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How Can I Prevent My Miles From Expiring?

Dear Tim,

I don’t travel as much as I used to, so I haven’t been paying so much attention to my airline programs lately. But I just noticed that my Delta miles are due to expire.

I have almost 23,000 miles. Help!

Margaret L.

Dear Margaret,

Since you seem surprised that the miles are set to expire, let’s begin by reviewing Delta’s policy on mileage expiration, which is standard among the major airlines. The following is from their member handbook:

Miles will not expire as long as you participate in one of the following activities every three years:

  • Travel on a qualifying Delta, Delta Connection, or Delta Shuttle flight.
  • Earn miles in the SkyMiles program with one of the SkyMiles program partners, including airline partners, hotels, car rentals, Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, credit card partner, or any other program partner such as restaurants, mortgage lenders, real estate, and telecommunications.
  • Redeem your miles for a Delta SkyTeam Award or other airline partner award.

The above explains how your miles came to be imperiled. Namely, you apparently had no qualifying activity in your account for almost three years. If that’s not the case—if you in fact earned or redeemed SkyMiles in the past 36 months—the first thing to do is contact Delta and file a retroactive claim. Once the claim is confirmed, the life of your miles will be extended for three years from the date of the missing transaction.

If Delta’s records are correct and you indeed had no qualifying activity during the past three years, then you will have to take action. As Delta’s policy states—and this is basically the same for all major airline programs—just about any transaction that affects your account balance will extend the life of all the miles in your account for another three years.

At this point, it should be said that if you only had several thousand miles at risk, and weren’t likely to be active in SkyMiles going forward, I’d recommend that you convert the miles into another program, or simply walk away from them.

But since you’re so close to an award (at 25,000 miles), it’s definitely worth taking the time to intervene on your miles’ behalf.

Strategies to save your miles

If you were a regular SkyMiles participant, I would recommend signing up for the SkyMiles credit card or switching to AT&T phone service. As long as you continue earning miles for these services, you’ll automatically extend the life of your SkyMiles account.

But since you’re not a frequent Delta customer, your best strategy, by contrast, is all about the short term: First, protect the miles from expiring. Then reach 25,000 miles and cash out for an award.

This plan calls for one or more one-time transactions, with no long-term commitment. Looking over the SkyMiles partner roster, two companies stand out as especially good candidates: SkyMall and

At SkyMall, an online mall featuring products from many established retailers, you normally earn three miles for every $1 spent. But they’re currently awarding six miles per dollar, meaning you’d only have to spend $333 to earn the 2,000 miles needed to both reach an award threshold and preserve your miles. It’s never too early to get a start on your holiday shopping.

In a similar vein, you can earn 10 miles for every $1 spent at For $24.99 plus tax and shipping charges, you would earn 250 miles for purchasing a two-gallon tin of gourmet popcorn. While that won’t get you to your goal of 25,000 miles, it will give you an extra three years to do so. And in the meantime, you’ll have plenty of popcorn to enjoy while you plan your award trip.

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