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Stop United miles from expiring – and is reinstating them worth it?

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This article was last updated Feb 24, 2016, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.


We like United MileagePlus® miles – they are among the most valuable of the big US carriers with lots of availability and flexibility to use for global travel. They are almost always easier to use than Delta SkyMiles® in our experience, but there is one place Delta has an advantage on United…its miles don’t expire.

United MileagePlus® miles expire after 18 months of inactivity.

Gone, wiped out.

This happens often, since many of us only travel once every few years.

But there are easy ways to keep miles from expiring that don’t involve buying a flight. The gist is that if you have any activity – whether earning or spending miles, you can reset the clock for another 18 months.

Try these first…

Open a United branded credit card. If you hold any credit card that says United on the front, your miles will not expire so long as the account is open. The United℠ Explorer Card* is the entry level card and waives the first checked bag fee.

Enroll in e-miles. This is a program that lets you complete surveys and earn a small number of miles. If you sign up and complete 5 or more offers to view ads or complete short surveys, you’ll have 400 miles deposited into your United MileagePlus account.

Use the MileagePlus X app to pay for something. The MileagePlus X iOS and Android app lets you buy e-gift cards to many big merchants that are stored directly on your phone, so you can pay right from your phone in the store or while shopping online. A quick $10 Starbucks card or a $5 Amazon credit will be enough to earn miles and reset your account expiration. Miles tend to post pretty quickly from the app.

Shop at one of the MileagePlus online retail partners. If you’re making a purchase online, go to the United MileagePlus portal first for a link to your favorite store. You’ll earn United miles on the purchase and reset the clock. You don’t need a United credit card to do this. A cheap purchase is 2 iTunes songs for $1.98.

Enroll in and use MileagePlus Dining. You can earn miles when using any credit card you link to your account and dining at restaurants in the MileagePlus dining program. These miles post pretty quickly in practice, usually within a month of the dining purchase.

Note that the miles you earn have to post before your account is set to expire, and that can take several weeks for online shopping miles for example. So in that case, the fastest way to reset the clock is to *spend* a small number of miles.

(Best for fast action) Donate 500 or more miles to charity. An easy way to reset the clock instantly is to donate miles to charity. You can do it for as little as 500 miles, and you’re doing something good in the process. It’s a great option when you’re almost out of time.

But if you forgot to reset the clock, and the miles have expired, you have some hope….

United will reinstate your miles balance for a fee. You can purchase as few or as many of your expired miles within 18 months of their expiration. The fees are as follows

  •  1 – 5,000 : $50.00
  •  5,001 – 6,000 : $60.00
  • 6,001 – 7,000 : $70.00
  • 7,001 – 8,000 : $80.00
  • 8,001 – 9,000 : $90.00
  • 9,001 – 10,000 : $100.00
  • 10,001 – 15,000 : $125.00
  • 15,001 – 20,000 : $150.00
  • 20,001 – 25,000 : $175.00
  • 25,001 – 30,000 : $200.00
  • 30,001 – 35,000 : $225.00
  • 35,001 – 40,000 : $250.00
  • 40,001 – 45,000 : $275.00
  • 45,001 – 50,000 : $300.00
  • 50,001 – 75,000 : $400.00
  • 75,001 – 100,000 : $500.00
  • 100,001 – 125,000 : $600.00
  • 125,001 – 150,000 : $700.00
  • 150,001 – 200,000 : $950.00
  • 200,001 – 250,000 : $1,200.00
  • 250,001 – 300,000 : $1,450.00
  • 300,001 – 350,000 : $1,700.00
  • 350,001 – 400,000 : $1,950.00
  • 400,001 – 450,000 : $2,200.00
  • 450,001 – 500,000 : $2,450.00
  • 500,001 – and above : $2,500.00

At minimum we think United miles are worth a penny each, and as much as 2 cents or more if you find decent use for them.

So, if you have more than 5,000 miles to reinstate the $50 minimum fee can be worth it. Otherwise you’re generally paying less than 3/10ths of a cent for each mile, which while not optimal, is in most cases worth it if you have travel you can book with the miles.

Paying $100 to get 25,000 miles that can be used book a ticket that would cost you $500 in cash is a good deal.

But of course, try to avoid this situation, and use the tips we outlined above to prevent them from expiring.

*The information related to the United℠ Explorer Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

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