How To Keep Your Expiring Travel Rewards Points

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Illustration for article titled How To Keep Your Expiring Travel Rewards Points

Photo: Thanakorn.P (Shutterstock)

After a year of travel restrictions, nearly a third of all credit card holders have not redeemed their credit card rewards. But will these rewards expire before you’re ready to use them? Fortunately, most cards don’t have a hard cutoff date, although that comes with one caveat—some rewards eventually expire if you don’t actually use the card. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your rewards intact.

Know the type of card you have

Travel rewards cards fall into two categories, either general-use cards or co-branded cards in partnership with an airline or hotel chain. General-use cards offer points that either never expire or have a long window for expiration (up to five years)—examples include American Express Membership Rewards points or Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Co-branded cards, on the other hand, offer miles or hotel points, but tend to expire sooner.

The good news is that most co-branded cards will let your points expire only if you haven’t used the card in a long time, typically one to three years from your last “account activity,” which includes using the card to make a purchase. Additionally, in response to the lack of travel due to COVID, lenders have put a “pause” on any pending points expirations, typically until late 2021 (not all are the same however—you can see a breakdown by airline or hotel here).

Even better, programs provided by Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines have cancelled their expiration policies entirely, so no action is needed to retain your air miles.

But to determine when your travel card reward points will expire, you’ll need to log into your loyalty account and check. Loyalty programs will also typically send you an email a few months before any amount of points you’ve earned is about to expire.

How to keep your points active

Assuming your points are about to expire and you’re not traveling until you get a vaccine—what else would count as “account activity”?

The simplest way is to ensure your points remain active is to make a purchase with your card on non-travel items. These might seem obvious, but for people with several cards it can be easy to overlook, which is why some rewards enthusiasts regularly cycle through cards on purchases just to make sure they’re logging activity on a regular basis. There are other options that will count as account activity, too:

  • Shopping on the loyalty programs shopping portal, which can earn you additional miles or points, even for non-travel products from retailers like Apple or Staples.
  • Making grocery or dining purchases with your card, especially since so many travel cards now offer rewards bonuses based on these categories that can count for travel later.
  • Donating your reward points on the loyalty program portal.

Bottom line

Over the years, travel cards have beefed up the value of their loyalty programs for long-time users, and that includes, in some cases, reward points that don’t expire. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to keep your points active, so long as you remember to make a purchase or redemption at least once a year.

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