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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 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
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.
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.
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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