There are lots of things people include in their Will or Trust: who will care for their minor children if they can not, special documents for disabled beneficiaries, even planning for pets. But how about those frequent flyer miles that have been collecting? Can you give those to someone when you pass away? Well, the answer seems to be a qualified “maybe.”
The formal policy for whether the miles can be passed on is found in the terms and conditions of the contract with each airline. Some airlines allow it, some do not, and some say they do not, but maybe the actually do – or at least they will if they do not know the owner has died.
In 2012, The New York Times asked six airlines about their policy on transferring miles upon the death of a member, and found that two have written policies allowing this: American and US Airways. JetBlue also allows transfers, but does not have a written policy. The transfer will be done upon request and within a year of death.
On the other hand, Southwest has a written policy that does not allow transfers of its RapidRewards when a member dies, but the account remains open for two years (see Tip 4 below for transferring miles using the account and password).
Delta’s official policy is to not allow the transfer, but until March 2013, had an affidavit on its website that would start the transfer process. That affidavit has now been removed, and here is an excerpt from the new Delta SkyMiles Membership Guide:
“Restrictions on Transfer
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 (emphasis added).”
So, given the various airline policies, is there anything you can do to try and ease the transfer or redemption? Since these miles may be worth thousands of dollars, it’s at least worth trying – despite what the written policy may say. Here are some tips that may help:
1. Mention your frequent flyer miles in your Will or Trust. You can either give them to a specific person, or give them to a group of people. For example, “I give my miles (or points) in my [name of program] to my spouse, if she survives me. If she does not survive me, I give this bequest, in equal shares, to my then living children.”
2. If you are on the receiving end of the transfer, do not wait too long. Even airlines that allow transfers may have deadlines. Also remember, depending on the airline, inactive accounts may expire after a certain amount of time – usually 24 -36 months – so even if you have the account number and password, the miles may be gone.
3. If you are claiming miles under a bequest, be prepared to provide a copy or original death certificate and a copy of the Will that has the language giving the miles. Some airlines will also want an affidavit signed by the designated beneficiary.
4. Keep a list of your frequent flyer account and passwords up to date and let family members know where they can find that information. Most airlines allow transfers using the online account, but may limit the number of miles able to be transferred.
5. If you are unable to transfer the miles out of the account, call the airline customer service department. Despite some written policies, a customer service representative may be more accommodating and willing to help.
Reuters: Don’t Let Frequent Flier Miles Die With You (2013)
NY Times Article: The Afterlife of Your Frequent Flier Miles (2012)
Forbes: How to Pass On Frequent Flyer Miles (2012)
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys: Up-in-the-Air Estate Planning: Frequent Flyer Miles (2011)
Note: When I was writing this post, I was not sure whether to use “flier” or “flyer.” I noticed that my research showed both spellings seemed to be used interchangeably. So, I researched and found that either is acceptable. I decided that “flyer” was the better choice. “Flier or Flyer”