What Happens to Your Frequent Flyer Miles When You Die?

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You can’t take your frequent flyer miles, or anything else you’ve accumulated, with you when you die. But have you ever stopped to think about what does happen to them, and to your rewards from other loyalty programs? Most people haven’t—but they should.

If you’re a frequent traveler for business, or are spending your retirement jetting off to various destinations, you may have accumulated quite a few frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Ideally, you’ll get to reap all of those benefits yourself. But what happens if those rewards remain in your account at the time of your death?

Can You Inherit Loyalty Rewards and Frequent Flyer Miles from Family Members?

The answer is a solid “maybe.” Some programs do allow transfer of miles, points, and rewards to beneficiaries. Others do not. Still others may publish a policy stating that rewards are non-transferable, but will relax that policy if you talk to the right person.

As of this writing, here are some of the positions of some of the more popular airlines. Of course, as corporations are fond of saying, policies are subject to change without notice:

  • United: No miles or other benefits may be transferred “except as expressly permitted by United.” If transfer is permitted, there may be a $150 transfer fee
  • Delta: Official position is not to permit transfer of miles or other benefits.
  • American Airlines: Does not permit transfer of miles or other benefits “(i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise by operation of law.” However, the airline’s policy also states that “in its sole discretion, may credit accrued mileage to persons specifically identified in court approved divorce decrees and wills upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to American Airlines and upon payment of any applicable fees.”
  • Jet Blue: Official policy states that miles and other benefits are non-transferable, but upon request may allow transfer with official death certificate and proof of beneficiary status.
  • Virgin America: No stated policy, addresses requests on a case-by-case basis.
  • Southwest: Does not permit transfers of miles or other benefits.

Several of the airlines above have admitted that because they don’t automatically receive notice of a member’s death, there is little to stop a beneficiary from using the decedent’s rewards information for their own benefit. However, this is obviously contrary to most companies’ policies and possibly to state or federal law, so doing an end-run around stated policies is not recommended.

A better course of action is to simply arm yourself with your deceased loved one’s benefit program information, and call the airline yourself to request to transfer miles. Once you make it through the phone menu, and speak to a real human being, they may be able to exercise their discretion and grant your request.

Leaving Rewards, Miles, and Benefits to Your Heirs

If you’ve accumulated significant frequent flyer miles or other rewards and benefits, it’s worth taking steps to try to ensure your heirs will be able to enjoy them. Talk to the vendor offering the rewards program to learn their policies and procedures for transfer of rewards. If possible, try to get a confirmation in writing, even if just via e-mail, that you’ll be able to transfer your rewards.

Share this information both with your estate planning attorney, so that it can be written into your will, and with your beneficiaries. Make sure your beneficiaries have all relevant account numbers and passwords when the time comes. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to airline frequent flyer miles, but to hotel reward programs and credit card reward programs as well.

If you’d like to learn more about transferring these and other types of benefits to your heirs, we invite you to contact us to schedule a free initial consultation.

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