Should I Pay to Reclaim Expired Frequent Flyer Miles?
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TPG reader Ginger sent a message on Facebook to ask about reclaiming expired miles:
“I accidentally let about 24,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles expire. Customer service said I would need to purchase those miles back at a rate of $75 per 2,000 miles, but they then reduced it to $30 per 1,000 miles since I’m a long-time customer. I don’t fly Hawaiian often, but I hate to lose the miles. Do you think that price is reasonable?”
Most loyalty programs have some sort of expiration policy that wipes away your points or miles after a period of inactivitity. Some are kinder than others: British Airways gives you three whole years to keep your points active, while Frontier Airlines gives you only six months. Meanwhile, rewards in some programs (like Delta SkyMiles and JetBlue TrueBlue points) don’t expire. Knowing the expiration policies of major rewards programs can help save you from the kind of headache Ginger is experiencing.
Hawaiian Airlines is asking for a pretty astronomical rate of 3 cents per mile, and that’s after coming down from the original rate of 3.75 cents per mile. That’s actually more expensive than buying miles outright, as Hawaiian sells blocks of 500 miles for $14.78 (about 2.96 cents per mile), so this is truly a terrible deal. To put things in perspective, it would cost $720 to reinstate the full 24,000 miles, which is only enough for a one-way flight between Hawaii and the US mainland. While it hurts to lose those miles, you’re not going to get enough value out of them for the reinstatement to make sense.
Letting miles expire is one of the most costly award travel mistakes, precisely because of the high reinstatement fees. Not all airlines punish you so hard – for example, Alaska Airlines charges a relatively benign $75 fee to reactivate miles within one year of expiration. That could be worth paying depending how many miles you have, and certainly if you have enough for a round-trip domestic flight. If you find yourself in Ginger’s situation, you can use my monthly valuations to help you decide whether the cost of reinstating miles is worthwhile.
Of course, the best plan is to simply avoid letting miles expire in the first place. Any activity in your account (even redemptions) will restart the clock. Some easy strategies include making purchases with a co-branded credit card, using an online shopping portal, transferring points or miles in from a partner program or buying something small like a magazine subscription. Even if your balance is small and you don’t have an immediate plan for those rewards, it’s worth keeping them active because they may come in handy down the road.