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Help, My Frequent Flyer Miles Expired!

Dear Tim–

Is there anything we can do to recover some expired miles from United? They say they notified me but I cannot recall anything telling me that my 60,000 miles which I had been sitting on are now gone!

Thanks for any insight you can offer.


Dear Sarah–

It often comes as a surprise to mileage-collectors, but the great majority of airlines do give their program members advance notice, typically via email, that their miles will soon expire. According to United, they do so between four and five months before Mileage Plus members’ expiration dates.

I can’t say for sure whether United followed their own standard procedure in your case, but since such processes are fully automated, it’s likely they did. If so, you missed it. Perhaps the email got stuck in a spam filter. Or you may simply have deleted it without reading its contents. You might also have an outdated email address on file in your Mileage Plus member profile.

In any case, the miles have now expired. What to do?

As a first step, it’s always worth calling the airline and pleading for mercy. They can exercise their discretion and return the missing miles as a goodwill gesture. But they are unlikely to do so unless there’s a compelling reason. Are you an elite member of the program? Can you show that you’re an extra-profitable customer some other way?

If not, you’re left with two options.

As will most airlines, United will reinstate the expired miles for a price: 1.25 cents each, plus a $25 processing fee. So your 60,000 miles will cost $775 to reactivate.

Is it worth it? It could be, if you redeem the miles for tickets worth more than $775. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for just using that money to purchase tickets through normal channels. Unlike award tickets, they won’t be encumbered by capacity controls. And because they’re paid tickets, you’ll earn miles for the flights.

The other option is to throw up your hands and walk away, mile-poor but wiser in the ways of mileage programs.

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