there are no guarantees with this approach.

Other programs allow you to buy back your expired miles--but the big question here is whether it's really worth buying back your miles. Should you spend your hard earned cash to get them back? Only you know what the answer is for your situation, but here are some guidelines:
AirTran: Not worth extending more than four credits since the replacement cost is more expensive than the cost of actually paying to fly.
Alaska: We'd pay the $75 to restore any more than 2,500 miles. Less than that, forget it and fly on.
American: We're over the pain of you losing your miles, we really are, but in all cases with American would recommend restoring anything more than 5,000 miles.
Frontier: We always try and answer with advice on whether we'd pay the money, even though it's really your money we'd be using. For this airline, sure, the awards are still a good value (used to be a great value) and look at it this way, 20,000 miles is a free ticket and if you have 19,999 miles expired, then isn't it worth $100?
Southwest: Let's see, free ticket for a $50 fee! Best buy in the free world, and we highly recommend you always buy back an expired award.
United: Highway robbery, 25 percent more expensive than rival American's plan to restore miles, but as much as it pains us this time, we do think it is a worthy investment and just consider this as an expensive lesson for you. Why, you ask? Simple, even the best mileage run we've ever seen doesn't put 5,000 miles in your account for $87.50.
US Airways: Cheaper than partner United. It's fair, we'd pay it and as with the other advice -- please consider this a necessary and expensive lesson, we don't want to see you back here next year.

The best option, naturally, is to not let them expire

Let this serve as a warning to every frequent flyer reading this article--it's a lot easier to keep your miles active than to get them back once they are gone. The airlines do not make you jump through hoops to keep the miles--they simply ask that you have some kind of account activity, either earning or spending miles.

Expiration Buy-Back Policies
Program Expiration Policy Buy-Back Policy
AirTran A= RewardsEach point has a one-year lifespanMembers can buy back credits for $29 /credit within one year after expiration
Alaska Mileage PlanAll miles expire after two years of account inactivity.Members have one year to reinstate account after expiration for a $75 fee
American AAdvantageAll miles expire after 18 months of account inactivityMembers can buy back miles at a rate of $50/5,000 miles plus a $30 transaction fee at any time
Continental OnePassMiles do not expire
Delta SkyMilesAll miles expire after two years of account inactivityOut of luck
JetBlue TrueBlueEach point has a one-year lifespanOut of luck
Northwest WorldPerksAll miles expire after three years of account inactivityOut of luck
Southwest Rapid RewardsEach credit has a two-year lifespanMembers can only by back award tickets (16 Credits) for $50 each within one year after expiration Individual Credits cannot be bought back
United Mileage PlusAll miles expire after 18 months of account inactivityMembers can buy back miles at a rate of $.0125/mile plus a $25 fee within one year after expiration
US Airways Dividend MilesAll miles expire after 18 months of account inactivityMembers can buy back miles within 18 months after expiration at the following rates: 1-4,999 miles for $50, 5,000-19,999 miles for $100, 20,000-49,999 miles for $200, 50,000-99,999 miles for $300 and 100,000 or more miles for $400



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