If you’re a frequent airline traveler, one of your estate planning concerns may be what will happen to your frequent flyer miles. They could be worth thousands of dollars, so you probably don’t want them to just disappear. The problem is that some airline policies say that’s exactly what will happen.
The law doesn’t consider airline miles assets that can be bequeathed directly to heirs. However, there are still some steps you can take to help ensure your miles live on. It all starts with examining the airline policies in question.
Airline Policies Regarding the Transfer of Frequent Flyer Miles
Some relevant policies include:
- American Airlines AAdvantage: “Neither accrued mileage, nor award tickets, nor status, nor upgrades are transferable by the member (i) upon death . . . . 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.”
- Delta Airlines SkyMiles: “Except as specifically authorized in the Membership Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be . . . transferred under any circumstances, including . . . upon death. . . . ”
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards: “Points may not be transferred to a Member’s estate or as part of a settlement, inheritance, or will. 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.”
- United Airlines MileagePlus: “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.”
Airfarewatchdog.com has found differences between written policies and what customer service representatives told them over the phone. Such a discrepancy that played out in the story of Kathe Holmes. She successfully claimed her late husband’s Alaska Airlines miles with minimal effort. No additional fees, even though that seemed to go against official policy.
How to Transfer Miles After Death
Airline policies may say they don’t allow transfers after death, but employees often have the discretion to approve them. Still, there’s no way to know whether your airline will accommodate your loved ones.
To better ensure your miles transfer, include a provision in your will that makes your wishes clear. This step is especially important if your airline requires a copy of a will as documentation.
Another option is to leave your account information to the person you would like to use your miles. Some airlines permit such transfers and usage of miles after the account holder’s death.
In either scenario, you should talk to your loved ones about your intentions. Also, if you’re the one trying to claim miles of a deceased person, read the airline’s policies before offering information about the account holder’s death. Otherwise, the account might be subject to immediate cancelation, leaving you with no recourse.
Final Thought on Frequent Flyer Miles
Frequent flyer policies can change at the whim of the airlines. If you have any concerns about frequent flyer miles, contact our office. Always be sure to include all your assets. Your airline miles accounts should be part of the conversation when discussing wills, trusts, and estate plans with your attorney.