When you’re dealing with the swirl of emotions and details that come with the loss of a loved one, what happens to their frequent flyer miles is probably the last thing on your mind. But these miles can actually add up to a fairly substantial hidden asset, potentially worth hundreds of dollars or more in services and goods.
Most airlines and credit card companies would like you to think that you are simply not allowed to inherit airline miles.
But that’s not necessarily the case. While it is true that most airlines technically “own,” the frequent flyer miles your loved one earned, there’s no reason for you not to be assertive about requesting that the miles are transferred to your account. After all, your loved one earned these assets by regularly using the airline’s services, or by outright purchasing those miles.
A few companies are very empathetic and up front about allowing you to transfer airline miles after the death of a loved one, and make it as easy as possible to bequeath them to survivors, and for those survivors to claim them.
“In the event that an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan member passes away, and a family member wishes to claim their miles, we help them do this, provided they can provide a photocopy of the legal death certificate and the Mileage Plan number of the beneficiary.” – Bobbie Egan, Spokesperson for Alaska Airlines
Others, not so much.
The one step everyone should take when claiming a loved one’s frequent flier miles: Call the airline.
Regardless of the written policy on their websites, many of these companies have undisclosed inheritance rules that are different from their public facing policies. The legal phrasing is that exceptions are made at the “sole discretion,” of the airline. Sole discretion usually means that a customer service representative is empowered to transfer airline miles after the death of a family member if your request is reasonable and respectfully made.
Don’t put your own loved ones through this emotional turmoil
If you’re a member of one or more of these clubs, there are a few steps you can take right now to help ensure that your own loved ones don’t have to prolong this turmoil, on top of the grief and emotional issues they’ll be suffering, when you pass away.
1: Transfer your miles as you transfer wealth to your heirs
And for people of any age with miles, make sure you keep accounts active, even if it means buying something from a merchant who will give you miles.
2: Explore loyalty program exchange sites
Loyalty program exchange sites, like points.com, allow you to transfer miles or points to another airline’s frequent flyer or rewards programs which may have more generous rules regarding inheriting, transferring, or donating points.
3: Check out the American Express Membership Rewards program
This program allows you to earn miles on about 20 US and foreign airlines. The points never expire, and you can transfer them to the airline frequent flyer program of your choice, where they become miles, as needed. You can set up a joint account with your spouse so that either card holder can control the points, completely sidestepping the question of inheriting miles if one of you passes away.
4: Share your reward program login information with your spouse or a child
This is not strictly legal, but if you are the primary account holder, you should make sure your loved ones have your username and password, so they can claim any unexpired points or miles without going through the rigamarole of official channels.
How to transfer frequent flier miles from the deceased
American Airlines: AAdvantage
American allows you to transfer frequent flier miles from the deceased. Call 800-882-8880. Request “AAdvantage Account” at the Main Menu to have the mileage balance from a deceased member’s account transferred to a beneficiary’s account. You may need to complete an affidavit, indicating the account to which the miles should be transferred. A copy of the death certificate may be required. There is no fee as of publication date.
AAdvantage offers a Buy/Gift/Share program where miles can be pooled and shared among family members.
AAdvantage Customer Service can be reached here.
Delta Airlines: Sky Miles
Delta’s official policy is that miles cannot be inherited. But there are reports that if you call customer service at 800-323-2323, and are polite but firm in your request, exceptions are not uncommon. Again, you’ll be required to fill out an affidavit (delta.com/skymilesaffidavit). If you have the proper account information you can transfer your miles here.
Sky Miles customer service is here.
Frontier Airlines Early Returns
Frontier’s Early Returns program officially denies that miles may be inherited. But a phone call to an Early Returns Coordinator at 800-432-1359 may yield different results. Our research indicates that if you are in possession of proof of beneficiary and their phone number, as well as the deceased’s account information, you may be able to inherit these airline miles.
You can transfer Early Returns miles here.
Early Returns customer support is here.
JetBlue’s formal policy is to not transfer miles when a member dies; but make a phone call to 1-800-538-2583 and provide documentation of beneficiary status, a death certificate, and account credentials and you will probably be granted the transfer nonetheless.
You can head this issue off for your own survivors by setting up a TrueBlue Family Pooling account here. Family Pooling allows any family member who has been added to the account to access points as long as the account is active.
TrueBlue customer support is here.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Southwest’s policy is clear: points will not be transferred to a Member’s estate upon their death. Points automatically expire after two years of inactivity.
Each Member has the ability to transfer Rapid Rewards Points to another Member with an active Rapid Rewards account. You can share or transfer points here.
Rapid Rewards customer support is here, or call1-800-445-5764.
United Airlines MileagePlus
United Airlines’ MileagePlus program rules state that accrued mileage is not transferable upon death. But apparently MileagePlus customers can call 1-800-421-4655 and request a form to transfer miles from a deceased member’s account to a beneficiary’s account. Be prepared to submit a copy of the death certificate and pay a $75 fee.
If you have a MileagePlus account number and PIN you can transfer miles here.
MileagePlus customer support is here.
US Airways Dividend Miles
US Airways transfers Dividend Miles to a beneficiary’s account free of charge, as long as the request is made within a year of the member’s death, and as long as the account was active when that person died. Dividend Miles are active for 36 months. Call 800-428-4322 to initiate your request and be prepared to submit a will or other legal document establishing survivorship, as well as a copy of the death certificate.
Share Dividend Miles here.
Dividend Miles customer support is here.
Virgin America Elevate
Elevate has no readily available inheritance policy. Call 877-359-8474 to have your request considered on a case by case basis.
Transfer points here with the account holder’s email address or account number and password, and the account information for the heir or survivor.
Virgin America’s customer support is here.
Transporting or travelling with human remains
If you find yourself in the unpleasant circumstance of needing to travel with or transport cremated remains, all of the major airlines have policies in place to accommodate this need. Costs and procedures for transporting a deceased loved one vary by airline, so you may utilize the customer service numbers included above for specific information.
Remember, at this point your emotions may be very raw and you will possibly be at your wit’s end from the planning and arrangements necessary whenever a loved one passes away. Be mindful of this when you call the airlines and always be polite and respectful. As my grandmother used to say, you collect more flies with honey, and in this case you’ll collect more frequent flier miles with politeness and respect.
For further information regarding inheritance of airline miles, end of life financial planning or purchasing custom or unique cremation urns, call us at 877.242.9713 or contact us with your questions.