When it comes right down to it, Delta is a softie on expiring SkyMiles

Turns out Delta Air Lines’ frequent flier miles don’t expire after all.

After last week’s Travel Troubleshooter column about a reader who had lost more than 100,000 SkyMiles because of inactivity on his account, I heard from several Delta customers, who said, inactivity, shminactivity. Delta can, and does, un-expire the miles for the asking.

Here’s what James Schaefer found when he tried to recover twice as many miles.

I was planning on going on-line to use miles for my trip to Vancouver, Canada, where I will be serving as a volunteer the full month of February. I have been a Delta frequent flyer for over 25 years, having gained “Million Miler” status a number of years ago. My current balance was over 260,000 miles, before it was dropped to zero.

I called Delta immediately after I read your column and spoke with Skymiles service rep named Elaine who works in Dallas. I explained my situation to her and she was very patient and understanding. She indicated she would need to talk to another department about the matter. I waited on hold for about 10 minutes.

She said that, given my history as a long-time customer and Million Miler, they would reinstate my miles and reminded me that there is an expiration date of two years if there is not activity in my account. All I can say is, “Thank you Elaine form Dallas!”

Dave Schlesinger had to jump through a few hoops. But the result was the same.

I thought that my SkyMiles were going to expire on December 31, 2009 if I had no account activity, because I received SkyMiles statements via e-mail that showed that expiration date. I knew I was going to be flying on Delta a couple of times during the year, so I wasn’t concerned about my miles expiring.

However, when I tried to book one of the flights on Delta’s Web site in June, I noticed that my SkyMiles balance was 0 — it was supposed to be 33,975. Apparently, Delta believed the miles expired at the end April, and removed them from my account on May 1. Note that I received no warnings that my miles were about to expire.

I used the “contact us by e-mail” form on Delta’s Web site to report the problem. I didn’t get a response, so several days later I called the SkyMiles Servce Center. The representative told me that I had to prove that my miles did not expire in April, by faxing them a SkyMiles statement showing a later expiration date.

I don’t usually save the SkyMiles e-mail statements, but I happened to have my November 2008 statement only because I neglected to delete it. I faxed the requested information, and received a written response a couple of weeks later, indicating that although my miles were supposed to expire in April, Delta reinstated them as a gesture of goodwill.

I was disappointed that Delta forced me to go through all this, and never apologized or admitted to making an error. However, I got my miles back, so I let it go.

What does this mean to you? First, there’s no such thing as an expired mile. Everything is negotiable.

Second, loyalty points don’t accrue value over time like other investments. So use ’em or lose ’em.

And finally, you shouldn’t count on your miles for anything. I just heard from a reader whose credit card-based loyalty program was canceled entirely without any notification. Poof!

Paying with miles should be your plan “B” — just in case.

(Photo: Leonid V. Kruzhkov/Flickr Creative Commons)

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