Extend the Expiration Date of United Miles (For Free)

To me nothing is worse than miles that expire after a certain amount of inactivity. You work hard, putting time, energy, and effort into earning your miles.  And then a program comes along and says that after 18 months of inactivity your miles, *poof* disappear. 

For the overwhelming majority of us this won’t be an issue.  However, I know many among us have friends and family who don’t earn miles with credit cards.  There are people who aren’t ever going to apply for an airline card, and jump through all the hoops we jump through.  For them they might fly once a year, or even less.  These people really earn their miles, and count on them to be there when they need  them.  However programs such as United, and even AA have expiration rules stuck in decades past.

Miles Expiring In a Few Days, What to Do?

I received a call from an older friend of mine, Louis.  Louis doesn’t fly much, in fact he hasn’t flown in almost 18 months.  He doesn’t hold a Credit card, and doesn’t really use a computer. Louis might remind you a lot of a parent, or a relative. These are the little guys, the people holding 6,000-30,000 miles that they spent 5 years earning.

Louis was a little upset because a few years ago 20,000 miles he earned by flying expired. Now he was looking at losing his other 10,000.

Louis Salazar Feb 2014 exp I’ve discussed saving miles from expiring by buying a $1 item from drugstore.com in the past. This case was different, Louis had just three days to save his miles. This really wasn’t enough time for a purchase to post.

Does an airline as big as United need to shake down elderly folks for 10,000 MP miles? I guess they do.  Fortunately today we’ll look at a quick, easy, and free way to extend the Expiration date of United Miles.

Using 24 hour Cancellation Policies to Save Miles from Expiring.

I’d love to see United drop their 18 month deadline and embrace a more pro-consumer angle.  As you’ll see, anyone with 10,000 or more miles can stop the expiration of their miles for free, in about an hour. Today we’ll be using the free 24 hour cancellation policy to extend Louis’ miles.

Update (3/14): Reader Rich commented that you only need 6,000 United miles to book an intra-Hawaiian Island flight.  It seems like that would make the threshold for using this trick 6,000 miles, not 10,000. Thanks Rich!

United allows flights booked more than 7 days from departure to be cancelled within 24 hours of booking for no cost. This also applies to award flights.  This book/cancel action resets your 18 month inactivity period for your miles with United.

Since Louis only has 10,500 miles, I looked for a flight which can be booked for just 10,000 United miles.  Anything under 700 miles would do.  The booking I went with was from Denver, CO (DEN) to Sioux Falls, SD (FSD).

DEN-FSDThe ruling on 24 hour cancellations exempts tickets booked within 7 days of departure. Because of this I needed to pick a date at least 7 days out. I chose a flight in late July. The particulars of the flight aren’t important since we’ll be refunding it shortly after ticketing.

DEN-FSD 10kI completed the booking for Louis, which cost him 10,000 miles and $2.50 for the one flight segment.  We waited for the miles to be deducted from Louis’ account, and the flight to be ticketed.

Flight ticketing shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes for an easy booking like this.  Once ticketed  Louis’ mileage balance was deducted the 10,000 miles, but most importantly this activity extended his Mileage expiration date ahead 18 months:

Louis Salazar Jun-2015 extendedFrom here we just need to click on “Change/View Existing Reservation,” and select the option to “Cancel/Refund” the ticket.  Thankfully United allows us to do all of this online, which is the least they could do since they did try to take 10,000 miles from an kind, elderly customer of theirs.

United Cancel and RedepositI went ahead and chose “Cancel Trip & Redeposit Miles. You’ll notice the wording on the right that, “Under United’s 24-hour flexible booking policy, you qualify for a fee-waived redeposit.”  This is great news for Louis, and sure enough after his trip was cancelled the miles were quickly redeposited in his account:

Louis Salazar Jun-2015 extended refundedLouis now has 18 months to earn more miles, or use these 10,000 for a booking he really wants to take.  He was so glad that his 10,000 miles were safe for another year and a half.  I let him know not to wait until the last minute next time, and when he’s 90 days away from expiration we’ll buy something at a shopping mall to extend them instead of using this loophole.

Use Only When Necessary

Obviously this is not the intended purpose of the 24 hour cancellation policy–but it is a nice way to help someone who’s just days away from losing their miles.  This is probably against the terms of the program, and I’m sure United doesn’t enjoy the thought of people booking and cancelling to extend their activity date. However, all of this begs the question, Should airlines still have miles that expire?

United, if you read Milenomics, consider getting rid of the antiquated 18 month policy. As you can see above your 24 hour cancellation pretty much renders it useless anyway.

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About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. I agree that miles should never expire. However, I doubt that United will eliminate this policy. What they could do is, extend the expiration term to 36 months, like certain European airlines (British, Virgin, and I believe Lufthansa). My parents are also elderly so they no longer fly often, nor do they have credit cards that earn miles, so I manage their accounts. This is an excellent tip for me to help them preserve those miles. Thank you!! I actually hope United is not reading this blog! Given how they operate (not customer-friendly), they would eliminate this “loophole”.. 🙁

    1. Laura: I fear you’re right–United hasn’t exactly been known to take the consumer friendly approach. 🙁

  2. Would this work with buying and canceling a revenue ticket as well? That would be useful for accounts with less than 10 000 miles

    1. Unfortunately, no. You need to use or earn miles to reset the clock. Buying a revenue ticket won’t earn you miles, flying the ticket is necessary to do that. As long as you have a few weeks before expiration buying an inexpensive item with free shipping at drugstore.com through the United shopping portal is a good way to go.

    1. Paul: They should, however I haven’t personally tested it with any other program. Best to just buy something through the airline’s portal at some point to reset the clock. It wouldn’t work with AA since they don’t allow you to cancel, and instead do a complimentary hold (which I prefer).

    1. Rick: a few other people have mentioned that as well–I appreciate all of you showing concern for Louis. As they used to say on Dragnet; “The story you’re about to hear is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” I wouldn’t put up personally identifiable details for something like this for fear of reprisals from United.

  3. Helpful info. I will pass it along to my kids. It is not only the elderly who sometimes need a helping hand…;)

      1. Where did you find your expiration date for spg? All I can find is activity, and figure 12 months after last activity date.

        1. I had to chat with them to find it. The agent I chatted with said there’s no way to see your expiration date on your own. They did verify the policy is 12 months from last activity, but then told me my expiration date was August 2015, which couldn’t be possible given that it is only March. I pressed the agent for more information but they were not able to figure out the reason for the expiration being 18 months from today. My last activity was December 2013 which makes it even more confusing…

    1. Stvr: I’ve verified this still works. Just after your comment last night I check an the expiry date does stay changed after a refunded ticket. I’d appreciate some additional information on your experience with it.

  4. Thanks so much for this tip! I just did it and it re-set my miles. I assume the rest of the process will work and the miles will be refunded. Thanks SO much. I had 3 days as well 🙂

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