Not to be morbid, but this is a question I get all the time. Miles and points are confusing enough, and when you add in the stress surrounding an unexpected (or even expected) death it can be difficult to understand options and make decisions.
This is unfortunately a discussion we’re having in my family. Given how challenging it has been I figured it would be helpful to compile the rules for the main programs, along with my tips on how to organize your miles such that they can be used should something happen to you.
Your miles aren’t yours
This is perhaps counter-intuitive, but is the most important thing to understand up-front. Airline rewards aren’t assets that can be automatically bequeathed to your heirs, and in nearly all cases the programs themselves assume control of any miles when you pass away.
So it’s not enough to just write a note in your will saying that any miles go to so-and-so. Each program has slightly different rules and exceptions, but as with anything else in this space — you’ll get the best results by doing as much of the legwork yourself as possible.
For the most part, you can redeem your miles for anyone, even if you’re not traveling, so that would be my first recommendation. With a bit of advance planning (see more below), there’s no reason why your heirs can’t make some redemptions prior to notifying the airline.
In other cases, the airlines have provisions allowing miles to be transferred to another account (either as an exception or for a fee), but I would only do this if there aren’t otherwise enough miles in an account for a direct redemption.
For program specifics, and links to full terms:
|Air Canada Aeroplan||Miles are not transferable through legal instruments, but:|
"Aeroplan may, from time to time, in its sole discretion, allow members to transfer miles after death."
In practice, when they allow the transfer there's typically a fee of $30 plus $0.01 per mile transferred.
|Alaska Mileage Plan||No published policy, but typically allows fee-free transfers to spouse or heir upon receipt of a death certificate and will/letter of intent.|
|American AAdvantage||Miles are not transferable through legal instruments, but:|
"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||Miles are not transferable through legal instruments, but you can pool miles in Household Accounts.|
|Delta SkyMiles||Miles are not transferable through legal instruments, and Delta no longer offers an official transfer option upon death of the member. Exceptions can be made, but aren't a guarantee.|
|FlyingBlue (Air France/KLM)||Miles are not transferable, and I haven't heard of exceptions being made.|
|JetBlue TrueBlue||Miles are not transferable through legal instruments, but you can combine miles through Family Pooling.|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards||Miles are not transferable through legal instruments, and expire 24 months from the last earning date, or if the account is requested to be closed.|
|United MileagePlus||Miles are not transferable through legal instruments, but:|
"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."
Hotels are a bit trickier, as for the most part you can’t use hotel points for someone else. You’ll typically have to transfer the points to your heirs for them to be able to use the points.
Fortunately, most of the hotel programs make that rather simple:
|Club Carlson||Members can always transfer points within households (addresses have to match, and both accounts have to be open for at least 1 year). Gold members can transfer points to anyone.|
Additionally: "Gold Points belonging to a Club Carlson member who is deceased may be transferred to the Club Carlson account of the deceased member’s beneficiary(ies) in our sole discretion."
|Hilton HHonors||"In case of the death of a Member, points in the Member’s account may be transferred to another active Member upon Hilton HHonors Worldwide’s receipt and approval of certain requested documentation and information."|
|Hyatt Gold Passport/World of Hyatt||Hyatt does allow awards to be issued for other individuals, including Guest of Honor bookings from Diamond members, and allows points to be transferred between members for no fee.|
Additionally: "In the case of documented death of a Hyatt Gold Passport member, Hyatt Gold Passport points are transferable to a person sharing the same residential mailing address."
|IHG Rewards Club||Pay $5 USD per 1,000 points transferred to anyone, or:|
"When an IHG® Rewards Club member passes away, the member's IHG® Rewards Club points may be transferred to the IHG® Rewards Club account(s) of the member's beneficiary(ies). The request for transfer should be sent to the IHG® Rewards Club Service Centre by the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate, along with court documents showing authority, or by a sole beneficiary, along with copies of the decedent’s will and death certificate. The request must be received within one (1) year of the date of death. Transfer fees will be waived."
|Marriott Rewards||Transfer up to 50,000 points per year to anyone (or more for an award redemption), or:|
"Points are transferable to a legal spouse or domestic partner in the case of documented death of the Member. In addition, there is a limited exception for the transfer of Points to the accounts of friends or family.
|Starwood Preferred Guest||Starwood already allows household transfers, or:|
"In the event of death, Starwood may, in its sole discretion, allow unredeemed Starpoints to be transferred to a family member or a friend who is an active SPG Member upon Starwood's receipt and review of all requested documentation and communications."
Credit card points
Many of us have significant numbers of credit card rewards.
The terms state:
Points are not your property. You can’t transfer points to any other person or program account. Additionally, points can’t be transferred by operation of law, such as by inheritance, in bankruptcy or in connection with a divorce.
In practice, however, you can “take over” the account of a deceased relative, and then reinstate the rewards points. If you’re an authorized user, you already have the option to move points to any of your frequent flyer accounts.
Once a card is canceled, all points are forfeit, so keep that in mind when planning.
The terms state:
Any points accrued shall be permanently forfeited if your Account has been closed, or upon the Cardholder’s death.
Once again, you already have the option to combine Ultimate Rewards points with those of an authorized user, so that’s probably the best option. You may also be able to “take over” the account, but that will be more complicated.
The terms state:
You will lose your Points upon your death, and your estate, successors and assigns have no property rights or other legal interests in such Points, except under this circumstance:
Cash Rewards Option. 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 identity and appointment of the executor or administrator, we can allow Points remaining in your ThankYou account to be redeemed for Cash Rewards.
Citi is already the most restrictive of the transferable points currencies, so it’s not surprising that they don’t offer as many options to reclaim points. Transferring points directly out of Citi to a transfer partner is probably the best approach.
Whether you want your family to be able to take an amazing vacation, or want to use any rewards to defray final travel expenses, it helps to have a plan. There are a few things you can do to make the process easier.
Whether you’re using AwardWallet to track your balances, or have some other system for keeping your miles organized, one of the best things you can do to preserve your miles is to set up online accounts.
This might sound like a no-brainer for OMAAT readers, but I can almost guarantee that some of your parents and grandparents are still relying on their paper statements to tell them how many points they have.
Once the online accounts are in place, make sure there’s a way for someone else to access that information, either by giving the info to a designated person (more on that later), or including it with your other important documents.
Being able to go online to check balances, move miles, or redeem awards will make everything much easier, and will help avoid phone calls to airlines.
Authorized user accounts
If possible and practical, I’d also recommend adding an authorized user to your main credit card rewards accounts.
Some airlines ask that award taxes and fees be paid by the account holder, and other times the traveler will need to show the credit card used for payment when they go to travel.
As an alternative, authorized users can often transfer credit card rewards points directly into their mileage accounts, giving you another way to liquidate your miles.
Keep in mind that even if you have luxury cards with high annual fees, you may be able to open a no-fee card that links to the same rewards account.
Designate a representative
Based on my personal experiences, I would highly recommend picking someone to be in charge of the mileage situation that isn’t otherwise the executor of your estate. Quite frankly, death is complicated, and the executor is going to have plenty of other (and more pressing) things to do.
So pick a friend who knows about miles, or a second cousin who can follow instructions, and give them the details of what you’d like done with your miles. Make sure they know where to find usernames and passwords should the need arise, and make sure everyone else knows that this person is in charge of the miles. You can include a note in your will, but as miles aren’t an asset or legal tender it’s probably not technically enforceable. Getting everyone on the same page ahead of time should help.
Having a designated person not only makes it easier to prepare things in advance, but also takes the burden of figuring out programs and making decisions off of your loved ones.
Ultimately, you want to avoid having anyone call the airline to inform them of your passing. Once an account is terminated, it’s possible to move the miles around, but it becomes much more difficult.
For those of us that have millions of miles, it’s worth taking the time to not only make plans for your mileage accounts, but to also communicate those plans. Even those people that only have a few thousand miles can still benefit from a bit of advanced planning, and it will be much easier on your family if you do.
Any other experiences dealing with miles after someone has passed away?