Our reader Adam asked on our Easy Quarter Million page “Thanks so much John for compiling this information and putting it together in such a user friendly format. One quick question for you is should I wait to sign up for all of these credit cards until I’m sooner/closer to going traveling? Will these miles expire? If so do they within a year? If I cancel the credit cards do I lose the miles at that time? Let me know ASAP. Thanks again for all the great information.”
These are great questions so I decided to write this article to explain. I would suggest starting as soon as you can can because the credit card bonus process can take a while to get the miles.
The Credit Card Bonus Process
You are awarded the credit card bonus the first time your statement closes after meeting the spending requirement. This might take longer than you think so here is an example of how the process might go.
- Day 1: You apply for the card using the TravelWithMiles links to get the best bonus possible.
- Day 10: If you are instantly approved, you will probably get your new credit card in the mail today. If your application requires additional processing time or credit analyst approval then this day will get delayed until 10 days from approval (unless you call in to expedite things)
- Day 30-60: Your first statement closing date will be set 30-60 days from approval. Once you receive the card, you can find out your closing date by calling the number on the back of your card, or by looking online after you have registered the card for online access.
If you haven’t met the spending requirement by the first closing date, then you will have to wait until the next closing date (30 days later) to get the miles. On those high spending requirement cards it might take a little bit to spend enough. Of course we would recommend you read our article on How to Spend Monday without Spending Money! If you follow that article, you can meet even the highest spending requirement in only 5 days!
So on average it can take a minimum of 30 days and possibly up to 90 days for you to see the miles post to your account, so it is best to get started right away. Keep in mind that getting the miles is just one part of the equation and to get award seats a lot of people recommend booking 335 days out when the seats come available. And that dovetails into his next question.
When will these miles expire? If so do they within a year?
Airline miles typically expire 18-36 months after they are earned if there is no account activity. Some programs like Delta Skymiles have no expiration date. It is easy, however, to ensure you have some account activity. If you earn even just one mile, your expiration date for all of your miles will be extended another 18-36 months. You can do this by charging $1 on your cobranded credit card (that will give you 1 mile and reset the clock), by flying, or by online shopping using their shopping portal (a box of paperclips at Staples.com works quite well). There are a few exceptions to this guideline (like Aeroplan) so the best way to keep track of by using the free AwardWallet service we recommend on on our Getting Started Page. It will email you when you are getting close to the expiration time as well as showing all of your accounts on one page for an easy review.
If I cancel the credit cards do I lose the miles at that time?
It depends on the type of card. With cobranded cards (where they are associated with a single airline) such as the Citibank AAdvantage Mastercard with a 50,000 mile bonus, the miles are sent monthly on your closing date directly into your frequent flyer account. This means that you could cancel the card right when you get the bonus if you wanted and keep the miles. This usually isn’t the best idea for two reasons. 1) The banks don’t really like it when people show they are obviously just getting the card for the bonus. 2) The cards usually provide some benefits that might come in useful such as a free checked bag or priority boarding. Since the annual fees are typically waived the first year, it usually makes sense to keep the card so you can enjoy the benefits during the year and then think about canceling the card when the annual fee is coming due after 12 months.
With hybrid cards that award points such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card) or the American Express Membership Rewards cards, the answer is a bit different. These cards offer the additional flexibility of transferring your points to many different airlines and hotel programs. This is great because if you you are not seeing availability on United for the award flights you want, then you can check British Airways availability and transfer the points to either one. In this case, I would keep the card for as long as you can and in my case it is worth paying the annual fee to keep this flexibility. If you do want to cancel (and you can’t get a good retention offer by calling in and threatening to cancel), then you will need to pick the airline program that you think you will use and transfer all of your points out before you close the card.
Thanks very much for the great questions. I wanted to do a separate article instead of a quick reply because the answers can be a bit complex and I thought other readers would benefit as well from the information.