What Happens To Your Miles When You Die?

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.

Airline miles

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:

ProgramTerms
Air Canada AeroplanMiles 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 PlanNo published policy, but typically allows fee-free transfers to spouse or heir upon receipt of a death certificate and will/letter of intent.
American AAdvantageMiles 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 ClubMiles are not transferable through legal instruments, but you can pool miles in Household Accounts.
Delta SkyMilesMiles 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 TrueBlueMiles are not transferable through legal instruments, but you can combine miles through Family Pooling.
Southwest Rapid RewardsMiles 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 MileagePlusMiles 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."

Hotel points

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:

ProgramTerms
Club CarlsonMembers 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 HyattHyatt 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 ClubPay $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 RewardsTransfer 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 GuestStarwood 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.

American Express Membership 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.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

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.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

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.

Planning ahead

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.

Online access

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.

Bottom line

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?

Comments

  1. Thanks for the thorough post. It’s always fascinating to learn about the differences between the different religious traditions.

  2. When my wife died 6 years ago, I just used up her miles on trips for family and once less than required for trip, did a mile transfer to my account. Of course this was all done online.

    The airline was never notified and I just let small balance wither on vine (less than 1000)

  3. you can’t use hotel points for someone else.

    ^^^

    That’s not entirely true. My friend is an SPG plat he books the room in his name using points and then adds my name in the reservation as the second guest.

    i check in and stay though the lead guest who is the SPG Plat does not turn up at all!

  4. Good Evening, Tiffany!

    I don’t think I have any Skymiles left. I’ve been churning out those Avios things but I have no idea how many are in my BA account. Frankly, they can die with me…though, it would be nice if I could donate them to a non-profit. I’ll have to look into that. Have you had any experience donating miles?

    Anyway, I just wanted to say ‘hi’ and ask if there’ll be a mini trip report of your Jordanian adventure. I’m sure many OMAAT readers would love to read of your impressions.

  5. @ Imperator — You should use your Avios! Great for short flights, and occasionally upgrades. I’m not sure about Avios, but it is possible with other currencies. It’s typically not a great deal for the charities, but I suppose there are circumstances where it could make sense.

    (Yes, will have Jordan trip report eventually. Still writing it, and then will probably wait to publish until Ben finishes his current report. I don’t know if it matters to anyone else, but I always get confused when we have two series going at once!)

  6. When my mom passed away, she had about 65,000 points in her United Mileage Plus account. I used the points to buy a rolling Tumi duffle bag.

  7. Thanks for the information. I am a cancer patient and I am trying to figure out what to do about my points across the board. Of course I am trying to figure out a way to USE them before I die but chemo is an evil thing and makes traveling hard. I had a few months break and I did a bunch of traveling including taking people close to me to Hawaii! Even used points to fly people out to help me when I was sick. Not exactly what I wanted to use them for. I keep telling my husband he can’t spend all his time grieving. We have a 13 year old son and I want him to travel as much as he can with him before my points run out. It was always MY hobby and I know once I am gone he will go back to a cash back card (boring) and never think about earning points and miles again!!!! I swear I am thinking about making hotel plans in the future and leaving my husband notes on taking my son on these preplanned trips!!!

  8. “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.”

    Tiffany, I have used hHonors points numerous times but simply booking a room and adding my wife as another guest to the room. She simply checks in with the confirmation and sometimes says I am arriving later or says nothing.

    You can find ways to easily get around the hotel issue.

  9. My husband died in 2002. We both had jobs that required a lot of travel between the US and Latin America, and we were both executive platinum with American. When I called the Executive Platinum line to close his account, I was asked if I wanted the one million+ miles he had. I said yes, faxed his birth certificate and I received the miles. So now, just in case, I included mention of the miles in my will.

  10. I’d like to hear more about this … “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.” , specifically the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. My husband and I each have a separate card. Can we combine into a Family Account like we have with British Airways?

  11. Thank you for a very thorough and useful review. Can you please clarify what you mean under the AMEX member rewards category by ‘taking over’ and ‘reinstating the points.’

  12. @ Linda Rakoff — Those are just the terms Amex uses. Basically rather than closing the account, another person takes it over, and the miles are moved over. If you call, they should know what you’re asking for.

  13. Presumably if there’s too much hassle using hotel points they could be converted to airline miles in the deceased’s FF account then used for flights. Not a perfect solution, possibly, but at least you get something for them.

    Also, Aeroplan allows donation of miles to Doctors Without Borders, where I believe they really do make a difference.

  14. When my husband died in August I was able to transfer his Hyatt points to my account without difficulty. That was the only currency he had any significant amount of, and they made it quite easy. I do wish that I had redeemed awards on his other cards (cash back) before notifying them of his death, because since I wasn’t an authorized user on any of them, I wasn’t able to redeem any of those awards once they learned of his death.

  15. Does anyone have specific experience with Hilton? My Mama passed in November, and I’m sort of afraid to call them for fear that they’ll just shut down the account without giving me the opportunity to redeem her significant point balance.

  16. Thank you so much Tiffany for this super helpful post. Your timing is perfect, and my grandparents will be so pleased if we can transfer the miles. They’re basically real OGs in the miles & points world. They used them to travel all over the world from our town in Alabama, and as we say around here, the nut don’t fall far from the tree.

  17. I’m late reading this, but thank you for this great resource. I had asked Will at Doctor of Credit if any posts had been written on this topic and he sent me a link. Glad he did. 🙂

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