When to let your points expire

Photo courtesy of Terry Chay

 

I once wrote to not let your airline miles expire.  But there are always exceptions, and I am starting to think that there are reasons worth discussing.

Sacrilege? No, just simplification and efficiency.

Sign up

Around two years ago, there was a string of promotions for various airlines and hotels that I signed up for. “Fill out this survey and get 1,000 points!” “Sign up for this newsletter and get 500 points!” Also, I experimentally started using shopping portals so that I could earn miles while shopping online. For a while, you could earn 1 Hawaiian Airline mile per dollar spent at Amazon and I racked up a grand total of 88 miles in this way. (I don’t really buy much online.)

But almost all mileage programs have expiration dates, usually after around 18-24 months of inactivity. And some of these programs that I had signed up for are now at that mark, and I had done nothing with them in the intervening months.

In the intervening months, the playing field has changed. Most of the easy point-earning opportunities have gone away, at least the ones that don’t involve buying things or using credit cards. Some opportunities have migrated to social media; you can usually Like/Follow/Friend the company and earn points, but what information are you allowing a company to gain from you when you do this?

Nothing rapid about Rapid Rewards

Let’s talk about a specific example, which you may be able to adapt to your situation:

Airline: Southwest Airlines
Mileage program: Rapid Rewards
Balance: 1,300 points

I have never flown Southwest. They don’t integrate with third-party sites like Kayak, so I don’t see them when I look for flights. They don’t partner with any other airlines, so they are basically non-existent to me. They also stick to primarily domestic routes. You’ll never make it to Bali on Southwest miles.

To earn Southwest miles (and thus keep my account active), I would need to:

  1. Fly on Southwest
  2. Sign up for a credit card
  3. Use their shopping portal
  4. Buy miles
  5. Sign up for their newsletter

My responses:

  1. I am not likely to do this, as when I fly, I want to fly on my new love airline, Alaska, or a partner that I can bank my miles to (such as Delta or American).
  2. Doing this would surely cause me to spend more money than I would earn from the transaction.
  3. This is not going to happen between now and the expiration date, because I mean it when I say that I don’t buy very many things online. I tried to think of something to buy, but I quickly realized that I was trying to “manufacture spend” which is exactly what they want you to do. No thanks.
  4. The ultimate in manufactured spend. I did this once in another program, and I felt icky after. Lesson learned.
  5. I already did this.

I can’t even use points.com to transfer points between programs, because Southwest doesn’t connect to that program. I don’t even have enough points to redeem them for anything.

1,300 miles is worth between $15 and $40 with Southwest. Yes, that’s money, but I need to look at the time value of money as well. How much time have I spent on this? And how much more time will it take me to get to a place where I can get something from these miles? I have balances in other programs, so why not consolidate my time?

It was around here that a voice in my head, one that sounded oddly like Sean Connery, said “Let it go.

The author is not claiming that 1,300 Southwest Rapid Rewards points is in any way worth the same as the Holy Grail.

The author is not claiming that 1,300 Southwest Rapid Rewards points is in any way as valuable as the Holy Grail. That would be SPG points, of course.

Keep some, let some go

So did I contradict myself in my other post? No; what doesn’t change is that it’s still worth it to keep track of your miles/points, and earn them when you have the opportunity. I can tell you that when I started earning miles on US Airways a dozen or so years ago, I never thought that I’d one day be jetting off to Japan.

To help me with this, I use a service called AwardWallet, which keeps track of all my mileage balances (and warns me when they are going to expire). The service costs a few bucks a year, and is totally worth it for me.

But at the same time, when you want to let your points expire, you should do it with intention. Decide what is worthwhile. Simplify. With one fewer program to work with, you can devote your energy to programs that you can eventually earn a return on. And isn’t that the point?*

But enough about me. Have you ever willingly let your points expire?

* Sorry.

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

I offer a free phone consultation to anyone who is interested in changing their financial narrative. Are you ready? Click here for details.
Mike Pumphrey
Posted on February 3, 2014