If you are a frequent flier on domestic airlines, one of your many estate planning concerns might be what will happen to your accumulated miles once you have passed away. Depending on the number of miles, they could be worth thousands of dollars. In that case, you probably don’t want them to just vanish, but some airline policies say that’s exactly what will happen.
The law doesn’t generally consider airline miles personal property that can be bequeathed directly to heirs, but 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.”
It is clear that policy terms vary, and they may vary even when talking with different airline agents. Airfarewatchdog.com has found discrepancies between written policies and what customer service representatives told them over the phone. Here is the chart published by Airfare Watch Dog. You can see their excellent chart here.
The New York Times also highlighted this issue with an article summarizing their findings here: New York Times - Airline Miles Afterlife.
How to Transfer Miles After Death
The key point is that even though airline policies may say they don’t permit miles transfers after death, employees often have the discretion to approve them. Despite this, there is no way to know whether your airline will work with your loved ones regarding the transfer of your miles after you are gone.
One way to better ensure your miles get transferred is to include a provision in your will or trust that makes your wishes clear. This step is especially important if your airline requires a copy of a will as documentation, but it can be helpful in any event.
Another option is to leave your account number, login and password to the person you would like to be able 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, so they know to pursue the issue in your absence.
Lastly, if you’re the one trying to claim miles of a deceased person, you should understand the airline’s policies before offering information about the account holder’s death, as the account could be cancelled immediately, leaving you with no recourse.
Final Thought on Frequent Flyer Miles: Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em
Frequent flyer policies can change at the whim of the airlines even as you are living, so another idea to keep in mind is to use the miles now and create experiences with your loved ones rather than plan to pass the miles on later.
If you have any concerns about frequent flyer miles, contact our office, and always be sure to include all your assets, even your airline miles accounts, when discussing wills, trusts, and estate plans with your attorney.
Zach Wiegand is a Burnsville, Minnesota estate planning attorney who also handles probate in Dakota County and other counties in the greater Twin-Cities area. Zach is the owner of Gold Leaf Estate Planning, LLC, which is a Minnesota estate planning law firm that handles probate and trust administration in Minnesota. Zach was named a 2017 Minnesota Super Lawyer – Rising Star and he is a member of WealthCounsel – a national organization of estate planning attorneys dedicated to practice excellence. You can contact Zach via e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (952) 658-6503. Gold Leaf Estate Planning is located in Burnsville at 3000 County Road 42 W., Suite 310, Burnsville, MN 55337.