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A major incentive for credit cards is the lucrative rewards programs offered by many issuers 

You can get credit cards with a rewards structure that suits your lifestyle, whether you spend heavily on travelgas or groceries. You can also look to flat-rate cash back cards that will reward you with the same percentage rate on all your spending.  

All credit cards come with fine print that requires your attention. One aspect of that fine print is whether your rewards expire 

Luckily most of the major card issuers allow you to keep your points indefinitely. As long as you keep up your end of the credit card agreement and pay your bill on time every month, you should be fine. Here’s a chart with some of the major cardholders and how they handle rewards points. 

Card issuer  Do points expire?  Time frame to use points
Chase Ultimate Rewards  No N/A 
Amex Membership Rewards  No N/A 
Bank of America Travel Rewards No N/A 
Citi ThankYou Rewards  Varies from card to card* 18 months – 5 years* 
Discover It Rewards   No  N/A 
Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards Yes 5 years
Capital One  No N/A 

*Some Citi cards have points that don’t expire. 

While these are general policies for these card issuers, reading the fine print for your specific credit card is important.  

Cards that are co-branded through airlines or hotels don’t usually follow the policies of the card issuer. Instead, those rewards points are filtered into the loyalty program from the hotel or airline. Most hotel and airline loyalty programs have expiration dates for points. They can range anywhere from a year to two years. However, if you’re flying with JetBlue or Delta, your miles will never expire.  

Other ways you may lose your points 

While points for most card issuers don’t expire, there are other ways you may end up losing your points. Here are a few things that you should be aware of. 

Inactivity: You earn points by making purchases with your rewards credit card. However, if that card falls into disuse for an extended period of time, your account may end up being closed. The period of time will vary depending on the card issuer. A common length of time is 18 months. If your card is closed due to inactivity, you may still be able to collect your points if your provider allows for a grace period. Grace periods range anywhere from 30-90 days depending on the issuer. 

Making returns: If you return a purchase that earned you points, your card issuer may reduce or eliminate the points earned on that purchase. If you want to keep those points but need to return a product, see if you can make an exchange for something else instead. That will allow you to keep those points in your rewards bank. 

Closing your account: If you choose to close your account, try to use or transfer your points before you do so. If that isn’t possible, you will probably have a grace period after closing the account to use your points. For example, Amex offers a grace period of 30 days and Discover offers a grace period of 18 months. However, make sure you check first because this is not always the case. For example, if you close your Capital One account, you will lose your points immediately. 

Falling out of good standing: Most card issuers require that your account is in good standing in order to keep your rewards points. You must follow the rules of the program in order to maintain your points, as well. If you become delinquent on your account, your points may be taken away or you may not have access to them until the account is current. Some issuers, like Amex, also charge a fee in order to reinstate points on a delinquent account. 

Program cancellation: If a program is canceled, points will disappear with the program. There is usually a grace period for using your points after a program has been canceled. You may also be able to transfer those points to another loyalty program or towards a statement credit. 

Death: If you pass away, you may lose your points unless the executor of your estate makes contact with the credit issuer and can show proof of death. In general, rewards points are meant for the person who earned them and can be complicated to have transferred to someone else after you’ve passed away. 

How to avoid losing points 

If you are a part of a program where your points expire, you do have a few options for keeping them longer. One way to hold on to your points is to transfer them to a hotel or airline loyalty program. The points will then fall under the policy of the new loyalty program, thus extending their shelf life a bit. 

Another way to avoid losing points is to switch to a cash back program. Cash back programs usually give cash back in the form of a statement credit, direct deposit or gift cards. These rewards can be used immediately toward purchases, thus avoiding any possible expiration issues.  

The bottom line 

While most credit card rewards don’t expire with time, it’s a good idea to acquire rewards points with a specific goal in mind. This will help give you a time frame for using the points and make sure that you are putting them towards something you really want.