United Airlines, US Airways, Delta and Air Canada have all reduced the validity period for miles held by inactive account members within their frequent flyer programs (FFPs).
Until recently miles accumulated in the carriers' FFPs were valid for a period of three years of inactivity. But at the end of last year Delta reduced this period to two years, while United and US Airways have cut their validity periods to 18 months. Air Canada meanwhile has gone further still by reducing its inactivity allowance from three years to 12 months.
United says that reducing the amount of time a Mileage Plus account can stay inactive will mean that its most loyal customers will compete with fewer people for award seats, making it easier for them to redeem their miles. Says Dennis Cary, senior vice president at United:
"This change makes our Mileage Plus program better for customers who are most loyal to United, reduces our operating costs and brings our program in line with major competitors."
Regular customers with these airlines (or their partners within the relevant FFPs) will notice little difference to their accounts, but less frequent fliers may now see points they have earned in the past suddenly disappearing. There are however ways of keeping your miles without actually flying with the carriers or redeeming with one of their partners. US Airways says that among the ways members can keep their accounts active include signing up to one of the airlines' credit cards, or making a purchase from its online "shopping mall" at usairways.com. Alternatively members who do let their miles lapse can reactivate their account by paying a $50 fee plus one cent for every mile they had accrued.
Similarly United Airlines will keep accounts active for members who sign up for a Mileage Plus credit or debit card, donate miles to the Mileage Plus Charity Miles program, or transfer their miles to another Mileage Plus member.
Delta introduced its new rules on December 31, 2006, so any members who weren't active in 2005 or 2006 will already have lost their accrued miles. US Airways FFP members who have been inactive for 18 months or more have until January 31 to take the appropriate action to keep their accounts active, while United says that any members who have not earned or redeemed miles since July 1, 2006 will see their associated miles expire on December 31, 2007. For Air Canada FFP members the date to remember is July 1, 2007 – on this date (and going forward), any member who has been inactive for over twelve months will see their points expire.
Ravindra Bhagwanani, managing director of FFP consultancy firm Global Flight, says that while members in the US may have sufficient opportunity to accumulate miles through partner schemes in order to keep their accounts active, fliers from overseas may find this more difficult. Says Bhagwanani:
"This is the major point of criticism I have with these moves as they don't really sufficiently take into account international customers, who have much fewer possibilities to earn miles in these programs every day compared to US members."
A spokesperson for American Airlines says the carrier has no plans to follow suit – its AAdvantage miles stay valid for a period of three years of inactivity for now.
Report by Mark Caswell