A Virgin America plane lands at San Francisco International Airport in Burlingame, California.
A Virgin America plane lands at San Francisco International Airport in Burlingame, California. - 
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Often, travelers needlessly resign to having billions of frequent flyer miles and hotel points expire because they didn’t continue using the same airline or hotel chain.

Many people don’t know they can easily extend the life of those miles without ever setting foot on an airplane or checking into a hotel. In fact, any activity on a miles/points account will usually reset the expiration date. Sometimes, recently expired points can even be reinstated for a small fee or at no cost.

Here’s how to preserve your points and miles:

Track expiration dates

If you have only a few airline frequent flyer accounts, just set calendar reminders for 60 and 30 days before the miles or points expiration dates. If you have accumulated many frequent flyer and hotel accounts, consider the free AwardWallet service to track all of your accounts and get alerts about upcoming expiration dates. (Note: Delta and JetBlue miles do not expire).

Decide their value to you

What is the approximate cash value you put on the points in your account? If you think that keeping that cash value is worth your time, then the next step is to determine which ways to keep them from expiring.

Choose account activity strategies

Most airlines and hotels will reset the point expiration clock in response to account earning or spending activity. Here are seven options to consider (listed in general order of effectiveness):

Shopping portals: Shopping online almost anywhere (except Amazon), can earn up to 15 times the total value of your purchase. After signing up for a free shopping portal, just click through to your favorite online store and place your order as usual. This can take less than a minute and over time can yield tens of thousands of miles. A great free website that allows you to compare all the available shopping portal options for a given merchant is Cashback Monitor.

Restaurants: Most airlines have partnered with a company that provides miles for linking your credit card and simply having a meal at a restaurant that is participating in the program. Signing up takes about three minutes and there’s no cost. Be strategic though, since you can only link your credit card to one airline dining program. To keep hotel points alive, provide your hotel loyalty number when paying at the hotel restaurant. Even if you don’t have a meal there, you can usually earn a few points by just getting a cup of coffee in the morning or a drink at the bar later on — without ever having to book a room at the hotel. Those charges can then reset the expiration date of all the points in your account.

Transfer points: If you have points with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou or Starwood Preferred Guest, chances are you may be able to transfer 1,000 points or fewer into the account with expiring miles or points. This is a helpful option at the last minute, since the transfers often are either instant or completed within 24 to 48 hours.

Rental cars: Most major rental car companies will let you earn a few frequent flyer miles on your rental. Sometimes there is a modest surcharge (about $5) for this privilege, but it can be a great option in a pinch.

Redeem points for a friend or a charity: Most airlines and hotels will let you redeem your miles to cover a friend’s flight or hotel room. If you have a substantial points balance, it might be a win-win to give a free flight or hotel room to a friend. Also, there are a limited number of charities that the airlines have invited to receive donated miles. You may be able to give 1,000 or more miles to a good cause and reset your expiration date that way.

Magazine subscriptions: If you subscribe to magazines or know someone who might like a free subscription, most airlines will let you redeem anywhere from about 300 to 3,000 miles for magazine or newspaper subscriptions. This can be a useful option to get value from a small amount of remaining miles before they expire or if you want to extend the life of an account with a larger balance.

Buy points: As a last resort, most airlines and hotels sell miles. However, be aware of additional service fees and unfavorable valuations for the customer on the price of each mile or point. Nevertheless, it’s still worthwhile to buy 1,000 miles (typically the minimum) for about $30 in order to save total miles worth many times that expense.

Even if your miles recently expired, don’t give up. Some airlines and hotels will provide a way to reinstate your miles by flying within the next 30 days or a similar requirement. Contact the airline or hotel to find out if there’s anything that can be done to bring your miles and points back to life.

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