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6 Ways to Spend Your Expiring Airline Travel Rewards Miles

By Jacqueline Curtis

redeeming rewardsThanks to websites that scour the Internet for the best deals, many people simply select the cheapest flight available that fits their needs. While you can definitely find some amazing deals this way, it also means you’re likely to rack up airline reward miles with several different carriers – with no way to consolidate them for a free flight. Fortunately, this dilemma is not without solution. Even if you can’t get a free flight, there are several ways to spend your rewards points before they expire.

I myself have had miles expire, simply because I had no idea which miles were set to expire in which accounts. This is where airline miles organizers come in handy. Websites such as UsingMiles.com and AwardWallet.com allow you to put all of your miles in one place. Sure, you’ll have to spend some time figuring out your various account numbers, but after that you can log into one service and find any balance and its corresponding expiration date. As an added bonus, the services work with almost any loyalty program, so you can also track hotel points.

How to Spend Expiring Airline Miles

Most airline miles expire after three years of inactivity, but your airline policies may differ – always check first. Luckily, the systems are set so that any activity with your miles – whether it’s gaining new ones or spending them – generally resets the expiration date.

If a customer service agent encourages you to sign up for a credit card as a way to score more miles and reset your balance, be aware that airline credit cards usually have yearly fees and are unnecessary if you’re not a frequent flyer. Instead, put your airline miles to use with the following ideas:

1. Buy a Magazine Subscription
I’ve definitely used this tip a time or two. Some websites such as MagsForMiles.com allow you to exchange your miles for a one- or two-year subscription to a favorite magazine. Simply choose your airline and plug in your account number to instantly see what’s available based on your mileage balance. While your actual results may vary, a subscription to a national magazine usually runs about 400 to 500 miles. It’s a good option if you have a low mileage balance and don’t plan to rack up more miles with that specific airline in the future.

2. Trade Miles for Hotel Points
If hotel stays are more important to you than free flights, some hotel loyalty programs let you swap airline miles for hotel points instead. Take the Hilton Honors (HH) program. You can trade 5,000 American Airlines points for 10,000 HH rewards points. And since a stay in a mid-priced Hilton hotel is about 30,000 points, it might make more sense for you to take the hotel points, especially if you’re not going to fly anytime soon. If you’re not sure which hotel loyalty programs trade points for miles, check the details of your loyalty account or contact customer service for details.

3. Donate Miles
If you’re really not going to use your airline miles and they’re about to expire, why not donate them? Charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation gladly accept airline miles as donations, and instead of allowing your miles to expire, you can do something constructive. To see which charities your airline lets you donate miles to, check under the airline miles information in your online account – there’s usually a menu for donations.

spending airline miles

4. Transfer Miles to Others
Even though there are websites dedicated to the practice, most airlines don’t allow you to “sell” your miles. That said, some airlines allow you to transfer your miles to another traveler. If a family member or friend could benefit from extra miles sitting dormant in your account, call the airline’s customer service to ask about their transfer policy. In most cases, you simply need the other person’s account number to make the transfer. Just keep in mind that there is usually a fee associated with this transaction. Fees can be as low as $30, but could be as high as $60 or $70, depending on how many miles you want to transfer.

5. Upgrade Yourself
Even though you don’t have enough miles to actually buy a flight, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. Check to see how many miles you need to take advantage of a flight upgrade. You might be able to get an upgrade into first class for one (or all) of the legs of your flight, or even gain access into the airline’s lounge before your flight. American Airlines, United Airlines, and Alaska Air allow you to upgrade your ticket using airline miles, but you have to purchase the ticket first. Call customer service with your confirmation number and let them know you’d like to upgrade using miles. Of course, this service often comes with an airline fee, so be aware that you might have to pay a little extra.

6. Head to the Airline Mall
Most major airlines offer airline malls – online stores that allow you to purchase goods and gift cards using your account number along with your credit card. In many cases, you can even earn additional points as you shop. Not only does this give you points for the stuff you’d buy anyway, but it resets the expiration date on your points if your miles program has one.

You just have to decide which airline account to funnel the bonus points to – choose either the one with the highest miles balance or the one you’re most likely to fly with again. Check out this list of airline malls to help you rack up even more points and extend your expiration dates. Just keep in mind that both Delta and JetBlue miles don’t expire.

Final Word

Unless you’re a heavy business traveler, there’s a good chance you’re like me – opting for the cheapest fare and the best flight itinerary, rather than consistently flying with a single airline. If that means you’ve got points with various airlines or travel rewards credit cards, it also means you’re probably just letting them go to waste. Explore your options and save on the things you want by simply using those miles. They’re your miles, so spend them how you want.

Do you have a bunch of airline miles? What’s your favorite way to use them?

Jacqueline Curtis
Jacqueline Curtis is an experienced style expert, and she focuses on getting high fashion on a tight budget. She writes for several online publications, including her own fashion blog, How Not to Dress Like a Mom, and specializes in fashion, finance, health and fitness, and parenting. Jae grew up in Toronto, Canada, but now resides in Utah with her husband, two kids, and prized shoe collection.

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