When I traveled around the world for six months in 2007, I racked up more than 80,000 frequent flier miles with USAirways. Since returning all of my travel has been by car, so I haven’t had an opportunity to redeem any of my mileage. Recently I discovered that USAirways frequent filer miles expire if there has been no activity on the account for18 months – and my 18 month deadline was fast approaching.

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USAirways Dividend Miles program bears watching

Initially I thought about going out to California to visit some friends, but the more I tried to purchase a ticket, the more frustrated I became. At one point I thought I had figured it out, until discovering at the last minute that the airline’s web site had booked me into Santa Barbara on the outbound leg but through San Diego on the return leg. Eventually I decided I just wasn’t meant to go and started looking for another solution. I phoned USAirways and asked if, like American Airlines, I could buy a certificate with my frequent flier miles and redeem it any time during the next year. No, USAirways doesn’t do that. Could I pay a fee to extend my miles? Nope, they don’t do that either.

The customer service representative’s only suggestion was to buy a magazine subscription through the web site – that would extend my mileage for another 18 months. But the last thing I need is more garbage in my mailbox; with the amount of travel I do I am always trying to get rid of extraneous mail. Her suggestion did, however, get me thinking. I discovered that in addition to partner airlines, hotels, and car rental firms, USAirways has partner retailers. One of them, Office Max, was the solution to my problem. With a quick purchase of printer ink – which I needed anyway – I saved my mileage. I also discovered that I could have donated a minimum of 1,000 miles to one of several non-profit organizations, bought 1,000 miles for 2.5 cents per mile, or even enrolled into the airline’s dining and entertainment program and had dinner at a participating restaurant to extend my mileage.

I was lucky; I figured this out only seven days prior to my 18 month deadline. Airlines rarely tell you that your miles are about to expire. They also frequently change their programs without notice – many mileage programs used to allow 36 months of inactivity before taking miles away. Even when I logged on to my USAirways account page, my expiration date was nowhere to be found, so if you have frequent flier accounts it’s wise to check them regularly in order to keep frequent flier miles from expiring.