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Bottom Line: Airline Miles

Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 10:17 PM EDT

ALBANY -- You earn them, but if you don't use 'em, you could lose 'em!

That's The Bottom Line on frequent flyer miles and points, which of course, the airlines give you as a perk.

But passengers are losing out on the freebies more than ever before, because of little-known rules and regulations.

"People have to be aware that there are stipulations when you travel, there are rules and regulations, and the airlines are usually pretty strict on them," says Jean Gagnon of Plaza Travel in Latham.

Right now, at least 100-million people in the U.S. are active in at least one frequent flyer program. In 2012, about 21-million of those people flew for free.

That's why the airlines tend to be tight on their rules.

Fine print find #1: Miles or points that don't count.

"Not all miles actually earn credit for your frequent flyer account," says Randy Petersen, Editor of Inside Flyer Magazine.

That's because many airlines today have "Partner" airlines, or even different fare classes, that may not earn you credit.

Petersen says, you need to check directly with the airline you're booking with - or the fine print, with the Partner airline - to see if they will.

Fine print find #2: Miles or points that expire.

"I get letters from people almost daily that have lost their miles," Petersen says. "Honestly, about 40-billion miles expired last year from people not paying attention.

Some airlines do tell you up front.

Jetblue spells out on its website for you, "Points don't expire as long as you have activity at least once in a 12-month period."

On other airlines, like American, United and US Air, they expire after 18-months without activity - but the disclaimer is buried in their terms and conditions.

And then there's Southwest's Rapid Rewards program, which clearly touts on its front page "Your points don't expire!"

But then, there's the fine print at the bottom - saying your points don't expire... as long as you have activity, every 24-months.

"Is that basically just a technicality then, because you lose those points?"

CBS 6's Dori Marlin put that question to a Southwest spokesperson, who responded in a statement: "We strive to be as transparent as possible with all of our policies."

And finally, there's Fine print find #3: Miles or points that won't transfer.

"Most airlines allow you in your will to leave your accumulated miles to someone else," says Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, "but Delta just changed the rules in mid-March to say 'no more.'"

Now, the airline says, when you die - you can kiss those miles goodbye.

"We all think that we own our frequent flyer miles," Petersen says, "but if you ever spend time reading the fine print, you'll find out that the airlines own the miles."

Bottom Line: Airline Miles

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