Q. I recently reviewed my United Frequent Flyer account on-line to redeem miles for an upcoming flight. I was told that I had lost all miles in my account due to inactivity.  My options were to either pay for a qualifying flight AND pay $199 to reinstate my miles or get the United Visa card and again pay $199 to reinstate my miles. I was told by the customer service rep that paying the $199 was a “really good deal” given the number of miles I have in my account that would be otherwise lost. I have a few months to mull it over before the miles will be permanently deleted. This seems to be a very poor way to treat someone that has been a frequent flyer since 1985!  Am I simply stuck with paying $199? What other options are there – if any?

A. As annoying as it may seem, this is typical of most mileage programs. Going forward, here's an easy way to preserve your hard-earned frequent flyer miles, without having to book a trip or shelling out another $199. All it takes is a little shopping. You'll find many companies that are affiliated with the airlines' online shopping programs. No need to buy anything expensive. Even a piddly little three-ring binder from Staples.com, or a single song from iTunes or a pair of jeans from Target.com, and your miles are active for another year to 18 months. Easy! Check out our handy article on preserving miles with online shopping.

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