Getting back expired airline miles

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John Chisolm had been saving his Qantas points for over 30 years. So when the airline told him his stash was about to expire, he flew into action. Literally. He booked a flight on a partner airline and assumed the trip would keep his 107,000 Qantas points active.

Unfortunately, Chisolm was in for a surprise when he returned from his journey. Logging into his Qantas account, he discovered the airline had already hit the delete button on his hard-earned points.

Chisholm said he was sure he fulfilled all the requirements to extend the expiration date on the points. However, Qantas said he didn’t.

After many unsuccessful attempts to convince the airline it had made a mistake, Chisolm turned to TPG for help. He hoped we could intervene and retrieve all his lost Qantas points.

But where does the mistake actually lie in this case, and could those points be returned?

Qantas: Your points are about to expire

JAMES D. MORGAN/GETTY IMAGES

During the pandemic, Chisholm had received regular notifications from Qantas about the status of his points. In fact, the airline extended the expiration date of its loyalty members’ accounts multiple times over the years.

In May 2023, however, Qantas informed Chisholm that the pandemic-related extensions that had kept his points valid, even though he had had no account activity since early 2019, were over.

“Since you have not earned or used a Qantas point since our last email, you will now need to take a Qantas or Oneworld flight by June 30 to prevent them from expiring,” read the email from Qantas.

Chisholm realized his 107,000 points were in real jeopardy and he had very little time to save them.

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“I acquired these points over a very long period of time — over 30 years,” Chisholm told me. “I guarded them preciously in case I should need to return to Australia without sufficient funds to pay for a ticket outright.”

To protect his points, Chisholm, a resident of France, decided to take a short trip on Air France, which is a partner airline of Qantas. With just 24 hours to go before those points were set to disappear, he flew from Paris to Nice.

When he touched down in the Cote d’Azur he was under the impression he had just earned 200 Qantas points — and extended the expiration date of his account by 18 months.

But the next day, Chisholm found out something had gone wrong. Not only had he not earned any Qantas points for his flight on Air France, but his account had been zeroed out.

A simple mistake?

Initially, Chisholm thought this “mistake” would be easy to correct. He flew back to Paris and kept his boarding passes to prove to Qantas that he had earned the additional points before the deadline.

However, Qantas soon gave him the bad news: Air France declined to credit him with Qantas points. As a result, his “preciously guarded” points had expired.

But all was not lost, a representative of Qantas explained. The airline would give him one more chance to earn his points back.

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In an email sympathizing with the disappointment of losing all his miles, a Qantas agent explained if Chisholm could earn 2,500 Qantas points in the next six months by shopping on the airline’s website, he could have all his points back.

“It’s actually easier than it sounds,” the Qantas representative assured him.

Explaining that Chisholm could accelerate his points balance by buying wine and participating in surveys, he entirely ignored Chisholm’s actual complaint.

As Chisholm was sure he had already qualified for the extension, he rejected this resolution.

“I shouldn’t be forced to buy things I don’t need,” Chisholm complained. “I earned the extension already.”

But all additional emails that Chisholm sent to Qantas customer service received no response.

That’s when he got another idea: to ask TPG for help.

Asking TPG to fix this points problem

As a loyal TPG reader, Chisholm sent his request for help to us after coming across an article on the site chronicling the evolution of frequent flyer programs over 40 years — just a little longer than Chisholm had been accruing his points.

He wrote: “When I became a program member in the late 1980s, I don’t remember Qantas placing a time limit on using reward points. I think this came later, but regardless, I question the legality of this policy, as the points were ‘earned’ not ‘given,’ and on many occasions, I remained loyal to Qantas to grow my points balance when I could have purchased cheaper services with other airlines.”

When I received Chisholm’s request for assistance, though, I immediately noticed a problem that I believed had caused the deletion of his Qantas points: Air France is not a Oneworld member airline.

The email from Qantas warning Chisholm of the impending deletion of his points instructed that he must take a “Qantas or Oneworld flight” in order to save his points. Air France is neither.

When I explained to Chisholm what I believed to be the problem, he was unconvinced.

“I checked on the Qantas website before I booked the flight. It was supposed to qualify for 200 points,” he wrote. “You have shattered my understanding of what I’ve been a member of for the last 30 years, and I find it incredible that there should be such misleading information on both the Qantas and Air France websites.”

Chisholm showed me a screenshot that showed he could earn 200 Qantas points for his flight to the French Riviera on the partner airline.

However, the letter from Qantas was specific. It said that he was required to take a Oneworld flight. I assumed that there were special conditions applied to this extension because his account had been dormant since early 2019 — over four years.

But because of the somewhat confusing instructions from Qantas and my desire to help salvage Chisholm’s 30-year membership with the airline, I sent his case over to our executive contact at the airline. (This is not a customer-facing person at Qantas, but rather someone I can reach out to as a member of the media and a consumer advocate.)

Good news: Your Qantas points are back with a new expiration date

MOMO PRODUCTIONS/GETTY IMAGES

Since Chisholm was never told exactly why his Air France flight didn’t qualify for the 200 Qantas points he expected to receive, I asked our Qantas executive contact for clarification.

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And to my surprise, after some digging by their team, Qantas reversed its decision about Chisholm’s Air France flight in the process.

Hi Michelle,On background, Mr Chisholm had correctly booked the Air France flight in an eligible class to maintain his Qantas Points, however, due to a technical error, he wasn’t awarded his points.Our team has looked into the issue and awarded Mr Chisholm for the points he earned through his flight with Air France. As his Air France flight was eligible activity, his expired points balance was automatically also re-instated. Many thanks.

Chisholm couldn’t be happier to have his points restored that he’s hoping to use one day to return to Australia. He wrote me:

Hey Michelle,Qantas has credited the Paris flights and restored my points balance. I’m tickled pink.I am so grateful to you and TPG.”Consumer Rescue” – great job title for you!

I’m thrilled, too, John. Now might I suggest you use your points and take that trip to Australia sooner rather than later?

Keep your points and miles safe

Of course, losing a giant stash of frequent flyer miles is a traveler’s nightmare. But by taking some simple precautions, you can ensure it never happens to you.

Know your loyalty program’s rules

Every loyalty program comes with its own unique terms and conditions. It’s critical that you read and understand the rules of each program in which you participate.

Remember, these details can and do change. So don’t assume that the rules that were in place when you joined the program are the same years down the road.

Make sure to review the terms and conditions of each of your points accounts at least annually.

Airlines typically expire miles in accounts that have not been active in anywhere from 18-36 months, which is a large range, so knowing the specific rules that apply to your accounts is crucial.

Pick programs without expiration dates

The easiest way to avoid a situation like Chisholm’s is to join frequent flyer programs that don’t put expiration dates on your points and miles.

Among the major airlines that currently have no expiration dates are:

JetBlueDelta Air LinesUnited AirlinesSouthwest Airlines

Ways beyond flying to save your frequent flyer miles

MASKOT/GETTY IMAGES

Airlines are making it increasingly easier for even non-frequent flyers to maintain active accounts. You might be surprised to find that you can stay out of the point-deletion danger zone in many ways.

Open an airline credit card and use it

Today, it’s rare to find an airline that doesn’t have a cobranded credit card. A great way to earn points and keep your account active is simply by opening a credit card cobranded with your favorite airline.

Typically, you can earn a sizable number of bonus points or miles after opening the card and hitting a minimum spending requirement. Purchases you make with the card typically count as qualifying activity that resets the clock on your miles’ expiration date.

Transfer points from a credit card program

If you don’t have an airline credit card that accrues miles directly to your frequent flyer account, you can also usually rack up some qualifying activity by sending points from a credit card points program to your linked frequent flyer accounts.

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Among the best transferable points programs out there for this kind of strategy are:

Additionally, hotel and car rental programs that award bonus miles to the carrier of your choice will also extend the life of your frequent flyer account.

Join your airline’s dining program

Many airlines now offer dining programs that you can join and use to (surprise!) earn points when eating out. It’s usually as simple as downloading an app, signing up and dining (in or out) at participating restaurants and earning miles automatically on the charges.

Shopping online

One of the easiest non-travel ways to keep your frequent flyer account alive is making purchases through your airline’s online shopping portal. Simply sign up online and then log in when you are ready to shop, peruse the list of hundreds of retailers and click through the link to earn multiple points or miles per dollar on your purchase. The rewards you earn count as qualifying activity that will restart your account’s expiration clock.

Do not leave an account dormant

Hackers love dormant accounts — especially dormant frequent flyer accounts with significant balances.

As a consumer advocate, I often receive pleas for help from travelers who realized the dangers of leaving a mileage program account unattended only after their points have been stolen.

Most airlines have a limited time frame during which you can report stolen miles and get them back. If your account is inactive, you may not notice your frequent flyer miles are gone until it’s too late for the airline to investigate.

Don’t let a thief take a vacation with your points. You can protect yourself from this type of loss by:

Keeping your accounts activeSigning in regularly, even if you’re not travelingMaking certain your email address is current so that you’ll receive alerts from the airline if someone changes your password or redeems an awardChanging your password at least annually

By monitoring your accounts regularly, you can save a lot of time and effort later on if you discover someone has tried to use your points without your knowledge.

Bottom line

Chisholm was blindsided by the sudden loss of all his Qantas frequent flyer points. But he shouldn’t have been.

Hoarding 107,000 points in a dormant account is a recipe for disaster. It isn’t likely that his story would have had a happy ending had he not reached out to TPG.

We’re pleased that we could facilitate the return of his points, but his case should serve as a warning. Loyalty programs are set up to reward regular customers. If your account has no activity for years and years, you aren’t a frequent customer and your account loses its significance to the airline, it becomes a potential target for hackers. That’s why you should monitor and even spend your points regularly so your account is up to date and you remain aware of any potentially harmful activity.

If you are facing a problem with an airline, hotel, cruise line, car rental agency or vacation rental company, send your issue to [email protected], and I’ll be happy to try to help you, too.

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