These days, virtually all major retailers have some sort of loyalty/rewards program. This is especially true with respect to credit card and travel companies. Incentivized by travel rewards, consumers make purchases using their credit cards to earn perks like flight miles and hotel credits. Such rewards typically come with many paragraphs of fine print that detail a laundry list of rules and restrictions...black out dates, expiration dates, and transfer restrictions. So, what happens to your unused rewards when you die? A recent Wall Street Journal article sheds light on this unfortunate scenario.
“At many airlines, frequent-flier miles vanish when the customer dies. Many airlines close accounts that are sometimes worth tens of thousands of dollars and take back miles. Others may make an exception if you plead, creating hassle and uncertainty in a time of grief. And airlines being airlines, there’s sometimes a fee to transfer miles to an heir’s account, eroding their worth significantly.”
Program rules say miles aren’t transferable. Exceptions may be made at their discretion, after a member dies, with proper documentation, like a death certificate or executed will, and payment of fees.
Qantas, Singapore, Korean
Miles are void after a person dies.
24 months to use up miles after someone dies, assuming you have the account login information.
Emirates, Nippon Airways
Require a request to transfer miles within six months of a death.
Miles expire when you expire unless you get written permission from an officer of Delta (a vice-president and above).
British Airways, Jet Blue Airways
Miles are void after a person dies, however, they allow for “family pooling” of miles (linking together family accounts and sharing miles). Family pooling must be done prior to a family member’s death.
The Bottom Line?
Ultimately, you don’t own your frequent flier miles. The airlines do. When considering a travel rewards program - or any rewards program for that matter - make sure to read the fine print so that you know what you’re signing up for. This issue also underscores the importance digital estate planning. We encourage our clients to have a complete inventory of all of their electronically-housed asset, including logins, passwords, and expiration/renewal date. Whether it’s for social media, an online photo collection, or frequent flier miles, it’s important to understand the terms of each account and have a plan in place for how you’d like them to be handled once you’re gone.