Many credit cards come with a major incentive to keep swiping: lucrative rewards programs. Plus, there are many different types of rewards credit cards you can get. You can get a bonus category card with a rewards structure that suits your lifestyle (whether you spend heavily on travel, gas, dining or groceries). Or, you can look into flat-rate cash back cards that offer the same rewards rate on all your spending.

Still, all credit cards and their rewards programs come with fine print that requires your attention, which typically includes whether or not your rewards will expire. Luckily, most credit card rewards programs allow you to keep your rewards indefinitely. As long as you hold up your end of the credit card agreement and pay your bill on time every month, you shouldn’t lose any rewards.

However, credit cards that are co-branded with airlines or hotels don’t usually follow the policies of the card issuer. Instead, those cards earn hotel or airline rewards, and so they abide by those hotel or airline loyalty programs’ rules. Most hotel and airline loyalty programs have expiration dates for rewards, which typically occur after one to three years of account inactivity. Of course, some airline or hotel rewards never expire, which we’ll discuss below.

Luckily, there are many ways to keep your hard-earned credit card, hotel and airline rewards from expiring. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about which loyalty programs allow rewards to expire, how to keep your rewards from expiring, what to do if you lose your rewards and more.

Do credit card rewards expire?

Here are some of the major credit card issuers and how they handle their rewards. While these are general policies for these card issuers, it’s important to read your cardmember agreement and your card’s terms and conditions.

Credit card rewards program Do rewards expire? When will rewards expire?
American Express Membership Rewards No N/A
Bank of America travel rewards (and cash rewards) No N/A
Capital One miles (and cash rewards) No N/A
Chase Ultimate Rewards No N/A
Citi ThankYou Points Yes, rewards may expire depending on the card. Check your Citi account for additional terms and conditions Unless otherwise noted, ThankYou points will expire 3 years from when they were awarded. If terminated by Citi with 30 days written notice, rewards will expire in 90 days
Discover rewards and miles No N/A
Wells Fargo Rewards No N/A
Wells Fargo Business Rewards Yes 5 years from the month they were earned

Do airline rewards expire?

Airline rewards typically expire within 36 months of inactivity. However, several programs have adopted a more generous no-expiration policy. While this can provide members with peace of mind, it can also lead to rewards devaluations. Loyalty rewards are like any other currency: When there are too many in circulation, it can lead to inflation. In the loyalty program world, inflation gets combated with program devaluations.

Being familiar with each airline program’s rewards expiration policy is key to ensuring you’ll get as much value out of your rewards as possible.

Airline rewards program Do rewards expire? When will rewards expire?
Air Canda Aeroplan Yes 18 months of inactivity (see terms)
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan No N/A
American Airlines AAdvantage Yes 24 months of inactivity; members under 21 and primary AAdvantage credit card members are exempt from this policy (see terms)
ANA Mileage Club Yes 36 months after earning for Group 1 members; varies depending on campaign for Groups 2 through 4 (see terms)
British Airways Executive Club (Avios) Yes 36 months of inactivity (see terms)
Cathay Pacific Yes 18 months of inactivity (see terms)
Delta SkyMiles No N/A
Emirates Skywards Yes (exceptions apply) 3 years from earning; can extend miles 3 months from expiry date for up to 12 months for a fee (see terms)
Etihad Guest Yes 18 months of inactivity (see terms)
Air France/KLM Flying Blue Yes 24 months of inactivity (see terms [PDF])
Frontier Miles Yes 6 months of inactivity (see terms)
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles No N/A
Iberia Plus (Avios) Yes 36 months of inactivity (see terms)
JetBlue TrueBlue No N/A
Qantas Frequent Flyer Yes 18 months of inactivity (see terms)
Qatar Airways Privilege Club (Avios) Yes 36 months of inactivity (see terms)
Singapore KrisFlyer Yes (exceptions apply) 3 years from earning (see terms); miles do not expire for PPS Club members; miles set to expire can be extended for a fee
Southwest Rapid Rewards No N/A
United MileagePlus No N/A
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club No N/A

Do hotel rewards expire?

Most hotel rewards expire after 12 to 24 months of inactivity, which is a shorter timeframe than most airline rewards’ expiration dates. You’ll want to keep a closer eye on hotel rewards, especially if you don’t have a hotel credit card you can use to keep your account active.

Hotel loyalty program Do rewards expire? When will rewards expire?
Best Western Rewards No N/A
Choice Privileges Yes 18 months of inactivity (see terms)
Hilton Honors Yes 12 months of inactivity (see terms)
IHG One Rewards Yes (exceptions apply) 12 months of inactivity for Club members; for elite status members and eligible credit card holders, rewards do not expire (see terms)
Marriott Bonvoy Yes 24 months of inactivity (see terms)
Radisson Rewards Americas Yes 24 months of inactivity (see terms)
World of Hyatt Yes 24 months of inactivity (see terms)
Wyndham Rewards Yes 18 months of inactivity or 4 years after the checkout date of an eligible hotel stay (see terms)

Other ways you may lose your rewards

While rewards for most credit card loyalty programs won’t expire, there are other ways you may lose your rewards. The following applies for airline and hotel loyalty programs, too.

  • Inactivity. If you stop using your credit card or program account for an extended period of time, your account may be closed. The period of time will vary depending on the card issuer or program. If your card is closed due to inactivity, you may still be able to collect your rewards if your issuer allows for a grace period. Grace periods typically range anywhere from 30 to 90 days. If your program account is closed due to inactivity, some programs allow you to reactivate your account and reinstate your rewards.
  • Returning purchases made with a credit card. If you return a purchase that earned you rewards, your card issuer will likely take back the rewards earned on that purchase. If you need to return an item but want to keep the rewards you earned, see if you can exchange the item or receive store credit.
  • Closing your account. If you choose to close your credit card or rewards program account, try to use or transfer your rewards before you do so. If that isn’t possible, you may have a grace period after closing the account to use your rewards. However, some programs terminate your rewards immediately. It’s best to consult your credit card or rewards program’s terms and conditions for more information.
  • Falling out of good standing. Most issuers and rewards programs require that your account be in good standing in order to keep your rewards. You must follow the rules of the program in order to maintain your rewards, as well. If you become delinquent on your account, your rewards may be taken away or you may not have access to them until the account is current.
  • Rewards program cancellation. If a rewards program is canceled, your rewards will disappear with it. However, there is usually a grace period for using your rewards after a program has been canceled. You may also be able to transfer rewards to another loyalty program or redeem credit card rewards for a statement credit.
  • Death. If you pass away, you may lose your rewards unless the executor of your estate makes contact with the credit card issuer or loyalty program and can show proof of death. In general, rewards are meant for the person who earned them; having them transferred to someone else after death can get complicated.

How to keep rewards from expiring

If you are a part of a credit card, hotel or airline rewards program where your rewards expire, you’ll usually have a few options for keeping them longer. Of course, the easiest way to keep your rewards from expiring is to keep earning and redeeming them. These two activities will keep your accounts active and ensure you don’t lose your hard-earned rewards.

  • Choose a credit card that earns flexible, transferable rewards. If you can’t commit to a co-branded credit card, you can instead opt for a credit card that earns flexible rewards, like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can then transfer these rewards to an airline or hotel loyalty account to keep them from expiring. The rewards will then fall under the policy of the new loyalty program, thus extending their shelf life.
  • Get a credit card or earn an elite status level that waives rewards expiration policies. Some rewards programs waive rewards expiration policies for eligible credit card holders. For example, the IHG One Rewards program waives points expiration for Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond elite members (as long as elite status is maintained). You can also avoid losing your rewards if you have an eligible credit card in this program, like the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card*, which comes with Platinum elite status.
  • Redeem airline rewards for cheap, non-travel redemptions only as a last resort. This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: Don’t hoard your airline rewards. Redeeming airline rewards for travel gives you the best value and keeps your account active. However, if you’re trying to keep your airline rewards from expiring, then redeeming them for cheap non-travel rewards, like magazines or digital purchases, could make sense.
  • Transfer rewards to someone else, if eligible. You can often keep your rewards from expiring by transferring them to someone else. This may not be the best option since some programs charge you a fee for rewards transfers. However, some programs don’t charge a fee for sharing rewards, particularly for eligible credit card holders.
  • Make purchases through a shopping portal. Using a shopping portal is something you should do regardless of whether you have rewards expiring since it’s easy and rewarding. Simply head to your issuer’s, airline’s or hotel’s shopping portal. Then, search for items or brands you’re interested in and click through the prompts to make a purchase and earn rewards.
  • Use dining rewards programs. Dining rewards programs are a great way to keep earning rewards without thinking about it. All major airline and hotel programs have an affiliated dining rewards program, and many issuers have a dining program, too. You can join a program and earn rewards any time you make an eligible purchase at a participating restaurant. These rewards are in addition to the ones you earn from your credit card, too.
  • Donate rewards to charity. If your rewards are about to expire, donating them to charity is a great way to ensure they don’t go to waste. You’ll donate them to a good cause and feel better knowing at least someone got to use them. Sometimes, donating a small number of rewards can help you keep your remaining balance active. This is worth looking into if you’ve exhausted all other options.

Can you reinstate expired rewards?

If you’ve slipped up and let your rewards expire, all is not lost. Some loyalty programs allow you to reinstate expired rewards (usually for a fee), so be sure to check your loyalty program’s terms and conditions. For example, the following loyalty programs allow you to reinstate lost or expired rewards:

  • American Express Membership Rewards. There are certain situations where you may lose your points and be able to get them reinstated. For example, if you make a late payment, you may lose the points you earned during that billing period. Once you pay at least the minimum amount due, you can request your points to be reinstated for a $35 fee (per account and per billing period). You can only request lost points from the past 12 months. See Amex’s terms and conditions for more information.
  • Alaska Mileage Plan. If your account has been inactive for two or more years, it will be locked. Contact customer service to reactivate your account and reinstate miles.
  • American AAdvantage. You can make one transaction to reactivate miles that have expired within the past 24 months (up to 500,000 miles). Additional terms apply.
  • Emirates Skywards. You can reactivate miles from the past six months for a fee of $20 per 1,000 miles. You can reinstate up to 50,000 miles per year.
  • Frontier Miles. You can reinstate expired miles for a fee.

The bottom line

While most credit card rewards don’t expire, most airline and hotel rewards expire after a certain period of inactivity. Only a few rewards currencies don’t expire at all. That’s why it’s a good idea to acquire rewards with a specific goal in mind. This will help give you a time frame for using the rewards you earn and ensure you are putting them toward something you really want.

*The information about the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.