Do You Know Where Your Airline Miles Are?

Where once airline miles expired if they weren’t used after two or three years, most US airlines will now wipe out an entire miles account if it doesn’t show any activity within a certain time period. The grace period varies by airline, with some cancelling accounts after just 12 months of inactivity.

If you’re planning to use your stash of airline miles for your next trip, you may be in for a surprise -- if you haven’t used your miles or added to them for a while, they may have disappeared. Where once airline miles expired if they weren’t used after two or three years, most US airlines will now wipe out an entire miles account if it doesn’t show any activity within a certain time period. The grace period varies by airline, with some waiting two years before shutting down an account and others cancelling accounts after just 12 months of inactivity.

Frequent fliers who use several airlines can often lose track of their miles, say consumer advocates, and airlines aren’t always diligent about notifying customers that their accounts are about to be cancelled. Airline partners such as car rental companies and hotels, which offer more chances to earn or redeem miles, also change frequently, making it harder to keep an account active. One solution -- a miles-monitoring Web site like MileTracker that can help you keep tabs on your accounts.

If your miles account is cancelled, you may be able to buy back those lost miles for a fee. Each airline has a different buy-back policy, however, with some charging a sliding scale based on the number of miles you’re redeeming. With sliding-scale fees, you may find that the cost of reinstating miles may be more than the value of the free ticket those miles would buy. Some airlines like Delta, on the other hand, charge a flat fee regardless of the number of miles you’re reinstating, which is usually a better deal.