I have quite a few punch cards from my favorite coffee vendors and I eagerly anticipate the day where the essential latte becomes a free latte. Unfortunately I end up washing most of these cards with my jeans or simply forgetting I have them. No free coffee. Disappointment takes on an exponential effect when thousands of dollars worth of points and miles are on the line and in the case that you "wash your miles" away, you'll need a liquid other than coffee to calm you down.
It's important to understand that your expiration date is really not a function of the first time you stayed in a hotel or took a flight, but rather the last time you earned points in the program of discussion. Yes, every time you earn new points, whether from travel, shopping, credit card points transfers or whatever, your points are further from expiring, the expiration resets.
Example: My Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles are about to expire. To keep them going I could book flight or hotel stay with one of their partners using my Virgin Atlantic frequent flier number. The points earned from the flight (even on another airline) or hotel stay will reset the expiry on my miles. No ability to travel? Going on Virgin's online shopping portal and buying a bottle of wine while logged into my account will do the trick. Don't want to spend money? Transfer some Amex points into Virgin Atlantic, it happens instantly and your expiration will reset to a further 36 months away.
American AAdvantage: 18 months. You can reactive miles up to 12 years old for big bucks though...
British Airways Executive Club: 36 Months
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: 36 Months
United Mileage Plus: 18 months. Fee to reinstate afterwards.
Qatar Q Miles: 36 Months on either June 30 or 31st December depending on date of last earning.
Emirates Skywards: 36 Months on your birthday month.
Alaska Mileage Plan: 24 Months. Otherwise $75 before end of third year to reinstate.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue: 20 Months.
Lufthansa Miles & More: 36 Months. Miles never expire for elites or credit card holders.
Air Canada Aeroplan: 12 Months
IHG Rewards: 12 Months. Yep, used to be 24.
Starwood Preferred: 12 Months.
Hilton: 12 Months.
Marriott: Previously no expiration. 24 Months starting February 2016.
Accor Le Club: 12 Months.
Hyatt Gold Passport: 12 Months.
Club Carlson: 24 Months.
I see this is an oxymoron being very easy and very hard at the same time. My best suggestion for keeping track of points and miles across all programs is AwardWallet. With the free service you are able to see your balances and keep tabs on expiration dates. It's hard because there are tons of programs yet it's simple because keeping an account "active" and miles from "expiring" is as easy as drinking wine or donating a pittance of miles to a worthy cause. However you keep your account going you'll be happy because there is free coffee on virtually every airline and virtually every hotel. Who needs punch cards?
As Always, Get in Touch: GodSaveThePoints@gmail.com