5 tips for preventing your credit card rewards from expiring

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Credit card rewards are a very valuable asset and can turn into free or discounted flights, hotel nights, gift cards, or even cash in your bank account. With so much value sitting in each reward point, it is important to never let them expire. Keeping your points balance is easy. Follow these simple steps to prevent your credit card rewards from expiring.

Simple tips to make sure you don’t lose your credit card rewards

Keep your account open

The first step in keeping your rewards points is keeping your account open. If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards points, for example, you will want to keep a card open in the relevant program for your point balances.

In most cases, if you close the account holding any miles or points, you can expect to lose those miles or points. If you want to close an account to avoid an annual fee, make sure to use up the points first or transfer them somewhere else. Once your account is closed, those points are likely gone for good.

Keeping an account open is also good for your credit score, as keeping accounts open for a long period of time helps your average age of credit, one of the factors used to calculate your credit score. For older accounts you don’t use often, try to use the account at least once every three to six months to keep it active in the issuer’s system.

Use an award miles and points tracking service

In personal finance, we often use personal finance management tools like Mint.com and other Mint alternatives to track our money and budget. Lucky for us, the same types of tools are available for our miles and points!

My favorite such service is AwardWallet, a long-time industry veteran for tracking your miles and points. The site isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good and the best at what it does. With a paid membership, you’ll also get your miles and points account expiration dates tracked. A premium account required a $30 per year fee, but you can still track and view balances with the free version.

TripIt is another tool that allows you to monitor mile and point balances with a premium account, but it does not include expiration dates. To get all of your expiration dates in one place automatically, AwardWallet is the only working option.

At the very least, keep a spreadsheet or handwritten list of your accounts and expiration dates. You can also set up calendar reminders to pop up and remind you to keep points active about a month before the expiration date, just to be safe.

Earn rewards regularly

Most credit card mile accounts stay active as long as you keep the account, but if you earn points for a hotel or airline, odds are they will expire at some point unless you act. As the saying goes, “Use it or lose it!”

Either earning or spending miles typically triggers a new year before expiration, so as long as you use points or miles — or earn new ones —  you should be good for a while. In some cases, you can call in and customer service will reinstate your expired rewards, but your mileage may vary.

In some cases, you may also be able to simply use a specific credit card or transfer miles from a general points and miles program like Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards into an airline or hotel account to reset the expiration timer.

Use small redemptions to reset expiration dates

If you are coming up on a rewards expiration date but don’t have a trip in mind, consider looking for the smallest redemption option possible, as that will give you a new year before expiration without using too many points to do it.

One of the easiest small rewards to cash in is for a magazine subscription. Sometimes you can sign up for a magazine for just a few hundred points. It doesn’t even matter if you want the magazine. Your rewards balance may be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. Giving up a few dollars worth in points to keep them is a wise investment compared to losing them.

Use your rewards

The best way to keep rewards points from expiring is to use them! Like money, reward miles and points tend to go down in value from time to time. Don’t save your miles and points until they are worth less than they are today. Book a trip! Have an adventure. That is the whole reason you earn rewards in the first place.

Don’t use your rewards frivolously. Make sure you stretch your miles and points for the best possible value, wherever that comes. For travel rewards, consider setting a goal like a trip to Europe or some far-flung destination in Asia or Africa. Mark something off of your bucket list. Making memories is what miles and points are all about.

Bottom line: Don’t let rewards go to waste!

Unlike your retirement fund and your emergency savings, credit card rewards are not a long-term savings method. Keep your miles and points alive by earning more and using them.

The best use is for a dream trip or one that would otherwise have been more expensive or unattainable without your rewards. If you use a cash back rewards credit card, your cash back won’t be worth more over time, so cash it in!

To make it all happen, make sure you don’t let your credit card rewards expire so they don’t go to waste. It would be a shame to not get the best value from your miles and points.

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