Help, my frequent flier miles are gone!

jetblue snowQuestion: My 16-year-old son and I have had our US Airways miles taken away from us. He had 27,893 miles and I had 829 miles. They expired a few days ago.

I’m a single mom and recently lost my job. I’ve been overwhelmed and did not notice the e-mail that warned me about the expiration of the miles.

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I called US Airways, but a representative said I was too late. I’ve been a loyal US Airways customer for years, but didn’t sign up for US Airways’ loyalty program until recently.

My son almost had enough miles for an award ticket. I don’t want him to lose his miles, which he was planning to use when he graduated from high school. I don’t want to lose my miles, either.

US Airways says it will reinstate my miles for $150, but I can’t afford it. And honestly, we’ve earned those miles. Can you help? — Marianne MacKenzie, Lakewood, Colo.

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your circumstances. When you called US Airways, it should have shown more compassion toward your situation and considered extending the life of your award miles.

But it didn’t have to. The terms and condition of your US Airways miles are clear: use ‘em or lose ‘em. You squirreled away your points as if they were acorns, which unfortunately, they are not. Miles depreciate over time, and often expire when they aren’t put to good use.

Not that they are of any use. For many leisure travelers, frequent flier miles have a negative value.

What do I mean by that? Well, say your son books an award seat, and you decide to fly with him. If US Airways’ flights are more expensive than those of a competitor, and if your son previously chose US Airways over another cheaper airline when he earned the miles – which is what happens often – then the miles effectively have a negative value. In other words, they cost more than they were worth.

By now, you already know that you could have easily avoided this by not allowing your miles to expire. All it takes is a little activity on your account, and you get to keep the points.

I think US Airways’ offer to reinstate your miles for $150 was a little high – you could probably buy the ticket you wanted for about that much. What’s more, it didn’t really take into account your own situation. Every decision to apply an airline’s rules should factor in a passenger’s personal circumstances. Unfortunately, this one didn’t.

I contacted US Airways on your behalf, and it reinstated your miles.

By the way … We’re just a few “likes” away from hitting lucky number 1,000 on our Away is Home page. If you’re number 1k today, you win the weekend rental from Hertz!

Do frequent flier miles expire too easily?

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71 thoughts on “Help, my frequent flier miles are gone!

  1. What, 829 miles? Does she not realize that miles are worth about $0.01 each and that’s less than $10 worth of benefits? I mean, sure it’s a bummer it expired, but hardly enough spilt milk to cry about.

    And it’s hard to believe that as a “loyal” customer for years she’d be ignorant about mileage programs and never have joined.

    Under what pretense did US Airways re-instate the miles? What specifically have they done wrong? I don’t necessarily agree with the size of the fee but like you said, the terms and conditions are black and white.

    1. I have to disagree with your premise

      1. it’s hard to believe that as a “loyal” customer for years she’d be ignorant about mileage programs and never have joined.

      Not everyone’s life revolves around travel. I’m guessing that given that she only have 800 miles, she probably never thought that it would be worth it to her until recently. Perhaps because he son started flying.

      2. Under what pretense did US Airways re-instate the miles? What specifically have they done wrong?

      Who said they did anything wrong? As the owner of the miles US Airways is perfectly free to make a compassion/goodwill/marketing gesture. No justification is required.

      1. What they did wrong was get mentioned on a consumer advocate site. While I understand the OP’s sense of loss, they probably aren’t the ones for whom these programs are meant for. Your life doesn’t need to revolve around travel to take advantage of FF programs. Just like if someone gives you a gift card – use it or lose it. If you aren’t the type of person who can mentally keep track of different things, better off using it early than saving it for a “big” purchase and risk having it expire or the terms change on you.

        1. That may or may not be true. But it has nothing to do with the discussion between jpp42 and myself. The question we were discussing was whether or not the fact hat she is not particularly knowledgeable about FF programs proves that she is not a “loyal” USair customer. My point is that not everyone involved in FF programs and even those who are don’t allow their lives to recolve around them. Chris probably isn’t, yet he’s a frequent traveler.

          This appears not so much as an issue of not keeping track of items but rather simply being uniformed of the metes and bounds. While her son’s miles might be worth fighting for, 800 miles are not.

  2. If your miles ever expire, you are hardly a “frequent” flyer. I don’t blame the airlines for timing them out; as long as they sit there, unused, they show up as a liability on the books.

    1. I’m 2 hours too late to the party. Exactly!

      The problem is, Christopher keeps encouraging this type of behavior:

      “When you called US Airways, it should have shown more compassion toward your situation”

      “Every decision to apply an airline’s rules should factor in a passenger’s personal circumstances.”

      And on Facebook, he says, “This is the LAST time I help someone get their expired miles back.”

      Things must be pretty peachy in the travel world if we get to read about expired miles over and over and over…

      1. I was really conflicted over this one. This woman sounded like she needed my help when she contacted me last year.

        But as I’ve already suggested several times on this site, I am done encouraging people to play the mileage game. Once this backlog of cases clears, I’m going to turn down any new expired-mileage cases.

        Or at least, that’s my intention.

        1. The irony is that you were fighting for something you (yourself) say you do not believe in – frequent flyer programs.

          Hopefully this jobless person does not spend time and money getting hooked on points. What she really needs is help getting a job, not miles 🙂

        2. I think there are only a few cases where mileage should be reinstated. First, if an long term unexpected and documented illness occurs which prevents the traveler from using the miles. Second, in the case of military members, who deploy from anywhere from 6 months to a year, the miles could and should be extended. In both cases after the situation is resolved a reasonable period of time should be given to use the miles.

  3. This is a marketing program. The miles were “earned” in a promotion. This is directly analogous to a cents-off coupon. They expire!

    No one has “rights” to keep these forever, or for one day more than clearly stated in the rules of the program.

    Anyone with an accounting degree understands why these miles must expire. The airlines are trying to shed the potential mileage liability of those who are considered dormant customers. Why should they be forced to hold onto mileage liability for people who died, are in nursing homes, moved out of the country, or just choose not to fly any longer? (Some people here say they will never fly as long as there are TSA body scanners.)

    As for this statement, “Not that they are of any use. For many leisure travelers, frequent flier miles have a negative value.” the speciousness is revealed by the conditional “ifs” which follow.

    With no documentation, just supposition, the columnist theorizes in certain circumstances the mileage programs are worthless or negative in value.

    I can just as easily note, ” Many frequent flyers get affiliated credit cards, and when they pay in full every month, almost all living expenses will earn you free flights to Europe. All for a $75 annual credit card fee.” Not a bad deal phrased that way.

    Flights are available to Europe, btw, but you must plan well in advance, sometimes 300 days. For those who study how to best take advantage of these programs, they have a lot of benefits. For those who do not study how to get and redeem airline miles, they might be at a disadvantage as Christopher relates.

    Isn’t that true for most things in life? When you gather knowledge and generate wisdom, you tend to do better. Ignorance is not bliss. Learn the rules and how to play the game wisely, and these frequent flyer programs can be worth it.

    1. I like your observations. Chris always theorizes that way. He sees his typical reader as incapable of figuring out how to use frequent flyer programs to their benefit rather than their detriment, so he just dismisses them. I’m off to Europe in March with my United miles, earned with credit card enrollments.

  4. The expiration date is in every, single monthly e-mail statement from US Airways. Then they warn you a few times as the expiration date approaches. They gave one of my travel clients the option of extending them another 18 months just before they expired and he paid a whopping $9. Read and pay attention to your e-mails.

    1. They never warned me, but I was quite aware my miles were expiring. I just had no incentive to keep them. Not being a single mom, who lost her job, I am lucky enough to have enough leisure time to think about my miles and not how to survive from one day to the next.

      1. If you had no incentive to keep them, then it’s clear they were not important to you, well, at least until they were gone. However, the expiration date is in EVERY monthly e-mail statement and the policy is that the miles expire in 18 months without any account activity. It’s our responsibility as customers to read our statements be aware of the policies, whether or not we like them. I, too, was recently laid off from a full time job I had for 23 years, but I still manage to find time to skim my e-mail.

      1. Seriously, I am tired of individuals using excuses of “being overwhelmed” as a reason they did or didn’t do some action. I’m on dialysis 6 days a week, work full time and don’t have a single family member within 500 miles of me when I need help. But I don’t complain because it is what it is. If I forget to do, don’t read, or do something that isn’t correct, I accept that I did it not that anyone owes me something, without complaint. Never do I say that I am overwhelmed by my situation, I make sure to the best of my ability I am doing everything I need. Yeah, sometimes some this slip, but that is life, and we ALL are overwhelmed at some point. It makes NO difference what the reason is you feel “overwhelmed,” only how you deal with it.

        1. Right. And different people deal in different ways. I see no problem with asking for help. If one can get it, fine. In this case, Chris was nice enough to offer his assistance. And he was successful which makes it even better..

        2. Responsibility… what a concept!

          I’m with you… in years past, I’ve been been cheated on and dumped by my wife of 19 years, fired from my dream job of 22 years for sending an innocent joke through the company intranet (even though no one was offended, someone MIGHT have been), and become so crippled up with arthritis that I can barely shuffle from one end of the house to the other. I, too, don’t have a single family member within 500 miles, but damnit, it is what it is, and like you, I would never dream of whining to Chris to guilt-trip some company into giving me a handout that I didn’t deserve simply because I screwed up.

          Ms. “R”, I think I love you, and I hope you live in my State of California. We already have more than enough citizens who live their lives with their hands out and a “victim” mentality. We need people like you.

          Will you marry me?!

          Mr. “R” :-).

          1. Okay, now I want to hear the joke. I had the same thing happen at a former employer. I wasn’t actually fired, but I had to go through a slew of HR trainings, and had to go on probation, and fortunately found a much better job before all was settled.

          2. Ya sure, Em? It’s pretty racy: “Apple has announced the release of a chip which plays music and can be implanted in women’s breasts This is considered a major advance because women often accuse men of looking at their breasts… but not listening to them.” Ba – dum – BUM!

          3. Racy, but not worthy of firing I would think. Mine was back when the Pork Producers of America were looking for a new slogan. I am Jewish and was talking to Muslim co-worker, and we decided that the new slogan should be, “Pork, Even Muslims and Jews can agree on not eating it.” No one was offended either, but just in case someone might be an investigation was opened, and we had to take sexual harassment training, then a slew of other trainings.

          4. love how these things always trigger a “certain” type of harrassment training. what did that joke have to do with harrassment, let along of the s x y sort? it’s like HR doesn’t know what to do with themselves when something “almost” goes haywire.

  5. totally relate to you on this one, Chris. This has been one continuous week of people ignoring my instructions on the Sanibel vacation rentals, clearly posted as 1 week min for the condo and 1 month min for the house. And when I say clearly, I mean those minimums are front and center on all my promotions. But I got inquiry after inquiry this week asking for an “exception.” My response is why? Haven’t had a good answer yet. You were too nice, IMHO, with this one.

    1. Why? Because, despite what’s on a property listing, some landlords make exceptions when a property will otherwise be unrented. I’ve been a beneficiary of this more than once, and been grateful. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine, but please don’t be insulted by customers who are simply asking a question. All you have to do is reply with a simple “No”. If that’s too much trouble…

      1. Agreed. I’m going to ask for an exception later today. My plans just changed but it past the hotel cancellation time. I’ll ask nicely for an exception as I’m at that hotel regularly. They’ll say yes or no and I’ll be greatful if they say yes. Nothing wrong with asking politely and respectfully.

  6. I am opposed to expiration of miles, but, I understand the real reason behind it. It isn’t really from the Airlines itself but from the Accounting Practice rules, the cumulative miles unclaimed or from inactive and infrequent flyer account become with the years a real big liability in their financial sheets.

      1. They are in “business” – keeping miles for unlimited years means you are neither frequent nor loyal, so why reward them with a free trip? If they want to limit years of accumulation for checkin, so be it.

  7. Cases like this make me grind my gears. This customer did not abide by the rules of the program. The airline did nothing wrong. There are plenty of cases where the airline/car rental/hotel WRONGED the customer. This is not one of them.

    I’m honestly kinda sad to see this “case” here. It was pretty much “help out this fake sob story or face bad press.” :S

      1. If she’s a single mother who lost her job why should her teenage son be traveling? That’s a luxury, and if she truly cared about these miles to ensure this trip would happen, she would’ve been on top of them. Despite what she says, she is not a “loyal customer.” I’m a loyal customer. My company spends over $100K a year on tickets to fly my butt around.

        Anyway, this one reminds me of the idiots I see on the Di$ney boards who want to know if the Di$ney restaurants will take their food stamps. WAHT.

        1. You have got to be kidding me! Sadly, I am sure you are not. I used to volunteer at a food bank, and was helping a family carry their food out, to what turned out to be a fancy new pick up truck. When I noticed a nice 55″ flat screen TV in the box in the back of their truck, I asked one of the kids if that was there TV and the boy said he was so excited, they just bought it with daddy’s tax refund. The next family I spoke to told me how they were going on a cruise with their tax refund. I spoke to the manager of the food bank and she said this is normal around tax time. Then I told her I would no longer be volunteering to help people who can afford luxuries, but not food.

        2. I might only be able to afford to fly a few times a year, but I fly the same airline, and that makes me no less loyal than you. Besides, if your company is flying your self important ego around, you’re simply along for a free ride – when I spend nearly every dollar I have to go visit my family, and I choose to spend that hard-earned money with the same airline, that should be just as valuable to any airline as you “elites”.

  8. Afraid I have to agree with the other comments. A “problem” like this should be treated for what it is, an unfortunate situation. All Chris did was perpetuate the “woe is me, someone else is responsible” mindset. If her son is in high school, we presume that he can read the statements, right? He should be helping his overwhelmed mother through life.

  9. Chris, Why are you wasting resources on whats completely the fault of the customer when there are much bigger issues where the customer is not at fault?

    The 3 times i got within 6 months of a US miles expiring, every week in the postal mail i would receive a letter telling me the expiration date and that i can use my miles to get a magazine subscription. There is no excuse to let ones miles expire. Especially when all it takes is $1 purchase on itiunes to renew for 18 more months.

  10. “frequent flier miles have a negative value” – not for most people who know how to read. Yes, I will fly with my preferred airline (Alaska for me) if the price is within $10 or so, but if you’re spending hundreds more on on tickets on the more expensive airline, you either have extra money to burn on your ticket, you can’t read the rules of the frequent flyer program, or you are just kind of slow.

  11. If this was a situation where the OP had flown and not received credit for a flight causing the miles to expire, then this would be a story. This is not a story. The OP throwing in the comments about her current employment and marriage status does nothing to help her case.

    For the miles to expire in a US Air account, there has to be no activity for 18 months. This means it has been a year and a half since either of them flew or did anything at all to earn or spend miles. I can’t blame the airline for cancelling these miles. After all, if you have not used the service for almost 2 years, how are you a “frequent” flyer? The offer of only $150 to restore both accounts, while not cheap, is within their stated guidelines and is actually a discount given that both accounts could have been charged a reinstatement fee (US uses a sliding scale and the total, as I read it, would have been $160 for both).

    Although unrelated to this, I also find it interesting that you can buy your way to top tier status with US even if you have no status. For only $3,999 you can become one of their highest level members and enjoy all of the benefits!

    Maybe I should ask Mr. Elliott to get my Hyatt points reinstated. After all, I “earned” those points and they took them away even though it has been only 5 years since I stayed at a Hyatt! (Just kidding.)

      1. Who you know is relevant.
        I’m sitting right now inside the Delta Lounge using their wifi. I was upgraded on this international flight. I am NOT a Delta or Skyteam elite. But the couple I am chaperoning are.
        So just like me the OP can get lucky.
        Her knowing Elliott is the key.

    1. I don’t mind the “military vet” card, because (the vast majority of the time), the complaints are legit. If this was a case of “my miles expired and I ignored my statement because I was deployed,” well, that’s one thing.

      But if everyone else is going to play their cards, where can I sign up to play my “I’m a self-supporting, full-time grad student working full time with an internship?” 😉

    1. Because you never bothered to read the terms and conditions. It’s really not a big deal, until you lose something and then blame someone else for it.

      1. So-called “loyalty” programs can change their rules at any time, for any reasons. So if you started collecting miles and were promised they would never expire, it’s possible that rules will change without you knowing about it.

    2. Perhaps you’re with Delta, whose miles don’t expire. All the others (at least in the U.S.) do, and have for quite a few years now.

  12. Well, I do think miles are hard to earn and harder to use, so I voted yes to the poll question. That said, I’m single and in a difficult job and financial situation, and I often feel overwhelmed, yet I don’t think that would exempt me from mile expiration deadlines. This is a case where even though the customer has a difficult personal situation, the rules are clear-cut and it doesn’t make sense to me to ask for an exemption from those rules for one person when who knows how many other people walk in the same brand of shoes?

    1. “…I do think miles are hard to earn…” I totally disagree. Earning miles on US Airways is easy. You can earn US Airways miles without spending a single penny…eRewards and eMiles…you will need to spend your time but it doesn’t cost you a penny. You can trade milespoints at which doesn’t cost you a penny which will keep your FF account active. You can tradeexchange as little 4 to 6 miles to generate a trade. In addition to hotel points, airline ff miles and car rental points, you can trades points from My Coke Rewards, My Starbucks Rewards (Canada), Sears Club, S&H Greepnpoints, Best Buy Reward Zone, etc. (not all of them you can trade points into FF miles or vice versa).

      You can take quizzes from Audience Rewards (i.e. Broadway shows, TV shows, etc.) to earn US Airways miles.

      You can spend $ 0.99 for an iTunes. Also, there are over 200 merchants that you can earn miles for online purchases.

      You can spend a $ 1.00 to $ 2.50 for a drink and earn miles through the US Airways Dining progarm.

      In regards to using the miles, I have not encountered a problem in cashing in miles (I have cashed over 1MM miles). If you want to cash in your tickets during the holidays (i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc); the high season (i.e. Europe in the summer); special events (i.e. Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, etc.), you need to plan in advance like 6 months or more. If you wait until 2 weeks before your trip, it will be hard to cash in miles for tickets.

  13. Frequent flyer mileage programs are considered by the airlines to be “loyalty” perks…18 months without any activity doesn’t seem to fit the definition of “frequent” or “loyalty”

  14. Several years ago I inadvertently overlooked miles that were about to expire. I felt badly because it’s like throwing out canned food or good clothes. What I mean is you can donate your miles to charity, so why let them expire? So now if I have frequent flyer miles I know I won’t use, I donate them if possible. Most airlines and allow you to do this, so it’s a shame that people let them expire. I wish I could donate my AT&T rollover minutes that expire every month!

  15. Wow ! I’m surprised by the “advertisement” at the end of the article for your “Away is Home” facebook page : paying with weekend rental for a few additional likes is some kind of a new low … Good thing for your e-reputation it was buried at the end of an article where most people will miss it !!!…

  16. I’ve seen a couple of posts indicating there’s nothing wrong with nicely asking for an exception to the rules. That’s certainly fair enough, and any business should have employees that are empowered to bend the rules at their discretion. They also have the discretion to say “no” to the request, however.

    What really gets under my skin, though, are people like this lady who writes to people like Chris in an attempt to bully the business into giving her what she wants when the business (US Airways in this case) exercises their judgment and denies the request. And sadly, cases like this indicates the bullies win.

  17. I think the wrong question was asked. I voted YES. For all of us, those accumulated miles were obtained by choosing one airline company over their competition. I see no justification for the airline cancelling them if they aren’t used within a specific period.

    The question that would be more on topic would be, “Should US Airways reinstate this lady’s miles?.

    To that, I would have voted NO. They were contracturally correct..

    Third question: Did US Airways do the right thing? I vote YES. At the risk of setting a precedent, they scored a public relations victory: a company with a heart. Bravo US Airways.

  18. I’m a little disappointed with those that look unfavorably on Chris’s good deed. But as many say, “no good deed goes unpunished”.
    I’m a big fan of Chris’s and have read his vow not to try and save any more expired miles. But geez people, have a little compasion – not all people are savvy or are up on checking their mileage expiration dates.
    Although I’ve never asked Chris to intervene on my behalf (and hope never to feel the need to) I’ve fought some of own battles with company’s who’ve charged me a late fee or an extra charge because I simply forgot to do something on their timetable, which admittedly I was aware of. G-d bless all of you who are so perfect as to never miss a deadline, or forget to do something simple and manage to run your life on a perfect spreadsheet so that you never make a mistake.
    I’m sure that Chris’s letter to the airline was polite and not demanding, and he acknowledged he was asking them to bend their rules, which they did.
    So many here think that corporations need to bend a rule or two for goodwill purposes, but then beat Chris up when he goes to bat for someone in financial straits who can’t afford the $150. fee. And then the downright meaness of comments such as “she should find a job, not worry about FF miles” is as cold as it gets.
    Chris, good for you. I realize that your time can’t be taken up by every person who forgets to check a date, or knows the tricks of how to hold on to FF miles without taking a flight or getting an affiliated credit card. You helped a person in need and hopefully, everyone out there who’s also in danger of losing their miles will have read your post and will now take heed, and you’re one correspondence for this woman has helped hundreds of potential mile users. Thanks!

    1. Hi Simone,
      I think the point of most of the folks here (or at least my point) is that it’s not fair to invoke Chris to publicly pressure airlines to refund non-refundable miles, restore legitimately expired miles, or do anything else they shouldn’t have to do. More often than not, the airlines cave because they know that if they don’t, tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people are going to read about it. If Ms. MacKenzie had contacted US Air and managed to cut a deal on her own… great, but to drag Chris into it? No; that’s not fair.

    2. “you’re one correspondence for this woman has helped hundreds of potential mile users”

      Considering Chris stance on frequent flyer programs, not sure he’ll be that happy with such a compliment !!! 🙂

  19. As much as I have compassion for single, working parents, I have to admit that if keeping her son’s FF miles was important, she should have made it more of a priority. It takes about 2 minutes to check if FF miles are expiring. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who have rough circumstances and have let things slip through the cracks, but that’s the way life is sometimes. A few years ago, I was working full time, going to school full time, planning my budget wedding, and moving to save money all in a few short months. I missed an airfare sale for my honeymoon and wound up having to pay twice as much. That really hurt. But I didn’t write down my sob story to Chris in the hopes he’d argue with the airlines for me. She shouldn’t have gotten the FF miles back.

  20. Rules are rules. Quit entitling people to bend them. It is totally stupid to be a frequent flier if you fly once a year or less. The system was set up for “Frequent Fliers”. If they ran out, then they were not frequent fliers. You have the rules presented to you when you sign up.

    Use a credit card to get “frequent flier” points, then they don’t expire. Capitol One wants you.

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