Don't lose frequent flyer or hotel points to 'loyalty leakage'

By David Flynn, October 10 2017
Don't lose frequent flyer or hotel points to 'loyalty leakage'

They were sitting in my account not all that long ago: a stack of shiny, waiting-to-be-used reward points from a leading hotel chain. Not a soaring tower of points, to be sure, but a nice little bundle all the same.

One month later, they'd disappeared and my account balance reset to zero. And I had only myself to blame.

I'd broken the cardinal rule of the point-savvy set and done something the experts always advise you should never let happen: I'd let my points expire.

If a maxim of points collectors is to think of points as cash – after all, they are a form of currency and when converted into an airline ticket or hotel rooms they have a real-world value – then I'd just gone and thrown money down the drain.

So while this wasn't thousands of dollars worth of points, it would have been sufficient for a free night in a suite at one of the group's five-star properties.

Part of the challenge for many business travellers is being mindful of, and then managing, what you could consider as your 'points portfolio'.

Here are a few strategies to stay on top of your points spread.

Playing favourites

The first rule: whenever you can, fly with the same airline or stay within the same 'family' of hotels.

It's a little easier with airline frequent flyer points. You'll probably be flying with only a few airlines, and if you're jetting about often and in business class, the points grow to a level where you can't 'forget' about them.

If you're flying on partner airlines, consider funnelling points back into a single airline's account. Even if you earn fewer points because you're not crediting them to the actual airline you're booked on, it's better to have all your points with one airline and available for use then scattered across several frequent flyer schemes.

On the hotel front, you'll find that Starwood has 11 different hotel brands where you can earn SPG points, plus 18 others via partnerships with Marriott Rewards and Ritz Carlton Rewards; Accor has around a dozen 'core' brands, some of which have their own offshoots.

The aim isn't just to accrue more points in a single currency: your repeat bookings help build up the status which delivers free upgrades, lounge access, late hotel checkouts and other practical perks depending on your membership tier.

Use them or lose them

Keep track of your points, no matter where they are. There's no need to become an Excel super-nerd about this, although I know some number crunchers who assiduously tally their points via very detailed spreadsheets.

At the very least, keep a closer eye on those monthly statements and mark your calendar ahead of the expiry dates for your points so you can consider what to do with them.

In the case of Qantas and Virgin Australia, almost any activity on your account – no matter how small – will keep all of the points in that scheme 'alive'.

(Qantas allows for 18 months of inactivity before resetting the counter; Virgin Australia extends this to 24 months.)

This includes making smart of use of frequent flyer partners where you can earn points for your everyday shopping or by filling the petrol tank in the family car.

However, many major airlines have a fixed expiry date rather than having a rolling expiry: Emirates Skywards, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Etihad Guest generally follow the 'miles expire X months after they were earned' approach.

Hotels might not offer so many of these 'escape hatches', but each hotel chain has ways you can redeem even a small number of points, and in some cases you can buy points to top up your account.

Sometimes the easiest and most instant way to clock up activity is to donate a small number of miles to charity, or to buy the lowest number of miles in programs like Hilton Honors. In these cases, spending or earning miles usually counts as activity.

Most hotel groups also let you convert reward points into airline frequent flyer points, so even if you can't get that free stay at a five-star suite you'll be closer to your next flight or business class upgrade.

Also read: Turning hotel loyalty points into airline frequent flyer points

Share your points

Another way to use soon-to-expire points is to transfer them to an eligible recipient, such as a family member – even if you can't use them, somebody else might be able to.

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia allow family transfers, although there's a minimum amount of 5,000 points which can be sent from one account to the next.

Don't have enough points to transfer? Here's a canny way around it.

Let's say John has only 4,000 points, which puts them under the threshold of a family transfer, but wants to donate them to his wife Sally to add to her more useful 80,000 point balance.

Sally transfers the minimum of 5000 points to John, which brings his total up to 9,000, and John then transfers all of those 9,000 points back to Sally.

Just be mindful of any yearly points limits, such as on the number of points transferred in total or the number of actual transfer transactions.

Additional material by Chris Chamberlin


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 320

Rydges are terrible in this regard, even though your account is active you only have a certain amount of time to use old points or the just start deducting them as expired, I lost about 4 nights worth of points so I ditched them entirely and will never stay with them again.

27 May 2015

Total posts 23

Great tip re overcoming the minimum points required for a family transfer. I was 7 points short for being able to complete one and used your noted method. Thanks!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 162

Been done with Accor myself, 2 nights gone, missed by just a few days
QFF and VV are really good as "home" accounts where you can have little incidental points keep you alive

13 Jun 2017

Total posts 8

My family managed to forget about the QFF points, and lost 80k and 20k respectively. However, we called them up, and had to earn 800 (adult) and 500 (child) points respectively within 6 months, and all points were reinstated. phew!


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2013

Total posts 33

I like American Airlines how they CLEARLY & EASILY (hear that Qantas) tell you monthly when your points will expire

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1193

Your first rule is exactly what the airlines and hotels want you to do but should you do it? Becoming a slave to a loyalty scheme is not financially smart. Where there is a genuine financial saving available by choosing a different airline, it is unlikely that any points earned will be sufficient to make travelling with the dearer airline a smart decision. Yes, you don't want to lose your points but you can keep your account alive without having to fly on an expensive fare; you can link credit cards, book a rental car etc.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 682

Let me guess, David. Was it HH?

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