What good are a million frequent flier miles if they expire before you can use them?
All of the major airlines except Continental have slapped expiration dates on their frequent flier miles, generally one to two years. Activity on the accounts — like flights or credit card awards — will prevent expiration. But even frequent travelers can be surprised when miles expire on an airline they don't often fly.
Some airlines, including Delta, show mileage expiration when you log into your frequent flier account on its Web site. Some don't. So staying on top of all the relevant dates can be challenging.
The advantage of using software or a third-party Web site is that you can monitor multiple rewards accounts at one time. A few will send you an alert if your miles are close to expiring. And most let you track hotel and rental car rewards programs, too, all in one place.
The biggest and oldest of the sites is MileageManager. It has about 120,000 members, according to Randy Petersen, who runs parent company Frequent Flyer Services as well as InsideFlyer magazine.
Petersen said one advantage of having multiple accounts in one place is that after your trip, it's easier to make sure you got credit for all of your spending. If you took a trip to Dallas, he said, "you will see your flight, your hotel — 'hey, where's my car rental?' "
Here's a rundown of what you'll find on some of the more popular mile-tracking sites. All three will also track car rental and hotel programs. However, not every site tracks every provider's program, so check to make sure the programs you use the most are available on the site:
Costs $6.99 per year. Available on the Web, as a widget for Windows or Mac computers, or as an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch and Nokia phones. You'll have to pay twice if you want to use it on your phone as well as at mileblaster.com. The service includes e-mail alerts that your miles will soon expire, and some versions allow tracking of accounts for multiple users. A status bar shows your progress toward your next award ticket on each airline.
Costs $14.95 per year. Available at mileagemanager.com as well as travel organization Web site Tripit.com. (Expiration alerts at Tripit are part of the "pro" version, which costs $69 per year.) You can specify how far in advance you want to be notified about expiring miles. MileageManager requires separate accounts for each family member, so the bill could run up for someone who wants to manage several accounts. (The company says it's looking at the possibility of multi-user accounts in the future.) The service will also monitor a flight you're interested in and notify you if an award seat becomes available.
Free. This one is the newest of the bunch. Traxo aims to let travelers see both the balances in their loyalty programs, as well as information on upcoming trips. It also says it will notify you that you didn't get credit on a recent trip, as well as notify you that there is a mileage promotion for a trip you just booked.