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While frequent flyer miles won’t aid us in securing first-class fares to the afterlife, there’s a chance they could continue to provide value for loved ones in the event of our death. There are both official and “unofficial” methods of taking over the frequent flyer accounts of a loved one when they pass away, but it’s crucial to plan ahead and know what happens to miles in each loyalty program when an account holder dies.
Loyalty program members can amass a small fortune in frequent flyer miles over their lifetime, with some enthusiasts accruing millions of miles. If we were to place a dollar value on the account balances of frequent flyer members who take rewards travel seriously, we would be looking at assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars in redeemable value.
And yet, according to the terms and conditions of many loyalty programs, we don’t actually own the balances in our accounts! Nor can we decide what happens to them when we die. It’s hard to imagine having an asset that we cannot bequeath to a spouse or family member. But for some loyalty programs, that’s a current reality.
The rules surrounding deceased estates and frequent flyer programs typically state that points cannot be passed on when a member dies. But it’s important to note that these rules do not appear to be strictly enforced, and a number of programs have “discretionary” policies that allow members to bequeath miles in their will.
There are numerous reports of members receiving a loved one’s account balance after producing the right paperwork, typically a death certificate, and politely requesting a transfer. Below, you’ll find the current published policies for each program, plus any info we can round up on which policies can be bent and under what circumstances.
Frequent Flyer Program Policies Regarding Miles When You Die
Here's a glance at the policies for some of the top frequent flyer programs, followed by more details on each airline's official or unofficial policies on what happens to your miles and points upon death.
|Airline||Are transfers after death allowed?|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||Yes, at the airline's discretion.|
|Alaska Mileage Plan||Yes, through the airline's informal "Memorial Miles" program.|
|American AAdvantage||Yes, at the airline's discretion.|
|ANA Mileage Club||Yes, legal heirs have up to 180 days to send the airline documentation.|
|British Airways Executive Club||Official policy is no, but may be possible on a case-by-case basis. Also, having a Household Account can sidestep this issue.|
|Delta SkyMiles||No. The member's SkyMiles account will be closed once Delta is notified of the death.|
|Frontier Miles||Yes, once satisfactory documentation is provided.|
|JetBlue TrueBlue||Official policy is no, but setting up Points Pooling in advance can sidestep this issue.|
|Spirit Airlines Free Spirit||Official policy is no, but setting up Points Pooling in advance can sidestep this issue.|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards||No. Points will expire after 24 months from last earning date.|
|United MileagePlus||Yes, at the airline's discretion.|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||Yes, once satisfactory documentation is provided.|
Air Canada Aeroplan
Policy: Cannot leave miles as part of a will, but will allow you to transfer miles after death in its sole discretion.
12. With the exception of the specific rules relating to Aeroplan Family Sharing, Aeroplan Points, and any other benefits, privileges and rewards of the Aeroplan Program are personal to you and cannot be assigned, traded, bartered, willed, exchanged for cash, or otherwise transferred, except as may be authorized by Aeroplan, at its sole discretion and in accordance with these Terms and Conditions.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Policy: Offers fee-free transfers through its informal “Memorial Miles” program.
Alaska doesn’t have a published policy regarding transfers after the death of a Mileage Plan member, but in most cases we’ve witnessed online, Alaska will transfer points to a spouse or a nominee if you send them a death certificate. Transfers don’t incur a fee.
American Airlines AAdvantage
Policy: Allows transfers at its discretion to beneficiaries in court-approved wills after receipt of documentation (an affidavit and death certificate). Though the terms and conditions mention “payment of any applicable fees,” online datapoints indicate AA has not charged fees for transfers.
Except as otherwise explained below, mileage credit is not transferable and may not be combined among AAdvantage members, their estates, successors or assigns. Accrued mileage credit and award tickets do not constitute property of the member. Neither accrued mileage, nor award tickets, nor status, nor upgrades are transferable by the member (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise by operation of law. However, American Airlines, 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.
ANA Mileage Club
ANA Mileage Club: Legal heirs have up to 180 days after the member's death to provide satisfactory documentation and claim inheritance of miles.
In the event of a Member's death, their legal heirs may succeed to the Miles accrued by the Member , to the extent that such Miles are valid as at the completion of the prescribed procedures. Only within 180 days after the Member's death, the legal heirs will be required to present to ANA a document that certifies that they are entitled to inherit such deceased Member’s Miles. If a claim for inheritance is not made within the above period, all the Miles accrued by the Member will become void.
British Airways Executive Club
Policy: The published policy for Avios states all accumulated points will be canceled after death, and they cannot be bequeathed in a will. However, having a Household Account may help solve transfer issues. Should you not have a Household Account, online data points indicate it may be possible to transfer Avios to a willed beneficiary with proof of satisfactory documentation.
Membership will terminate automatically:
3.12.2. Upon the death of a Member. Any Avios points, Tier Points and Lifetime Tier Points accumulated by that Member but unused at the time of death shall be cancelled.
22.1. Except as otherwise provided by British Airways and AGL and communicated to the Member, Avios points are not transferable (whether from person to person, account to account, statement to statement, card to card or otherwise) other than in accordance with the Conditions of Use relating to Transfer Avios and cannot be bequeathed, devised or otherwise transferred by operation of law.
Policy (warning: PDF): Doesn’t allow transfers after death. Once Delta is notified of a SkyMiles member's death, the account will be closed.
Miles are not the property of any member. Except as specifically authorized in the Membership Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be sold, attached, seized, levied upon, pledged, or transferred under any circumstances, including, without limitation, by operation of law, upon death, or in connection with any domestic relations dispute and/or legal proceeding.
Policy: While the wording in the terms and conditions is a little confusing, Frontier expressly allows the transfer of miles after death when satisfactory documentation is provided.
Accrued Miles and Award Travel do not constitute property of Member and are non-transferable including:
Upon the death of a Member, without: (i) the death certificate of the Member or (ii) letter from the executor. In instances of multiple executors or heirs of Miles based on court documents, Miles are divided as directed by the court. In the event an heir does not have a FRONTIER Miles account, they may enroll or submit written permission to waive their rights to their Miles and those Miles will be divided among the remaining heirs.
Points are non-transferable and may not be combined among TrueBlue Members, their estates, successors and assigns except as follows: points may be pooled using Points Pooling. Accrued Points and Award Travel do not constitute property of member and are non-transferable (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise.
Spirit Airlines Free Spirit
Neither accrued points, nor Reward Tickets are transferable by the member (1) as part of a domestic relations matter, (2) upon death, or (3) by otherwise based on the operation of law.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
Policy: Points cannot be transferred to a member's estate and will expire after 24 months.
Points may not be transferred to a Member's estate or as part of a settlement, inheritance, or will. In the event of a Member’s death, his/her account will become inactive after 24 months from the last earning date (unless the account is requested to be closed) and points will be unavailable for use.
United Airlines MileagePlus
Policy: Allows transfers at its discretion upon receiving satisfactory documentation and payment of any applicable fees.
In the event of the death or divorce of a Member, United may, in its sole discretion, credit all or a portion of such Member’s accrued mileage to authorized persons upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to United and payment of applicable fees.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Policy: Allows transfers once provided with member's death certificate and will.
2.9 Virgin Points may be transferred from a FC Programme Member’s account to a different FC Programme Member’s account:
a) upon the death of a Member provided that (i) we are provided with a copy of the deceased Member’s death certificate; (ii) we are provided with a copy of the deceased Member’s will showing that the proposed transferee is the lawful beneficiary of the Virgin Points; and (iii) the requested transfer of the Virgin Points is undisputed.
When scanning threads and forums for information, there is inconsistency across the board between the terms and conditions on one hand and how each program deals with deceased estates on the other. One of the main takeaways was that many programs on this list are willing to make exceptions to the stated policies.
If you have a death certificate and documentation that you're the beneficiary, call airline's the customer service line and ask politely if there's a way for the miles to be transferred to your account. You may be surprised at the result.
The key to ensuring your frequent flyer miles don’t join the billions of unused rewards issued each year involves three factors.
- Plan award travel and regularly assess your goals. Frequent flyer programs are not savings accounts, and, as shown by recent devaluations, the value of miles you accumulate will only go down over time. Set travel goals, break them down into actionable plans for each program, and execute those plans, so you get to enjoy the benefits of rewards travel and not have accounts full of miles.
- Sign up for an account on AwardWallet and ensure someone can securely access it on your behalf. One of the many benefits of AwardWallet is the ability to sign into every loyalty account with one click directly from the AwardWallet interface. As long as your partner or beneficiary can access your account, you can store account details and balances for every loyalty membership you have with AwardWallet, and it will provide the balances and expiry dates of each program, in addition to granting access to those accounts. AwardWallet also has a function to connect accounts, allowing you access to a loved one's account and vice versa, but you do need to plan ahead for this functionality to be of use.
- Put your miles in your will. Lastly, make sure you have the intended recipient of your miles penned into your will. While most programs don’t acknowledge your ownership of frequent flyer miles, our understanding is that some programs are more flexible than their terms and conditions indicate.
Have you had experience transferring miles as part of a deceased estate? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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