What happens to your points and miles after you die?
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Editor’s note: This guide has been updated with the latest information.
Losing someone is never easy, and in the case of frequent flyers and road warriors, it may mean a confusing collection of points and miles left behind. Who do these loyalty currencies belong to when someone passes away?
First and foremost, it’s important to know that your points and miles are not your property. In almost every loyalty program’s terms and conditions, you’ll see language saying the loyalty currency doesn’t belong to you. Here is what Delta says in the Sky Miles terms and conditions:
This language can be confusing, adding to the reminder that you have little to no control over loyalty programs, their rules and “your” currency.
However, most (but not all) programs make it fairly easy to transfer points and miles upon death. Let’s take a look at several major credit card, frequent flyer and hotel programs in the U.S. to see what’s allowed in the case of death. Then, I’ll give you my advice on preparing for the unthinkable but also inevitable.
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What to do with rewards points if the account holder dies?
Short of having your loyalty accounts each added to your will, the most simple step is ensuring that your loved one(s) have access to your loyalty accounts. That way, if something happens to you, they might have the opportunity to use your points and miles by simply logging into your account.
In almost all cases (especially when it comes to flights), you can book travel for someone else using your points and miles. So by having login access to your loved one’s account, you can book travel for yourself or others using their points. However, be mindful of mileage expiration dates.
In the credit card space, when you close your credit card, your unused points could be forfeited. But you can read further on each specific credit card company below.
Lastly, hotels points are generally the most flexible for transfers. Regardless of the reason, they can generally be transferred (with some limitations) to another member. So if your loved one has remaining hotel points, you might be able to transfer them to your account.
How to ensure your points aren’t forfeited
There’s nothing worse than having your hard-earned points forfeited, regardless of the reason. This is why it’s so critical to be aware of each loyalty program’s specific rules when it comes to the death of a member.
Beyond knowing the login (don’t forget the security questions!) to your loved one’s accounts, I recommend having electronic copies of a death certificate.
Passing on your points
There are three ways that you can pass on your points. So, depending on the loyalty program, you may have access to one or two of these options. These are the typical choices, ranking from best to worst:
- Transfer the points or miles to someone else (like yourself).
- Use the points as if the member was still alive.
- Have the points converted via a fixed-rate redemption.
You should transfer the points or miles to someone else whenever you can. This way, the points or miles are now yours and you can use them as you please.
If you can’t transfer the points or miles, see if you can keep the deceased’s account open. This way, you can log in to their account and book travel for yourself or others. The key limitation here is that some points and miles expire.
Lastly, the deceased’s points and miles may need to be used on a fixed-rate basis. This is most common with credit card points when unused rewards balances are applied as cash back to the statement balance.
You won’t find any official policy written on Alaska’s website. But, a phone agent told me the airline simply requires a copy of a death certificate. Then, through its “Memorial Miles” program, it will transfer miles from the deceased’s account to a beneficiary fee-free.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express provides an option for select individuals to make a one-time redemption using your Membership Rewards points if you die. Specifically, their terms state:
“If you die, the executor of your estate or personal representative may be able to make a one-time points redemption by calling 1-800-AXP-EARN (297-3276).”
Although a one-time redemption will limit your choices, you still have the opportunity to take advantage of any of the many ways to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points.
American has some language in its AAdvantage program terms and conditions that does not specifically allow transfer after death. Still, the airline gives itself a loophole to transfer the miles if you submit approved legal documents. Here’s what American specifically says:
“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. Mileage credit is transferable between AAdvantage® accounts when offered by American Airlines online, with the ShareMiles program. The member must adhere to the rules and limitations of the ShareMiles program.“
I gave American a call and the agent told me some rather generous and good news: If a loved one dies, call AAdvantage and the program will send an email to you requesting a copy of the death certificate and an affidavit. The affidavit will need to include the deceased member’s account number and the account info of the person(s) receiving the miles — you can even split the miles from the deceased between two or three accounts if desired. There is also no fee to transfer the miles. So despite the stiff terms and conditions, it seems American is actually rather understanding in the case of death.
While Capital One won’t forfeit your mileage balance after you die, you’ll be limited to having your mileage balance converted into a statement credit without a secondary account holder.
“In the event we learn of the Primary Accountholder’s death, and there is no Secondary Accountholder, we will apply any remaining rewards balance as a credit to the account at your current cash redemption rate. The account must be in good standing to be eligible for the account credit.”
Unfortunately, this will massively reduce the value of your Capital One miles. We value each Capital One mile at 1.85 cents. At the time of writing, Capital One only provides 0.5 cents per mile for cashback toward your statement. 100,000 Capital One miles should be worth $1,850 based on TPG’s valuations but would only be worth $500 as a statement credit.
You can find additional information here.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase’s policy is essentially identical to Capital One’s:
“If we’re notified of your death, your points will be automatically redeemed for cash in the form of an account statement credit.”
Currently, Chase provides 1 cent per point when redeemed toward a statement credit. Since TPG’s valuations peg the value of Ultimate Reward points at 2 cents each, you’d be getting just half the value that you should be receiving with having your Ultimate Rewards applied as a statement credit.
You can read more about Chase’s policies here.
Citi ThankYou Rewards
Similar to Capital One and Chase, Citi ThankYou points are restricted to being applied as cash rewards. However, you will need to follow specific steps or your points will be forfeited.
“If we receive a written request within one (1) year of your death from the executor or administrator of your estate, along with evidence satisfactory to us of your death and the identify and appointment of the executor or administrator, we can allow points remaining in your ThankYou account to be redeemed for Cash Rewards. Contact the ThankYou Service Center at 1-800-THANKYOU (1-800-842-6596) (Speech/hearing impaired: 1-877-693-0218 or other Relay Service) for more information.”
Although several steps are required to redeem your points for cash rewards, you can redeem at 1 cent per point. There are many ways to redeem Citi ThankYou points at a better redemption rate, though, as TPG’s valuations peg the value of Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents apiece.
To learn more, visit this page and click on “Points expiration, suspension and forfeiture” at the top. Then, expand the “Loss or suspension of points” section.
It appears you’re out of luck with Delta. According to the SkyMiles program terms and conditions, while SkyMiles never expire, your account will be closed in the case of death and the miles forfeited.
“Under the SkyMiles Mileage Expiration policy, miles do not expire. Delta reserves the right to deactivate or close an account under the following circumstances:
- Fraudulent activity occurs.
- A Member requests an account closure.
- A Member is deceased.
- A Member does not respond to repeated communication attempts regarding the status of his/her account.
- A Member resides in or relocates to a country where membership is prohibited under applicable law.
- A Member violates the terms of this Membership Guide and Program Rules.”
A Delta phone agent confirmed the policy but also offered up the suggestion of ensuring ahead of time that my family has my SkyMiles login information so they can continue to use any miles I leave behind. She also said the only way the airline would transfer miles in these situations is by court order, so perhaps there’s something worth investigating if you want to go through that amount of effort.
You may want to enroll in JetBlue’s family pooling feature, which would alleviate any concerns you have about TrueBlue points expiring in the case of a death. But according to TrueBlue terms and conditions, your points are gone when you are:
“Accrued Points and Award Travel do not constitute property of Member and are nontransferable (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise.”
Again, I called the airline and a TrueBlue agent confirmed the points could not be moved. So it’s best to do family pooling or have your loved one’s login to continue using the points if something happens to them.
The Southwest terms and conditions provide the following information:
“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.”
But, I called the corporate relations number for Southwest Rapid Rewards (855-234-4654, option #3) and asked what could be done in the case of death. The agent said a copy of the death certificate could be sent in and the Rapid Rewards from the deceased’s account would be moved to a beneficiary fee-free. Of course, the easiest option is to ensure your loved one has access to your account and he or she can continue to redeem the points.
The United MileagePlus terms and conditions state the following:
“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.”
I called United to ask what the fees would be. But, the agent could only tell me that the typical transfer fees may be waived, subject to the airline’s approval after the required documentation has been submitted.
Hilton has a death transfer affidavit available for members to use. It needs to be submitted with proof of death within one year of the member’s passing to be valid. There is no fee to transfer points. Alternatively, you can set up a Hilton points pool with up to 10 people for free anytime and share points that way, though it’s capped at sharing 500,000 points per year.
Marriott has specific directions on what to do upon a member’s passing on its website. Marriott says it will “Allow unredeemed Marriott Bonvoy Points from the deceased Member’s Account to be transferred to a Family Member or a Friend who is an active Marriott Bonvoy Member upon the Company’s receipt and review of all requested documentation and communications.”
TPG readers have shared that the person receiving the points needs may need to be specified in the deceased member’s will. Documentation required includes the following: supporting documentation (death certificate, documentation showing executor of the estate), signature, member name of both accounts, membership number of both accounts, address on both accounts and details of the request.
World of Hyatt
From the World of Hyatt terms and conditions:
“In the case of documented death of a Member, points (but not elite status or awards) are transferable on a one-time basis to one (1) person sharing the same residential mailing address as the deceased Member. Receipt of points in such a transfer requires the recipient to be a Member. (Hyatt will have no responsibility for any disputes related to the transference of the points of a deceased Member and, in the event that Hyatt receives competing transfer requests from more than one (1) person sharing the deceased Member’s residential address and such dispute cannot be resolved to Hyatt’s satisfaction, Hyatt may refuse all transfers and void the deceased Member’s points.)”
Related: 6 ways to redeem Hyatt points
Plan ahead with these steps
I’ve personally taken the following actions to ensure that my wife and kids can utilize my points and miles in case something happens to me:
- I track everything in AwardWallet and ensure my wife has access to the AwardWallet account. That way, she has all the information she needs to continue using my points and miles without alerting an airline. Redeeming tickets for people other than yourself typically isn’t a problem for most loyalty programs. However, you need to be careful if you have points or miles in programs like Korean, ANA, Asiana and JAL, which require family registration.
- Our wills state that loyalty program points and miles go to the next of kin in line with succession if one or both of us pass.
- I’ve got a couple of my closest points and miles friends lined up to help my wife with all of these loyalty assets in case something happens to me.
- While doing the above research, almost all of the airline agents I spoke with volunteered the idea to make sure your loved one has your login information, so he or she can continue using your points or miles after you die without alerting the airline. In my opinion, this is the easiest and smartest strategy.
We certainly don’t want to think about that day when we’ll go the way of the Concorde and L-1011 TriStar, but it’s even harder to think about a considerable stash of loyalty assets going to waste because you didn’t prepare.
Our miles constitute thousands of dollars of free travel for many of us. Remember to not always believe what you read in a program’s terms and conditions — as shown above, a quick call to the airline can relieve some stress and provide comfort.
Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.
Featured photo by James O’Neil/Getty Images.
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