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What happens to your points and miles after you die?

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 8/29/2020 Richard Kerr
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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 your points and miles are not your property. In almost every single 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:

© The Points Guy  

This is language that adds to the overall 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 frequent flyer and hotel programs in the U.S. to see what’s allowed in the case of death, and then I’ll give you my advice on how to prepare for the unthinkable, but also inevitable.

In This Post

Alaska Airlines

a plane sitting on top of a building: Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines © The Points Guy Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines

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, and through its “Memorial Miles” program, it will transfer miles from the deceased’s account to a beneficiary fee-free.

American Airlines

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: (Photo by Juha Remes/Getty Images). © The Points Guy (Photo by Juha Remes/Getty Images).

American has some language in its AAdvantage program terms and conditions which does not specifically allow transfer after death, but the airline gives itself a loophole to transfer the miles after approved legal documents have been submitted. 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.

Delta

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

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.


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JetBlue

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images) © The Points Guy (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

You should typically 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, you 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 to use the points in case something happens to them.

Southwest

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a tarmac: (Photo by John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images) © The Points Guy (Photo by John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images)

Like many of these programs, the Southwest terms and conditions say one thing, and then customer service will give you the real scoop:

“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.”

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 just ensure your loved one has access to your account and he or she can continue to redeem the points.

United

a plane sitting on top of a runway: (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

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 asked 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. It sounds like there may be some hope to get this done for free.

Hilton Honors

Hilton has a death transfer affidavit available on its website for members to use. It needs to be submitted with proof of death within one year of the member’s passing in order 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 its capped at sharing 500,000 points per year.

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott has specific directions of 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 same of both accounts, membership number of both accounts, address on both accounts, 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.)”

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:

  1. 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 the majority of loyalty programs, though you do need to be careful if you have points or miles in programs like Korean, ANA, Asiana and JAL, which require family registration.
  2. Our wills both state that loyalty program points and miles go to the next of kin in line with succession, in case one or both of us pass.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Bottom line

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.

Featured photo by bluehand/Shutterstock

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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