|by Jason Steele|
Here in Colorado, we spend a lot of time on the ski slopes. When traveling up the chair lift, there is not much in the way of reading material, except for what is printed on the lift towers. To paraphrase one of the common signs, “Dangerous skiing can result in death and/or loss of your lift ticket”.
Of course, if you die skiing, you probably aren’t that concerned about your lift ticket. On the other hand, if you or someone you love dies, you may be concerned about there frequent flier miles or other loyalty points. It is entirely possible that people may hold hundreds of thousands of points, potentially worth thousands of dollars.
What Happens To Your Points/Miles When You Die?
This is where things get complicated. Just about every loyalty program claims that points accumulated are the property of the company issuing them, giving them complete discretion as to how they are handled in the case that someone dies. Airlines have the most popular programs, and their rules vary greatly from company to company.
For example, Inside Flyer posted this article five years ago regarding this subject. At that time, they found the following regarding these airlines that do allow the transfer of miles from the deceased account to an heir:
American AAdvantage: Mileage does not need to be specified in the will but American does require a copy of the pages, which identify the decedent’s name, the executor’s or personal representative’s name, and a page showing the date of execution and signature of the maker. If the AAdvantage account is specifically mentioned, a copy of that page must be included as well. If the AAdvantage account has less than 10,000 miles, only proof of death is required; if more than 10,000 miles — a transfer fee of $50 will be charged.
Continental OnePass: Transfer to a surviving spouse or a named beneficiary may be done provided the inheritor is also a OnePass program member at the time of the account member’s death. The account does not need to be mentioned in the will, but Continental does require a copy of the death certificate and a testimentary letter appointing the executor who authorizes the transfer of miles to the inheriting member. Continental charges no fee for the transfer.
Delta SkyMiles: Mileage does not need to be specified in the will but Delta does require a copy of the will if the beneficiary is not the spouse. If there is more than one heir, and the account is not specifically assigned to any one heir, a letter from all the heirs is needed to assign the account to any one of them. Delta charges no fee for the transfer.
Keep in mind that these rule may have changed since the article was published in 2004.
On the other hand, Northwest currently does not allow miles to be transferred after death. Considering that you can transfer unlimited miles from Northwest to Delta at this time, there is really no reason that anyone should keep miles in a Northwest account, unless you are just about to redeem them for some award not available at Delta.
Other airlines that void miles at death include: Air France, Cathay Pacific, Hawaiian, KLM, Air New Zealand, and Qantas, and the dreaded United, although there are reports of them transferring miles for a fee of $75. More information can be found at this discussion on Flyertalk.
Ways Around Transferring Miles
In most cases, it is not the miles that you are looking for but the award ticket. Fortunately, those are transferable in every program I know of. It is not uncommon for me to have an award ticket issued in the name of a friend or a family member, who will presumably return the favor some day. That said, I don’t imagine there is someone at the airline cross checking the obituaries with their frequent flier membership lists. When someone passes away, I don’t see any reason why you could not have an award ticket issued in a survivor’s name. As far as I can tell, the miles are essentially a part of the deceased’s estate, and their executor or heir could essentially act on their behalf in obtaining an award, just as they might dispose of assets or credits. Just to be safe, I would conduct the transaction online rather than over the telephone. The only downside is that you would be unable to combine mileage from the deceased’s program with that of an heir. It is not much of a downside, as any mileage too small for an award, really isn’t worth that much anyways. I would be most concerned with reclaiming the mileage of someone who has hundreds of thousands of miles.
It is beyond the scope of this article to determine the policy of every credit card and hotel’s program’s points. The best way to find out is to read carefully the terms and conditions of the program. If the answer is not there, you may wish to communicate directly with them in writing.
Update Your Will
Either way, it is a good idea to include all points, miles, and loyalty programs in your will to a designated heir. This will assist you when the time comes to claim benefits.
We are all going to die at some point. It would be nice if our survivors could enjoy some of the rewards that we accumulated in this world.