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Originally published June 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 6, 2007 at 12:46 PM

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American Airlines makes frequent-flier miles expire more quickly

American Airlines wants to emphasize the "frequent" in frequent flier. Beginning Dec. 15, travelers who have not used their American Airlines...

McClatchy Newspapers

FORT WORTH, Texas — American Airlines wants to emphasize the "frequent" in frequent flier.

Beginning Dec. 15, travelers who have not used their American Airlines frequent-flier accounts for the preceding 18 months will lose their accumulated miles.

With this change, the Fort Worth-based airline is essentially shortening its expiration time rules for inactive accounts. Previously, members of American's AAdvantage program had to generate some type of activity — typically by redeeming awards or earning new miles by flying American — every 36 months to prevent their accounts from expiring. With the change, that drops to just 18 months.

The change will have the most impact on customers who previously racked up miles but don't travel as much today.

"From a consumer standpoint, this is really disappointing," said Tim Winship, publisher of the Web site FrequentFlier.com and co-author of the book "Mileage Pro, the Insider's Guide to Frequent Flier Programs."

American follows several other carriers, including United Airlines and US Airways, that announced similar moves earlier this year.

American spokesman Bill Sanez pointed out that customers don't necessarily need to book flights to earn more miles and keep their accounts active. American has a variety of partners, including credit cards, hotels chains, and even mortgage companies, that offer miles for using their services.

But he acknowledged that "we know this kind of thing will incentivize people to be more active in the program."

Winship said the move will also help American shore up its balance sheet.

The airline must account for unused miles, and it reported that future liabilities related to miles totaled $1.6 billion at the end of last year.

Eliminating miles in accounts that aren't active will help reduce that number.

Despite the cost, airlines continue to embrace frequent-flier programs because they create customer loyalty and can also produce revenue through partnerships. But in recent years, customers have complained that redeeming miles has become more difficult, particularly to popular destinations, because airplanes are flying with record passenger loads, leaving few seats available for redemption.

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Members of American's AAdvantage program must have some sort of activity in their accounts to avoid losing unused miles. Here are a few ways to keep those miles alive.

• Redeem your miles using the airline's new frequent-flier booking tool at www.aa.com.

• Take a trip, adding more miles to your account.

• Make some purchases with an American Citibank credit card, which adds miles based on how much you spend.

• Earn and use miles for rental cars, including Hertz, National and Budget.

• Donate miles to charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, national parks or the USO.

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