What Happens to Frequent Flyer Miles When You Die?

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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.

Frequent Flyer Cards
Knowing the policies of major frequent flyer programs can help with legacy planning for points and miles | Credit: Mattes/Wiki Commons

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 that 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 currently, that’s a reality of loyalty programs.

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 Programs

Air Canada Aeroplan – Cannot leave miles as part of a will, but will allow you to transfer miles after death in its sole discretion.

Aeroplan Miles or Rewards or any other benefits are personal to the member and cannot be exchanged for cash, assigned, traded, willed or otherwise transferred.

Notwithstanding, any of the above, Aeroplan, may, from time to time, in its sole discretion transfer miles after death

Alaska Mileage Plan – Offers fee-free transfers if your paperwork is in order.

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 can produce a death certificate and a will. Transfers don’t incur a fee.

American AAdvantage – Doesn’t allow transfers except at its sole discretion

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

British Airways Executive Club – The published policy for Avios states they cannot be willed after death, however, having a Household Account solves any transfer issues.

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.

If the primary member of the Household Account dies or leaves the Executive Club, the remaining Household Account members, who are over 18 years, must nominate between them another member (or a new member) to become the new primary Household Account member. 

Delta SkyMiles – Doesn’t allow transfers after death.

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.

JetBlue TrueBlue – T&C’s state that points cannot be transferred upon death, but if you have Family Pooling set up, this would not be necessary in any case.

Points are non-transferable and may not be combined among TrueBlue Members, their estates, successors and assigns. 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.

Southwest Rapid Rewards – 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 MileagePlus – Will only allow transfers permitted in writing by United, primarily on a case by case basis, although most reports state a fee needs to change hands.

No mileage, benefits, certificates or awards earned or granted under the Program may be transferred or assigned except as expressly permitted by United in writing or under programs fully authorized and/or sponsored by United

When scanning threads and forums for information, there is inconsistency across the board between the terms and conditions, and how each program deals with deceased estates. One of the main takeaways was that every program on this list is willing to make exceptions, even Delta which makes no secret of its policy to let miles die with their owner.

If you have a death certificate, and if you’re not a spouse something on paper stating that the miles have been left to you, call the customer service line and argue politely for the miles to be transferred to your account. You may be surprised at the result.

Final Thoughts

The key to ensuring your frequent flyer miles don’t join the billions of unused rewards issued each year involves three factors.

Plan Rewards Travel & Regularly Assess Your Goals

Frequent flyer programs are not savings accounts, and as shown by the raft of adverse changes to loyalty programs over the past 18 months, 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.

Signup 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 direct from the AwardWallet interface.

As long as your partner 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 these places are relatively flexible.

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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  • It seems that it might be easier just to use the miles or points up, if you can access the account.

  • Another one for your list.

    Qantas terminates membership on death and any points in account are cancelled.

    8.3 Membership will terminate automatically on the death of a Member. Qantas Points earned but not yet redeemed or transferred prior to the death of the Member will be cancelled. Qantas Loyalty will close the Member’s account on notification of the Member’s death. Qantas Loyalty will not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever suffered by any person as a result of such cancellation.

  • Lesson here: you can’t take it with you.

  • Kripal Singh says:

    May be use those miles to let your relatives attend your funeral . Pun intended.

  • The easiest way to avoid these issues is to have a list of frequent flyer accounts and passwords on a list to be provided to whomever who choose to be the beneficiary after your untimely demise.

  • Great post – good to think about. I tend to horde things and I definitely need to just use them more!

  • Just use miles from dead account

  • Gareth Waugh says:

    With increasing devaluations and plan changes most miles should be held in firm bookings rather than in individual accounts. Spend wisely friends, but spend quick.

  • What does this sentence mean? Can it be re-worded? “If you have a death certificate, and if you’re not a spouse something on paper stating that the miles have been left to you, call the customer service line and argue politely for the miles to be transferred to your account.”

    • Sure. If you have a copy of the death certificate and you don’t have a legally binding will but feel you’re entitled to the miles due to the relationship of the deceased person, give them a call and argue your case. You may get referred elsewhere, but this is a good starting point.

      Do that help clarify things a bit? I sincerely appreciate the feedback.

  • If you hold onto miles, you’re doing it wrong!

  • I plan on spending all my miles long before I die 🙂

  • I have my fiancée connected into my AwardWallet and she has her own. If the worst happens we should be able to quickly and easily ascertain the amount of miles remaining in an account and ask for a transfer. But of course I’ll have to write a will in the near future too.

  • upon one’s death, immediately use the miles to book flights and there will not be any problems. we did this years ago when my mother passed away and all of our flights were without incident.

  • Uhm, something don’t want to think about.
    Not very amusing but useful anyway!

  • Kripal Singh says:

    unless you have 25000 mile in your account these miles are of little value . Better to transfer , gift or use the miles prior to death .

  • I am curious about this myself. My father, now deceased, was a frequent flyer and amassed many miles going back and forth to Asia. I’d like to know if any of those miles still exist somewhere, possibly under an old set of rules?

  • So, don’t die and I’m fine. 🙂

    Thanks for the blog and the offer of AAdvantage miles. I have signed up for the program to take advantage.

  • Extremely interesting and informative article.

    Sharing account information with my spouse is on the To Do list.