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Stop United miles from expiring – and is reinstating them worth it?

by on Wed February 24, 2016 • 88 Comments


We like United MileagePlus® miles – they are among the most valuable of the big US carriers with lots of availability and flexibility to use for global travel. They are almost always easier to use than Delta SkyMiles in our experience, but there is one place Delta has an advantage on United…its miles don’t expire.

United miles expire after 18 months of inactivity.

Gone, wiped out.

This happens often, since many of us only travel once every few years.

But there are easy ways to keep miles from expiring that don’t involve buying a flight. The gist is that if you have any activity – whether earning or spending miles, you can reset the clock for another 18 months.

Try these first…

Open a United branded credit card. If you hold any credit card that says United on the front, your miles will not expire so long as the account is open. The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is the entry level card, with no annual fee the first year, and a $95 fee after that.  It also waives the first checked bag fee.

Enroll in e-miles. This is a program that lets you complete surveys and earn a small number of miles. If you sign up and complete 5 or more offers to view ads or complete short surveys, you’ll have 400 miles deposited into your United MileagePlus account.

Use the MileagePlus X app to pay for something. The MileagePlus X iOS and Android app lets you buy e-gift cards to many big merchants that are stored directly on your phone, so you can pay right from your phone in the store or while shopping online. A quick $10 Starbucks card or a $5 Amazon credit will be enough to earn miles and reset your account expiration. Miles tend to post pretty quickly from the app.

Shop at one of the MileagePlus® online retail partners. If you’re making a purchase online, go to the United Mileage Plus portal first for a link to your favorite store. You’ll earn United miles on the purchase and reset the clock. You don’t need a United credit card to do this. A cheap purchase is 2 iTunes songs for $1.98.

Enroll in and use MileagePlus® Dining. You can earn miles when using any credit card you link to your account and dining at restaurants in the MileagePlus® dining program. These miles post pretty quickly in practice, usually within a month of the dining purchase.

Note that the miles you earn have to post before your account is set to expire, and that can take several weeks for online shopping miles for example. So in that case, the fastest way to reset the clock is to *spend* a small number of miles.

(Best for fast action) Donate 500 or more miles to charity. An easy way to reset the clock instantly is to donate miles to charity. You can do it for as little as 500 miles, and you’re doing something good in the process. It’s a great option when you’re almost out of time.

But if you forgot to reset the clock, and the miles have expired, you have some hope….

United will reinstate your miles balance for a fee. You can purchase as few or as many of your expired miles within 18 months of their expiration. The fees are as follows

  •  1 – 5,000 : $50.00
  •  5,001 – 6,000 : $60.00
  • 6,001 – 7,000 : $70.00
  • 7,001 – 8,000 : $80.00
  • 8,001 – 9,000 : $90.00
  • 9,001 – 10,000 : $100.00
  • 10,001 – 15,000 : $125.00
  • 15,001 – 20,000 : $150.00
  • 20,001 – 25,000 : $175.00
  • 25,001 – 30,000 : $200.00
  • 30,001 – 35,000 : $225.00
  • 35,001 – 40,000 : $250.00
  • 40,001 – 45,000 : $275.00
  • 45,001 – 50,000 : $300.00
  • 50,001 – 75,000 : $400.00
  • 75,001 – 100,000 : $500.00
  • 100,001 – 125,000 : $600.00
  • 125,001 – 150,000 : $700.00
  • 150,001 – 200,000 : $950.00
  • 200,001 – 250,000 : $1,200.00
  • 250,001 – 300,000 : $1,450.00
  • 300,001 – 350,000 : $1,700.00
  • 350,001 – 400,000 : $1,950.00
  • 400,001 – 450,000 : $2,200.00
  • 450,001 – 500,000 : $2,450.00
  • 500,001 – and above : $2,500.00

Click here for a link to United mile reinstatement.

At minimum we think United miles are worth a penny each, and as much as 2 cents or more if you find decent use for them.

So, if you have more than 5,000 miles to reinstate the $50 minimum fee can be worth it. Otherwise you’re generally paying less than 3/10ths of a cent for each mile, which while not optimal, is in most cases worth it if you have travel you can book with the miles.

Paying $100 to get 25,000 miles that can be used book a ticket that would cost you $500 in cash is a good deal.

But of course, try to avoid this situation, and use the tips we outlined above to prevent them from expiring.



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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
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Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee, then $95

Annual Fee


Foreign Transaction Fee Waived


Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

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88 thoughts on Stop United miles from expiring – and is reinstating them worth it?

  1. Ryan

    GREAT SITE. I can’t follow all the in’s and out’s of these programs, so reading it here is a big help. I took your advice and just donated 500 miles to a united charity (because the miles expire tomorrow).

    United customer service confirmed a reduction in my total miles….and I can see the tx online.

    BUT, there is no reduction to my total miles, and the expiration date is still set for tomorrow!!

    We’re talking about six figure miles, so I don’t want to lose them. (United couldn’t give me a confirmation number for the tx).

    Long intro to my question: If a transaction like a charity contribution is recorded BEFORE the expiration date (in this case only 1 day before) am I ‘good to go’. Or will United claim that there is some ‘lag’ with posting (like they do with gift cards….3 to 5 days).

    Thanks for your site and advice.


      @Ryan – When you look at the ‘non-airline activity’ section of your account statement, and you see the date next to the description of the charity mileage donation is today or yesterday, you’re fine.

  2. Rosalind O'Callaghan

    I have spent a merry hour reading how to stop my MileagePlus miles expiring, and tried to buy good and donate miles to charity. However neither of these options works form me I assume because I live in the UK. This seems unfair. Any suggestions? I do not need to stay in in hotel or use a flight in the weeks before they expire.

  3. Suzy

    This page has some great suggestions although its too late to help me out. I’m with the poor souls that unexpectedly lost miles accumulated with Continental Airlines. It does seem odd that with all those fancy computer systems, United can’t find a way to send an email at least a few weeks before their “members” accumulated miles go poof.

  4. hua

    Went online to check awards to get to a funeral… turns out the miles expired the very same day I learned of the death. I received no email reminder and I have an open United Awards Card… I thought having any card was supposed to keep the account active, but the agent said there had to be activity on the CC. Pretty upset as this was just under 100,000 miles 🙁

  5. Megan

    Hi there,

    My boyfriend and I traveled to Beijing and Thailand in December 2015-January 2016. We went through Houston on United and then on AirChina to Beijing. We made a huge mistake and both thought the other registered for miles. Unfortunately, we did not 🙁 Is it too late to do this? What if we apply for the rewards card? Would that still be an option?


  6. OC


    Just found out that my husbands miles expired in may :(. It was only 9,000 but I was going to transfer them to me to buy myself a flight! Anyways. I just discovered that he traveled a few months before the expiry so I just (minutes ago) filed for those miles. When they add the miles will that reinstate? I think it’s worth the try– but not worth buying the 9k miles back for $85.

    Anyone have experience in this?

  7. Melissa

    I just found out my 50,000 miles from my one pass account expired Oct 1, 2013. One pass miles never expired and I was never notified of the change in policy after the merger. United keeps on telling me that their website notified people of the change as well as social media. I was never given written notification. Any thoughts on how to get them back? I feel like a lot of people are in my situation.

    1. Stefania

      I just found out the same thing. I had miles with Continental that carried over to United. The miles with Continental did not have an expiration. I found out the miles with United do. Apparently they sent an email to me, however it most likely ended up with junk mail. I am extremely disappointed with their customer service/regard for customers. You would think if you were in a program that guaranteed miles for life you would be grandfathered in. In a highly competitive industry that is struggling it is a shame they have such poor service in my opinion.

  8. shirley & walter dahlquist

    July 27, 2015 I wrote a fax giving our miles traveled when we went to Sicily Italy on 8 /6/15. Returned on 8/27/2015.

    This year I received a flier from united saying that my miles were going to expire on 4/30/16. When I read this website, it says you take miles away after 18 months of no flying. Why did I get this letter
    when I had flown in 2015?





      @shirley – Best to call United on 800 421 4655.

      Sounds like you might have more than one account – and may want to have them check both.

  9. vanitha

    I just realized that I let $130 K miles expired 3/1/16. Tried calling United, with not much option except paying $ 700 in re-instatement fee! I’ve stayed with their hotel partners ( Hilton honors ) in the last 12 months. Would this help to reinstate my miles ? Would appreciate your comments


      @vanitha – That might help – try to get HHonors to credit those stays with MileagePlus as your mile partner.

      1. John

        I just tried this with Hilton. They will not retroactively add MilagePlus miles to your account. You need to make sure that you have selected MilagePlus miles for their Double Dip program. I was not aware of this program and lost out on a lot of miles/HH points. If anyone has any luck getting Hilton to retroactively add miles, let me know!

  10. raff

    I just noticed my younger daughter who just turned 18 lost 9k miles, do you think they would reinstate since she was a minor?

    1. Caroline

      Yes buying United miles (“Personal Miles”) does keep your existing miles active. It will reset the expiry for another 18 months.

  11. sevillas

    Sadly, I just learned my 39K miles expired in Jan 2016. Do you know which hotel chains and car rentals count towards helping my reinstatement case? I do travel frequently for work, just not on United anymore since Delta has become my hub.
    Any help appreciated!

    1. Bonnie

      Sevillas – the rental car and hotel partners are listed at United’s site:

      If you are willing to pay $100, call Mileage Plus and tell them you’d like to take their flight/car $100 challenge. They’ll charge you $100. Then, within a certain time frame (12 months? Ask), book and take a United flight or rent a car from a United partner. They will then reinstate your miles. I just happened to have taken a one-way flight with United a couple weeks after my 52,000 miles expired. The $100 and that flight will get all my miles (up to 750,000 the confirmation email said) reinstated. Cheaper than the $400 I would have had to pay. This is what I understand – be sure to confirm with United so you know what you’re getting!

      1. Jay

        My text….
        Remember to make a purchase with a United MileagePlus credit card or
        complete a paid qualifying roundtrip flight operated by United or United
        Express and earn the appropriate miles within 90 days to regain your miles.
        Miles earned from credit card purchases or flights must be posted to the
        MileagePlus account listed above to qualify.

        1. Rose

          Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Just did this and saved $600 – my miles will post as soon I complete the fight I bought earlier today.

  12. span

    My daughters miles are going to expire at the end of this month. If I buy something online today via the shopping portal, will the miles get extended or will it be too late by the time the miles get posted. Thanks.


      @spa – Yes they would get extended once the miles post. The ‘activity date’ will be before the expiration date, so even if the ‘posted date’ is later, it’s the ‘activity date’ that matters.

      If you don’t want to think about it, donating 500 miles to charity would post immediately.

  13. Constantine

    Does transfer of miles from Chase Sapphire Preferred card to my United Mileage Plus account extend the life of miles?

  14. Spencer Anrube M Salik

    My account has been temporarily close from last year and i really don’t understand why but i get back into it last week. my balance are all gone 25,000 …i wonder if the mileageplus service center count the months that my account have been close… i don’t understand why because it is close and i can not do any activity on my account to be active.

  15. Lucas

    I accidentally let 120,000 miles expire one month ago. Thanks for the heads up united. 🙁 I understand that i can purchase them back. Can I purchase a small portion say 25K then come back a few months later and purchase the remaining 95K back?

    1. mike chappelow

      I apparently lost mine in december 2015. I really appreciate the lack of a notice of my 125000 miles going to expire. Delta and American don’t treat you that way. I was saving the miles for my 25th anniversary. Thanks united.


          @Al – According to the e-miles site it can take 8-10 weeks for the transfer to post to your MileagePlus account.

  16. sonia

    How long does it take to reinstate the miles and buy the ticket. Have lost 40000 miles but have 18 months to reinstate. If the price of ticket is more than the reinstatement fees, I would buy them – But would like to know how many days does this process take.

  17. Kieran

    Hi there,
    My United miles expired in November 2015 but I realised than a few eligible Turkish Airlines flights that I took in October 2015 had not been credited. If I request this mileage now, retrospectively, will it reactivate the miles? Technically the flight took place before the miles expired and while my MileaguePlus number was attached to the booking, I didn’t check until now whether they’d been credited.


      @BC – Maybe, if the ticket you book with the miles would cost you more than $150 to buy in cash. You have up to 18 months after the miles expire to decide to reinstate them.

  18. adrienne

    Do you or anyone know if you are able to get points back if you sign up for a credit card? I had 26k points and it expired in October :(.

    If they do allow me to get the points back if I get a credit card, is that or paying $200 worth it?


      @adrienne – Unfortunately once they’ve expired all you can do is buy them back. But you don’t have to do it right away. You have up to 18 months after they expired to buy them back. So wait until you have a trip you want to book – and if using 26k miles for the trip saves you more than $200 then it’s worth it.

      Or consider signing up for a credit card later and just earning miles again via a bonus without paying the fee.

  19. Drew

    I juts learned that my 157000 Continental miles expired, I was never given any notification of the change in plans etc. Cont. miles used to never expire, they did not have an email address for me or phone, should I have been contacted? and or should I pay to reinstate?


      @Drew – They did notify people who had contact info on file that starting in 2012 the miles would expire after 18 months of inactivity (either earning or using miles). If you have a specific award in mind – you can reinstate as few or as many of the miles. So if there’s a particular trip where the cost to reinstate the amount of miles needed (say 80,000) is less than what you’d pay in cash, then it’s worth it.

  20. Anne MacKenzie

    as I understand it my miles will not expire if I keep using my explorer plus united cc for any type of purchases. I use the cc at least 5-10x per month.


    Around 10,000 reward miles are expiring on Dec 31st 2015.If i buy a ticket for about$150 before expiry date,can i save the reward miles which are about to expire.This relates to United Air.


      @Shakeel – If you fly it before December 31st, yes. Otherwise no, because the miles won’t post until you actually fly the flight.

  22. Irwin Marvald

    I just learned that the 93,665 miles I accrued with Continental Airlines expired 10/1/13. Continental never had an expiration period. I was NEVER NOTIFIED by United that a mileage expiration period was initiated. After learning what activities would have extended the expiration date I realized I stayed at Hilton Hotels months before and after my miles expired, but I was unaware that those events would have an effect on my miles. I contacted United with that information and was told that it was too late to post any activity after 1 year from that activity. Is there anything I can do to have my miles restored?


      @Meena chheda – Another 18 months. But you can reset the clock anytime for another 18 months every time you use or earn miles.

  23. CD

    I had miles expire a few months ago and just realized I took a flight almost a year ago, but for some reason my MileagePlus number wasn’t tracked to the flight. I requested and received mileage credit for this flight; will my expired miles be reinstated (either automatically or after making a request), seeing as I took a United flight before the expiration date?

  24. Erin

    Thanks for all the advice! I have two questions! Points expired (ugh) because 18 months passed since the United credit card was cancelled. However, I just realized that a plane ticket I had purchased and was then unable to use (I still have a credit) was done within the past year. Would that ticket count towards reinstating my points without the fee?

    Also, can reinstated points be transferred?


      @Erin – Unfortunately only if you flew the flight and earned points would it count. Once you reinstate you can transfer, but there is a whole other set of fees. Though you can use your miles to book flights in anyone’s name, so you often don’t need to actually do a transfer.

  25. Patrick Wallace

    Hi my miles are due to expire on 11.30.2015 I have booked a return flight (on a single ticket) departing 11.20.15 but it doesn’t return until 12.06.15. My concern is will this keep my account active given I am flying before the miles expire or because the return is on a single ticket will they not be credited until I take my return flight (ie after the expiry date)?

    Many thanks,


  26. Joyce

    My miles expired and I applied for credit card challenge. How long will it take to get miles posted and reinstated?

  27. Michael

    My miles expire in a week or so. I can reasonably purchase a ticket with United now, but the flight will be in several months. Does that constitute enough activity to keep my miles alive?

    1. Karen Tennison

      I just downloaded the MileagePlusX app on my phone today, input the required info including credit card, bought an ice cream at a participating retailer and received 21 miles and rolled over my miles (extended expiration date) almost immediately (same day). The app creates a gift card with a barcode for the retailer to input. You get a receipt from the retailer and from United by email and you are all set to go. Easiest and fastest way ever.

      1. CL

        THANKS!!! This suggestion was exactly what I needed. My 75k+ miles were to expire in 2 days. With this app and an $8 purchase at Panera Bread for lunch my miles now don’t expire until 2017. The cashier didn’t recognize the app when I asked but just tell them that you have a gift card number and it works. Basically you purchase a gift card for the exact amount needed through the app and then give them the number it generates.

  28. Sanjay

    My miles expired more than 18 months ago. I am willing to pay to reinstate miles. Is there any hope that they will let me buy the miles expired more than 18 months ago? Any advise would be appreciated.


      @Sanjay – If it doesn’t appear online, give the MileagePlus center a call and see what options they have. They are on 1-800-421-4655. It’s rare to find a consumer as pragmatic as you.

      1. Tanya

        Sanjay – any luck? I called that number for the same reason, and they told me nothing could be done and just leave a feedback comment through the online form.

        1. Bonnie

          Try this, it worked for me: ask for the flight/car challenge. Pay $100 and then within a certain time frame (think it was 12 months, but check) take a United flight or rent a car from a partner (like Thrifty) and they will reinstate your miles. I just happened to have taken a one-way flight with United a couple weeks after my 52,000 miles expired so the $100 and that flight will get all my miles (up to 750,000 the confirmation email said) reinstated. Good luck!! I also downloaded the Mileage Plus X app – just to be safe.

          Also – check that in your United Mileage Plus profile you didn’t unsubscribe to all emails – it’s how I missed the expiration.

  29. Joe

    I used to be a frequent traveler but not so much anymore, and have been with United mileage plus since 1993. I never realized they expire like that and I have lost them a few months ago. Do I have any recourse?


      @Joe – Unfortunately your only real option is to pay one of the fees listed above to have them reinstated. Usually the fee is less than what the kind of ticket the miles would be able to get you would cost in cash.

      The programs depend on some forgetfulness and people who let miles go unused to support the cost of offering some of the better rewards.

    2. DeDe

      April 1, 2015 United Miles, 84,000, expired! YIKES…. just 18 days ago! Can I get them back some way other than paying $500. ? Checked today to be safe and darn! 17 days past due date. Is there a ‘grace period’ ?


        @DeDe – Have you stayed in a hotel or rented a car at a place that is a partner with United in the months prior to April 1? If you request mileage credit from the hotel or rental car company, it should post to MileagePlus backdated and reset your account. You’ll need to get in touch with the hotel or rental car chain to request it.

        1. Caley

          Great tip. Trying now to get back a lot of miles that expired a couple weeks ago – fingers crossed it works!

  30. Michael

    It appears that emiles and the mileageplus shopping portal state that it may take several weeks before the miles apply. Since my miles are closer than that to expiring, will United take these purchases into consideration knowing they are pending?

    1. MileCards

      @Michael – That is a great question, and would say don’t bank on that. They can be strict about the date the miles post if they want to. A safer way to get activity instantly is to donate miles to charity. You can donate as few as 500 miles, and the clock will reset instantly. We’ve updated the post with that information and a link for you.

      1. Diane

        I didn’t plan ahead so when I realized my miles were set to expire yesterday (9/30), I panicked and started Googling options. I donated 500 miles and patiently waited for my expiration date to reset. It took 24 hrs, but all is well so I would definitely recommend this to anyone in a similar situation. A small (and worthy) price to pay if you don’t want to lose your miles or pay $50+ to reinstate expired miles.

  31. Sheridan

    I’ve been trying to save my United Miles from expiring, but they have made it harder to save them now. I made an online purchase through the United Shopper portal, and I was never credited the miles. I called an asked about it, and United told me that you now need a card to be eligible to earn points via the shopping portal. Bckstgr hasn’t worked for either, as I always get an error message when trying ti sign up.

    1. MileCards

      @Sheridan – Sorry to hear that. Which merchant did you shop online with via the portal? There is no requirement to hold a United credit card to earn points via any merchant on the portal. Right now another option is to earn 3,000 miles for enrolling in MileagePlus dining rewards.


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