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The dismal national economy has hurt everyone. But airlines have been hit especially hard. This isn’t surprising: When unemployment is high, home values are falling and both foreclosures and bankruptcies are skyrocketing, consumers put their wallets away. They cut back on discretionary spending. And what’s more discretionary than vacations?
Reacting to these bad times, airlines have cut back on in-flight amenities, have frozen the pay of their pilots and stewards and have begun charging bag check-in fees. It’s not much fun to fly anymore.
Airlines have also taken a much-less-publicized tack to reducing their costs: The free air miles that consumers earn with rewards credit cards are expiring in a shorter amount of time on inactive accounts. It’s an easy way for airlines to save cash; they don’t have to honor those free miles after they expire, after all.
For consumers, though, it’s just one more hassle with which to deal in a down economy. It doesn’t help that major airlines tend to send precious little notice before changing their free-miles policies. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy for cardholders to keep their free miles from expiring, even after airlines change the rules. All it requires are a bit of organization and some crafty purchases.
The New Rules: Airlines differ, but in general, their free credit-card rewards miles will expire if consumers don’t use any of them during a period of 18 months or so. In the past, consumers could get away with storing their miles for a far longer period of time.
Those days are gone. Blame the economy.
The key for consumers is to actively track their airline miles so that they can act to prevent them from expiring when their deadlines get near. The best way for consumers to do this is for them to create spreadsheets on their computers. The spreadsheets should list the rewards program that provided their free miles, the number miles that they’ve accrued from each airline credit card and the date when these miles are due to expire if consumers fail to cash in any of them.
By checking this spreadsheet on a monthly basis, consumers will know when to take action to prevent their miles from expiring.
The Right Purchases: Fortunately, consumers don’t have to schedule long flights to prevent their airline miles from expiring. They can usually just make a small purchase, using some of their accrued miles, to prevent this from happening.
For instance, consumers can book a one-night stay in a hotel in their nearest downtown business district. This is usually enough to reset the expiration date on their soon-to-disappear miles. Such a trip can also provide a nice break, by the way.
For those consumers who want to use even less of their miles, there’s the online shopping portals that most major airlines run. Consumers can purchase a small item from these online stores, using their stored-up airline miles, to reset the expiration date on their miles.
Airlines count on consumers to lose track of their miles. And many will, saving airlines a significant chunk of cash. But savvy consumers don’t have to fall for this track. Simply by tracking, and spending when necessary, consumers can avoid losing all their hard-earned airline miles.