Here’s What to Do with Travel Points That Are About to Expire

No summer travel plans? Not to worry. Here's how to maximize (or at least not waste) any travel reward points that are set to expire before you can hit the road or take to the skies again.

With the COVID-19 pandemic grounding planes and closing hotels, chances are your summer travel plans are pretty limited this year. “This is such an unprecedented time for the world and especially the travel industry,” says Nick Ewen, senior editor at The Points Guy. “With many airlines and hotels cutting back on their operations—and many countries continuing to restrict those who can enter—it’s simply not feasible to take most non-essential trips.”

But that doesn’t mean your hard-earned travel rewards points will go to waste. Even if you don’t see yourself traveling any time soon, there are plenty of other ways to use airline miles and hotel and credit card points before they expire, experts say. For those who do plan on boarding a plane this summer, read up on what air travel could look like after COVID-19.

Treat yourself—or trade for cash

Turns out, you can spend travel points on far more than a plane ticket. Some credit cards, such as Chase Sapphire, allow points to be redeemed for gift cards, household goods, electronics, and more. Other programs, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, allow you to trade points for cash. However, “the disadvantage is that since these are travel rewards, if you use them in other ways, they will have less value,” says WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez. For example, Marriott Bonvoy points are worth less than 0.3 cents each for gift cards, as compared to about one cent each for hotel stays, according to a NerdWallet analysis. Although points are more valuable when used for travel, cash or gift cards could be practical options for points that would go to waste anyway. Bet you didn’t know these travel point perks existed, either.

Donate to charity

Instead of allowing your miles to expire, consider giving them to a good cause. Most major airlines allow frequent fliers to donate their miles to charity, according to Gonzalez. American Airlines puts your miles to use at organizations like Make-A-Wish; Delta partners with charities such as Unicef and American Red Cross; and United Airlines donates miles to the Special Olympics and MD Anderson Care Center, among other charities. Other airlines including Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest also donate your miles. Your choice of charities varies between airlines, so check the company’s website for a full list of organizations they partner with. While these donations are not tax-deductible, your miles can make a difference at the charities where your donation will go the farthest.

Subscribe to a newspaper or magazine

Why book a plane ticket when you can experience the world from the comfort of your own home? Several rewards programs allow you to swap airline miles for subscriptions to a variety of newspapers and magazines. American offers a year-long digital subscription to the Financial Times for less than 4,000 miles, just for starters. Even fliers with a low mileage balance can cash in; many airlines offer subscriptions to publications such as Travel + Leisure for as low as 400 to 500 miles. To learn what your miles can get you, visit the airline’s website or go to MagsForMiles.com, where you can choose your airline, enter your account number, and select a publication subscription based on the number of miles you have. Plus, find out how to get a refund if a world crisis forces you to cancel a trip.

Swap airline miles for hotel points

If you opt for a road trip instead of flying to your destination this summer, you might be able to exchange your miles for hotel points, Ewen says. The Hilton Honors (HH) program, for example, allows you to trade 5,000 American Airlines miles for 10,000 HH rewards points. With 15,000 American Airlines miles, you’ll earn a free stay in a mid-priced Hilton hotel. “These almost always offer less value than redeeming your points and miles for travel, but in the absence of any other viable option, getting some value is better than nothing,” Ewen says. Log in to your loyalty account or contact customer service to find out more details about hotel loyalty program trade-in policies. As hotels take measures to protect guests in a post-coronavirus world, you won’t see these popular perks during your next stay.

Book your next getaway

It’s tough to travel currently, but that could change in the next year or so. Plus, thanks to record-low prices and more lenient change and cancelation policies, your points and miles can stretch farther than usual right now. Delta is allowing tickets purchased through June 30 to be canceled or changed for up to a year without fees. Southwest, for its part, will allow miles used to book travel to be redeposited at no extra cost. That said, closely read your preferred airline’s policies on their website or The Points Guy’s complete list before booking. Sara Rathner, a travel and credit cards expert at NerdWallet, warns that airlines have been known to change their policies overnight, from devaluing miles to altering expiration rules. Start planning with these 14 hotel deals you can take advantage of for next year.

What to do now: Keep swiping your airline loyalty card

Airline credit cards offer perks that are not useful when you can’t travel, such as free checked bags and priority boarding. But cardholders can still take advantage of several lesser-known rewards and prevent miles from expiring at the same time, Rathner says. Simply use your airline credit card to purchase goods and gift cards at airline shopping portals or order from participating restaurants in the airline’s dining club. “Any purchase on a co-branded card counts as ‘activity’ and preserves the miles you already had, while earning you additional miles to add to your stash,” according to Rathner. Just one purchase can keep your miles active for 18 months, she says. Learn more little-known tricks to earn airline miles.

What to do now: Earn for a future trip

There is some good news for travelers right now: Many credit card companies are allowing cardholders to earn extra points on everyday purchases like groceries, according to Rathner and Ewen. While you may not be able to use rewards points right away, you can continue to earn points at a higher rate as companies expand their policies to reflect changing spending habits during the pandemic. Better yet, “since most points don’t expire, cardholders can use them for travel next year, or whenever postponed trips resume,” Gonzalez says. So even though you can’t take a trip in the near-term future, you can still “use today’s spending to offset the cost of a future vacation,” Rathner says. Start planning today by booking one of these VIP experiences you can only get using travel rewards.

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Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a researcher at PBS FRONTLINE in Boston, Massachusetts, and writes regularly about travel, health, and culture news for Reader’s Digest. Previously she was a staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her articles have also appeared on MSN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance, among other sites. She earned a BA in international relations from Hendrix College. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeTNelson.