US Airways surprised some members of its frequent-flier program this week, telling them that they could lose miles if they don't use their accounts by Jan. 31.
US Airways said it adopted a new rule this summer that a Dividend Miles program member must add or subtract miles from an account at least once in 18 months to keep the miles from expiring. The airline said members could have their miles reinstated by paying a $50 "processing fee" and a "reactivation fee" of a penny a mile. If the account isn't used for 36 months, it will be closed.
US Airways spokesman Philip Gee said the changes were announced on the airline's Web site when the Dividend Miles program merged with America West Airlines' Flight Fund program in May. Another notice was posted about six weeks ago on the program's Web page, but many members whose miles may disappear are just now receiving e-mails reminding them, he said.
One other major airline, Continental, has the same rule: use a frequent-flier account once every 18 months or the miles expire. Delta Air Lines just adopted an even tougher policy, closing accounts and throwing out any accumulated miles if there's no activity for 12 consecutive months.
Programs at American Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines give members 36 months to use their accounts or lose them, according to their Web sites.
Some airline programs give credits, not miles, for each flight taken within set time periods. AirTran Airways requires 16 one-way flights within 12 months for a free coach ticket, and each credit expires 12 months after the date it is posted to an account. Southwest Airlines requires 16 one-way flights in 24 months to earn a free coach ticket.
All airline frequent-flier programs provide multiple ways to earn and redeem miles through partnerships with other companies, including hotels, car rental companies, restaurants and credit-card issuers, Gee said.
Tim Winship, a frequent-flier program expert for the smartertravel.com Web site, said in a recent online commentary that active frequent fliers might welcome the more stringent US Airways policies. They are in no danger of losing miles, and may find it easier to redeem them for free trips with fewer participants in the programs, he wrote.
"But for the great majority of Dividends Miles members, the policy will be a hardship," Winship wrote. "And for potential members, it's a good reason to sign up for a program with a more user-friendly mileage expiration policy."
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