Editorial Policy

Easy Ways to Keep Your Miles Active

Eva Norlyk Smith Ph.D.

July 29, 2013

QHi Eva,

I have a ton of unused miles in Southwest Rapid Rewards. I'm now going to Japan to teach English for two years, and won't be able to travel on Southwest while I'm there or use any of my miles. I've got enough for two round trips saved up in my account, and I don't want to lose that. Southwest miles expire after two years, and a good number of those points are due to expire by May 2015 (before I get back). Can I keep my miles active some way? Or would I need to pay to reactivate them when I'm back home, probably in August 2015? — Darren

ADear Darren,

Good thing you're thinking ahead, because these things can be dicey to sort out once you're overseas. Not all airlines send out warning notices when miles are about to expire, leaving you to discover, too late, that the miles you've been squirreling away have gone AWOL. While most airlines enable you to reactivate the miles, you'd end up paying for the pleasure.Ask Eva

There are many easy way to keep frequent flier miles from expiring. Airlines make it fairly effortless to renew the miles, and the good news is that the clock gets reset each time you either earn, use or renew rewards miles. So, as long as your rewards account shows some activity, the miles will renew. Some of the simplest ways to keep the miles active include:

  • Using the credit card affiliated with the airline: Even just occasional use of the Rapid Rewards credit card will keep your miles active. Each time miles earnings from credit card charges are added to your account, the clock resets. You didn't mention if you have the Rapid Rewards credit card, or if you're simply enrolled in Southwest's rewards program. Don't have the card? Maybe you should apply before you leave the country.
  • Shopping: Shopping with the airline's partner vendors through the airline's website is another easy way to earn miles — and keep your existing miles active. On the Southwest Shop & Earn Rapid Rewards site, you earn extra bonus miles on purchases with online merchants, including department stores, home improvement stores, office and school supplies and recreation outlets.
  • Travel-related purchases: It's not just airline travel that will earn you miles. Renting a car or staying at a hotel affiliated with the frequent flier program you're enrolled in can also earn you miles over time. The key is to give your frequent flier number to the car rental company or hotel when making the reservation. And, when booking your trip, be sure to read up on which car rental companies and hotel chains your airline's frequent flier account is partnered with.

Things might be trickier for you, however, considering you'll be far from home. You could bring a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card with you and use it occasionally for overseas purchases. In fact, the Rapid Rewards credit card (issued by Chase) doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. However, you may have trouble using your card in smaller establishments and cities. You also might have trouble shopping online on U.S. websites and having the goods shipped to you internationally. In addition, finding hotels and rental car companies abroad that partner with Southwest may be difficult.

Still, there are a few things you can do:

Use your miles to make a donation or buy gifts: Because spending miles will reset your miles as well, consider using your miles to buy gift cards for special occasions for your loved ones back in the U.S. In fact, you can do your holiday shopping online using your miles and just have the presents or gift cards sent to family and friends back home. Similarly, using miles to donate to a charity will also reset the clock.

Use your miles: As you mention in your letter, Southwest is generally for domestic destinations. However, did you know that you can redeem your Rapid Rewards points with several airline partners to reach destinations Southwest doesn't fly to? So, if you plan on flying down to Okinawa next spring, you could do that — for about 80,000 points from Tokyo. That's not cheap, but, if you have enough points lying around, it's better than letting your points expire.

Enroll in e-rewards or e-miles: These are services that will reward you in miles for taking their surveys. It may be a pain in the neck to have to spend the time on the surveys, but if you prefer not to spend miles to reset the clock, this is one more thing you can do while overseas to keep your account active. Be sure to enroll before you leave, as enrollment may be blocked for overseas IP addresses.

The good news is that, because your miles won't expire until two years of inactivity, you really just need to show some type of activity once in the two years you'll be gone. Make sure you add miles just before you leave (using any of the above options or even simply buying a few miles to add to your account). After that, you really just have to do one thing in the two years you'll be gone to keep those miles active. Not so bad after all.

Got a question for Eva? Send her an email.