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When do credit card rewards expire?

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A major incentive to using credit cards is the lucrative rewards programs offered by many issuers. You can get a card 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. This typically includes whether or not your rewards expire.

Luckily, most of the major card issuers allow you to keep your points indefinitely. As long as you hold 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 card issuers 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 to 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, it’s important to read your cardmember agreement and your card’s terms and conditions.

Cards that are co-branded with 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:

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 be closed. The period of time will vary depending on the card issuer, but 18 months is common. 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, but this is not always the case. For example, if you close your Capital One account, you will lose your points immediately. On the other hand, American Express offers a grace period of 30 days and Discover offers a grace period of 18 months. However, if you close your American Express credit card account and you have another Amex card that offers the same type of rewards, you can transfer your remaining rewards balance to your other Amex card.

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 American Express, also charge a fee in order to reinstate points on a delinquent account.

Program cancellation: If a program is canceled, your points will disappear with it. However, 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 toward 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 having them transferred to someone else after you’ve passed away can get complicated.

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 ensure you are putting them toward something you really want.

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Part of  Introduction to Rewards Credit Cards