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Nine tricks to keep your airline miles from expiring

Airlines will expire frequent flyer miles if an account goes inactive over a certain period of time, but you don't need to fly with the airline to keep your account active. Other options include renting a car, enrolling in a dining program, or even donating to charity. 

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    An Air Canada Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet departs Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Enfield, Nova Scotia. Most air carriers will expire frequent flyer points f you don't use them in time, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to spend them on air travel.
    Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press/AP/File
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For frequent travelers who love racking up miles for free trips, there's nothing scarier than the idea of waking up one morning to find their frequent flyer account empty.   

If you're not careful, this could happen to you.  Airlines will expire your miles if you don't keep the account active over a certain period of time.  Delta and JetBlue are the exceptions because they have a no expiration policy.

If you're like most people then you probably have miles with several different airlines.  It can get pretty confusing keeping track of all your accounts and when your miles are set to expire.  A great tool to use is AwardWallet, which keeps track of all the miles in your loyalty accounts and will notify you by email when you are approaching an expiration date.  One of the best parts of AwardWallet is that it is free to use.

To keep a frequent flyer account active, airlines require you to earn or use your miles within a specific period of time, and every time you do either the clock will reset.  One of the biggest misconceptions about loyalty accounts is that people think that you need to actually fly with the airlines in order to keep your account active, but this is not the case. Here are a few alternative methods that you can use to keep your accounts active if they're approaching expiration.

Airline dining programs

Most airlines have dining programs that allow you to earn miles for every dollar you spend at restaurants.  Each time you dine and earn miles, your account will be reset.  If you want to get started with a dining program, both American Airlines and US Airways are giving away 2,000 miles just for signing up and visiting a participating restaurant within 30 days.

Renting a car

Most airlines are partnered with major car rental agencies.  When you book your next car rental make sure you give them your frequent flyer number and your miles will be credited to your account.

Using a credit card

Co-branded airlines credit cards like the British Airways Visa card and the Hawaiian Airlines card will allow you to earn miles for each purchase that you make using the card.  A credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred is also good for keeping multiple accounts open. With this card you will earn Chase Ultimate Reward points with each purchase, and these points can then be transferred toSouthwest AirlinesUnited AirlinesKorean AirBritish Airways, and Virgin Atlantic.  By making a transfer your accounts would then show activity.

Transfer hotel points

Most hotels allow you to transfer your points to different airline partners, and this might be a good idea if you have points with a hotel chain that you don't plan on using.  It's not the best use of points because the conversion rate isn't very good (for example you can exchange 10 Hilton points for 1.5 airline miles), but if you don't like staying at Hilton hotels and need to keep your American account active, it might make sense to just transfer your points.

Book a hotel stay with RocketMiles

If you have never used RocketMiles you are missing out.  They offer great rates on hotel stays, you earn frequent flyer miles on each stay, and they also have a huge list of participating airlines to choose from.

Signing up with e-Rewards or e-Miles

Both e-Rewards and e-miles will allow you to earn miles with different airlines just for doing things like watching advertisements or completing surveys.  You probably won't earn a free flight but you will easily keep your accounts active.

Purchase miles

Occasionally airlines will run promotions where you can earn a bonus for purchasing miles.  If you need to boost your account balance to be able to redeem an award flight or just need activity within your account then this might be a good idea.  Otherwise these promotions usually end up costing you more than the miles are actually worth in value.

Donating to charity

Some airlines will allow you to make a donation to charities like the USO, Wounded Warriors or Unicef.

Make a purchase with your miles

If you look on your airlines frequent flyer account page, you will notice that you can use your miles to buy gifts, magazines or even gift cards.  Using your miles to buy something should be a last resort.  It offers you very little value, but it will work to keep your accounts active.

By taking advantage of one of these methods you will be able to keep your loyalty accounts active and can rest easy knowing that you will not lose your hard earned miles.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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