Crunch time for frequent fliers and their miles

December 01, 1996|By Christopher Reynolds | Christopher Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Just imagine: as many as 50 billion miles evaporating into nothingness. No, this is not a Carl Sagan daydream. This is crunch time for frequent fliers. With a crucial New Year's deadline coming, now is the time to calculate how to protect your holdings.

Some miles can be saved with as little as a telephone transfer of credits from one program to a "partner" program. To save others, you need to claim a certificate or make a booking -- but not necessarily take a flight -- before the new year.

Randy Petersen, publisher of InsideFlyer magazine, reports that at least some mileage is at death's door in programs run by Aer Lingus, Aeromexico, Air France, ANA, America West, American, Ansett Australia, British Airways, British Midland, BWIA, China, El Al, EVA, Finnair, Japan Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, Mexicana, Northwest, Qantas, SAS, SAA, Southwest, SwissAir/ Austrian, Thai, United and Virgin Atlantic.

On American Airlines, Petersen has 7,834 miles expiring with the new year. He plans to combine them with 17,166 American miles slated to expire in December 1997, and redeem the resulting 25,000 miles for a certificate to book a domestic flight. He doesn't have to say where he'll fly, he just has to convert the certificate to an actual booking within a year of the date it was issued.

Meanwhile, under the AT&T True Rewards program, the points Petersen accrued by paying phone bills during 1994 soon will die. To rescue them, Petersen is converting those points to mileage credits on Delta Airlines through their partnership agreement.

Petersen also has unearthed a United Airlines AwardCheque mileage certificate that dies if no booking is made by Jan. 17. So he plans to make a booking in the next few weeks for a trip that could come any time before Jan. 17, 1998.

Here's a roundup of major U.S. airline programs and their expiration policies. For frequent-travel programs sponsored by hotels, foreign-based airlines and others, contact sponsoring companies.

Programs with no expirations and no flight requirements: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, TWA Frequent Flight, USAir Frequent Traveler.

Programs with flight requirements:

America West Flight Fund, (800) 247-5691: Mileage certificates, issued automatically every 20,000 miles, expire three years after date of issuance. The airline also purges you and your miles from program roles if you go three years without flying America West.

Continental OnePass, (713) 952-1630: No miles are scheduled to expire automatically, but the airline reserves the option to deactivate your account (thereby wiping out your miles) if you go 18 months or more without taking a Continental flight.

Delta SkyMiles, (800) 325-3999: Again, your miles don't expire automatically. Miles earned before May 1994 under the Delta Frequent Flier program may be carried forward indefinitely, even if you stop flying Delta. Mileage earned since May 1994 will be wiped out by the airline if you go 36 months without a Delta flight.

Expirations to watch:

American AAdvantage, (800) 882-8880: Miles expire three years after the first Dec. 31 following your flight. In other words, all miles earned in 1993 expire Dec. 31. (If you have more than 20,000 but fewer than 25,000 miles accrued, American will accept those miles, along with $100, in exchange for award travel that must be done before March 31, 1997.)

Northwest WorldPerks, (800) 447-3757: Miles expire three years after they were earned.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, (800) 445-5764: Carrier counts flight segments instead of miles, and gives one free round trip for every 16 segments earned within a 12-month period.

United Mileage Plus, (605) 399-2400: United mileage comes in various forms. As the program now stands, miles expire at the end of the calendar year three years after they are earned. Thus, miles earned and automatically banked in 1995 expire Dec. 31, 1998. From July 1989 to February 1995, United automatically issued AwardCheques, which expire three years after issuance. Unredeemed mileage earned before July 1989 will be held in travelers' accounts until Dec. 15, 1997.

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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