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Sometimes you can leave your accrued miles or points to the people you love after you die, and sometimes you can’t. Today, we explore policies from some of the major US airlines. If your airline does permit a loved one to take over your frequent flyer assets after death, it’s important to plan ahead; if you’re unable to get them transferred to a new account in time, your miles may simply expire.
It’s fun to brush up on airlines’ and credit cards’ terms and conditions every once in a while. A few years ago, The Points Guy did this sort of research when the Times published a semi-exhaustive list of airlines and their policies about transferring (or not transferring) miles upon death. What both TPG and Times writer Susan Stellin discovered was that while some of the airlines and credit card points programs have policies prohibiting transfer of miles after someone dies, they can often be charmed into making an exception.
In a recent Times update of this story (but curiously without any reference to it), Deborah Jacobs writes about two widows who had success getting airlines and credit cards to bequeath their late husbands’ miles and points to them. It seems like a good story to bring up again, since more points users have died in the years since the first article, and at least one rewards program has been assimilated into another (I’m looking at you, US Airways Dividend Miles and American Airlines AAdvantage).
Here’s a quick poke into some of the major airlines’ current policies:
JetBlue: 14. Miscellaneous Provisions. 14.1 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.
Presumably, JetBlue’s Family Pooling program would negate the need to transfer points, anyway.
Southwest: Points may not be transferred to a Member’s estate or as part of a settlement.
Delta: 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.
United: Accrued mileage and certificates do not constitute property of the member and are not transferable other than as authorized and/or sponsored by United.
American Airlines: 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.
With the rise in Internet use over the last decade, there are now services that will help you with “digital asset management” after someone has died. You can even plan ahead with Otrib.com’s “Final Wishes” feature, in which you designate a person to take over your Facebook page upon your death (although the app seems to be malfunctioning at this time).
Webcease is more comprehensive, and its services include a roundup report of over 60 types of digital accounts held by an individual’s email address. According to a study cited on its website, “Memberships in loyalty programs have increased more than 26 percent over the past two years to 2.65 billion… which translates to tens of billions of dollars in rewards.”
However, the report only tells you what kind of accounts a person has and provides instructions on how to contact the various companies to retrieve account information. You have to do the sometimes frustrating work of negotiating with the programs yourself.
In the end, I’m left with a few nebulous conclusions:
As The Points Guy himself often says, it never hurts to ask. Airline employees have shown themselves to be endearingly human when faced with a customer’s grief.
If you’re in the unfortunate situation of knowing you’ll soon die, either use the heck out of those miles, or start transferring them now. And for everyone, assign an heir for your points and miles accounts in your will, so the person will have a document to start negotiations with the programs after your death.
If you’re handling the affairs of someone who has died and have control over their loyalty account(s), use the miles or points in that person’s program before they expire. Brian’s advice from 2013 remains especially poignant: “Far better to remember a loved one by using miles to travel somewhere they loved, or to bring your family together—that’s getting true value out of miles and a special legacy.”