Fasten your seat belts, and keep your air sickness bag handy. Travelers are about to be hit with a double whammy.
Not only is it often difficult to redeem your hard-earned frequent flier miles for the flight of your choice, but now the miles on some popular programs are going to expire much sooner if your account is inactive.
Both Delta and US Airways have quietly amended the terms and conditions of their frequent flier programs to cut the expiration of banked miles from three years to between 18 months (US Airways) and two years (Delta).
*MOUSE PRINT for US Airways:
Effective January 31, 2007, active membership status is based on having earned or redeemed miles within a consecutive 18 month period. With our new Mileage Reactivation Policy, Dividend Miles members have an opportunity to reinstate their Dividend Miles accounts to active status for an additional 18 months for a $50 processing fee and reactivation fee of $.01 per mile. If members do not extend with this reactivation option, the Dividend Miles account will be closed and all miles forfeited.
So not only will the miles expire in half the time, they are graciously allowing you to buy them back at a ridiculously high price. It is not clear if the new 18 month expiration period is retroactive.
*MOUSE PRINT for Delta:
Starting December 31, 2006, we’re modifying the above policy and miles will expire after two years of account inactivity. Mileage balances of members who have had no SkyMiles activity within the last two calendar years (2005 and 2006) will expire on Dec. 31, 2006.
Adding insult to injury, Delta is clearly making their policy retroactive to already earned miles.
The easiest practical way to keep your miles from expiring is to either spend some of them on cheap things like magazine subscriptions, or earn more miles by doing business with one of the airlines’ partners. Here is the US Airways partner list, and the one for Delta. Both allow you to make purchases from SkyMall, for example, and earn miles. You can also buy something at Officemax.com and earn US Airways miles, or join NetFlix and earn Delta Skymiles. Be sure to use the link provided at each airline’s website if you are going to shop at an online partner. Going directly to one of the participating online stores will not earn you miles.
The bottomline is that these changes are nasty, and exhibit a degree of chutzpah. The airlines make it hard to spend your acquired miles on flights because they don’t make enough free seats available, and then they take away your miles if you don’t use them.
For more details, here is a New York Times article on the subject.