United and American Airlines are the two major U.S. carriers still clinging to archaic mileage expiration policies. 4 years ago I covered a way to stop United miles from expiring. Today we’ll extend those same ideas to American Airlines and keep your AA miles from expiring.
Leveraging Airline 24 Hour Cancellation Policies
I’m a big fan of the 24 hour cancellation rule the DOT imposed years ago. This pro-consumer rule either lets you hold or cancel airfare booked at least 7 days ahead of time with no fee. Think of it as a ‘cooling off’ period of sorts, a brief period of time where mistakes won’t cost you a cancellation/change fee. American Airlines was one of the notable few airlines favoring a hold vs. cancel policy. That finally changed last year and AA allows a 24 hour cancellation of tickets booked more than 2 days prior to travel. (more on their policy here).
This rule makes sense–after all, humans make mistakes. I once booked airfare to a wedding in TX the first weekend in June. I called my friend to tell him I’d booked everything. “That’s great,” he said, “But the wedding is the first weekend in July.” Whoops. 24 hour cancellation to the rescue. A legitimate mistake on my part and a good use for the rule. But the rule has other uses for travelers. For example, if you want to make partner seat assignments you need to book a ticket first. If you can’t get the seats you need then you can use your 24 hour cancellation policy to back out of a ticket you don’t want to fly. (h/t Milenomic Michael H.).
Today I’ll show you how to use this 24 hour cancellation policy to keep AA miles from expiring. This is a direct copy of the process I outlined for United Miles years ago. This is probably against the spirit of the 24 hour cancellation policy, but this also goes to show how archaic still having a mileage expiration policy is.
Book, Cancel, Redeposit
The process is simple but you’ll need at least 12,500 miles for this to work. I’ll step through a real life example. As you can see, my miles were due to expire relatively soon:
To stop the travesty of 88,414 beautiful miles from being blasted into nothingness I booked a simple one way ticket with 12,500 miles and $5.60. Find a flight, any flight, a few weeks from now. This doesn’t need to be a booking you’re going to take, or even from your home airport. It should originate in the US:
My mileage balance was deducted the 12,500 miles, and more importantly my expiration date was incremented by 18 months:
Now all I need to do is log into my trips online and cancel it.
Cancelling the ticket can be done online, and provided you follow the rules of AA’s 24 hour cancellation policy you’ll be rewarded with your 12,500 miles and $5.60 back. Or rather, you’ll be rewarded with them as soon as you call AA and ask them to refund you the miles. A quick 20 minute phone call later and the miles were back in my account with the now August 2019 expiration date:
Should You Do This?
The above tactic certainly wouldn’t need to be used if AA didn’t expire our hard earned miles. With that said the question remains: Should anyone do this?
Of course the answer is no. No one should do this. Booking a ticket you have no intention of flying is probably against AA ticketing policy. There’s also the 20 minute phone call to reinstate the miles, not an insignificant amount of time.($20 at my T-Rate) And finally, don’t do this because there are easy ways to earn a few miles for cheap and keep extending your expiration. My current favorite is to buy something like soap for ~$2 from WalMart via the AA shopping portal. Make sure you select pickup in store to avoid the shipping cost.
When those 2 miles post to your AA account they’ll extend the expiration date by 18 months. Net cost for something like this is about $.08 in lost cashback from another portal plus a few minutes of your time. If your miles are close to expiring one huge drawback of a shopping portal is that it can take weeks for these miles to post. For some of you that might be too late to keep your miles from disappearing into nothingness. When you’re stuck with miles expiring in days the above book and cancel trick might be your best hope.
And American Airlines, if you’re reading, please consider scrapping your antiquated mileage expiration policy all together.
Edit: Be sure to read the comments below. Lots of fantastic ways to keep AA miles from expiring. Thanks to everyone for the ideas. Readers Matt and Howie have mentioned the following as a way to earn 5 miles in about a week: https://awardwallet.com/blog/earn-bonus-miles-for-commenting/
Why not carry a no-fee card, preferably downgraded after collecting the sign up bonus from a different version?
Absolutely, that would be a great way to ensure they never expire. This post is for those forgotten miles, or the ones a friend or family member calls you about a few days before they’re set to expire.
If you want to talk about antiquated, how about the “close in booking fee”, which dates back to when certificates had to be mailed. There is absolutely no justification for this fee other than pure greed. I would do anything to avoid this sinister fee.
Al, I’m with you there. I cut it from the post but the airlines are lobbying to end the 24 he cancellation rule and a whole host of other consumer protections: https://www.insidehook.com/nation/airlines-for-america-lobbyists
I actually understand the airlines perspective on the $75 close in booking fee. Personally, I keep Aeroplan miles on hand as a barrier against having to fly cross country at the last minute. My in laws live in Calgary and I live in Toronto, so Air Canada and Westjet are the only carriers.
A ticket 1 week out for a 1-way can be $600 or more. With Aeroplan miles, I know that I can generally find a 1-way for 12.5K + $100 in taxes even at the last minute (maybe not ideal flight times).
Aeroplan doesnt charge the last minute booking fee. United miles do. I can see how United is trying to protect their ability to sell you a last minute ticket price by upping the co-pay on the award ticket by $75 if you book last minute.
I dont like the fee that American and United have on their close in booking fee, but I understand where it comes from.
another option to extend your miles expiration, is to use their dining plan.
Ehud: absolutely a great technique. Thanks for including it for readers.
“For example, if you want to make partner seat assignments you need to book a ticket first. If you can’t get the seats you need then you can use your 24 hour cancellation policy to back out of a ticket you don’t want to fly.” It’s not clear to me what you mean here can you elaborate?
Dave: Sure. When booking partner awards you usually cannot reserve actual seats until you’ve booked the award and have a ticket number. Once you have that number you can usually log into the partner’s seat assignment site, and select your seats. This is mostly for someone who’s seat assignments are a travel need (like a window seat for example). You’d have 24 hours to wiggle out if you’re not comfortable with the seats that are available.
I’d much rather spend 20 mins going to a local dining establishment and buying a drink to extend my miles, and those of my kids who cannot get credit cards yet.
How do you extend you children’s miles?
Hi Aaron, for the kids I tend to use the AA shopping portal. There’s currently a promo earning you 400 extra miles when you spend $200. These promos come and go around major holidays. This one is not the best promo I’ve seen from them, but still 3 miles per dollar on giftcards.com and extension of miles isn’t bad.
Just post a comment on awardwallet’s site. They’ll give you 5 AA miles. perfect way to extend.
Sam, this isn’t an attempt to shill / get people over to AwardWallet, but if you leave a comment on the AwardWallet blog (and it is approved) and you’ve followed the instructions to have miles credited, you’ll receive 5 AA miles in your working AA account within a week. Limited to 5 miles/day per AwardWallet account (you can link multiple AA accounts to a single AwardWallet account) and if you’ve got multiple just leave a new comment each calendar day to extend their life.
Details here: https://awardwallet.com/blog/earn-bonus-miles-for-commenting/ — I’m the guy approving comments. It doesn’t need to be a comment on this post either, any post works.
Howie: I like what you guys do and appreciate the personal comment here. I’ve updated the post to reflect that there are some great ideas here in the comments, and will strengthen that edit to include your link.
“Booking a ticket you have no intention of flying is probably against AA ticketing policy.”
Good luck to AA ever proving a cancelled flight once every other year tops was somehow in abuse of their policies.
Thanks Chucks. I agree with you, impossible to prove, but I have to mention it.
Other methods like shopping via the shopping portal, dining with the dining portal, or applying for a credit card, are only available to people based in the US. For Canadians or other international members, this book-and-cancel method could be intriguing. I’m wondering whether I’d get dinged on the exchange rate and FX fees, though?
Hello, neighbor to the north. AFAIK the entire transaction has to be done in USD, which would open you up to exchange rate issues between when you book and when you refund. That said, even a 2% fluctuation in exchange rate would only equate to a loss of 11 cents (USD). Of course that could also swing in the other direction and make you 11 cents richer! I think that’s worth it to keep miles from expiring.
I also live outside the U.S. (Japan), and my experience is that all charges (whether award travel or regular fare) have to be in the currency of the country where one’s credit card billing address is. My credit card is from a U.S. credit union and handled in US$, so it’s a little annoying that the fares and such always have to be in JPY, but I live with it. So I would assume that in just_a_montrealer’s case, the charges associated with booking would be in CAD, not USD.
sam, you said ‘need at least 12.5k miles’… will a award flight for 7.5k miles work? miles will expire on 9/7 (totally forgot to do this sooner) so i do need to get it extended quickly…. besides this method, what’s another that will extend miles instantly? TIA for a quick suggestion
If you can book a flight for 7.5k it will work. The key is booking anything and then cancelling within the 24hr window.
You can try the award wallet forum comment tactic listed above as well.
Also if you have an old car rental that you never credited to an airline you can credit it to your AA account and it will retroactively count (can even revive expired miles with that).
Can you do something similar but for the value of a non-refundable ticket? If I want to use the value past the one-year date of issue, can I by a refundable ticket with the non-refundable value and then later cancel that refundable ticket and get the credit use timeframe extended?
Lana: I’ve had varying amounts of success doing it. I would say the best way to try is to book something you could realistically take and experiment with canceling it yourself. It has worked for me and then other times it hasn’t. I cannot figure out a pattern.