It usually occurs to people right around the holidays that they need to get their estate planning in order. People often get around to talking about their bank accounts, their investments and their property at this time. There’s one little detail that gets passed over, quite often – the thousands of frequent flyer miles that they may have accumulated. Whatever happens to them when the holder happens to pass away? Is there something you can do to leave them to someone else?
Unfortunately, most airlines have a non-transfer policy attached to their reward programs. You can yourself lucky if you can actually get your airline to tell you as much, though. Many of them will just send you an e-mail that’s filled with marketing-speak that is neither here nor there. This isn’t a new thing. When people try to talk to their airlines about what is to become of their frequent-flier miles (that are often worth many thousands of dollars), they are often just given the runaround.
The fact of the matter is that most airlines do have a formal and detailed policy that denies you the ability to transfer the miles to anyone through a will. You find it in the fine print attached to your frequent flyer agreement. Sometimes, though, when you actually call the airline call center and ask about it, they’ll give you an entirely different policy – one that does allow you to leave your miles to someone. It depends on the airline and it depends on how the person in charge on the day you call chooses to interpret the rules.
Let’s take a short look at what all the different airlines do – when they go by the book and when they seem to throw the rule book away.
When it comes to their frequent-flier miles American Airlines does have a very clear policy that they tend to apply to everyone in a very consistent way. When you have AAdvantage Miles, you’re free to transfer them to anyone after you pass on. It used to be, at one time, that they would charge you a $50 fee to do this. These days, they’ve even dropped that. If you wish to leave your miles to someone, you just need to call the airline and ask for their information packet. They’ll send you an affidavit that the person you’re leaving the miles to – the beneficiary – needs to fill out. The form also needs to be signed by the spouse of the owner of those miles and the estate executor. Once the person passes on and the airline gets the death certificate, they quickly get the transfer processed.
US Airways is another one of those reasonable airline companies. US Airways Dividend Miles are free to transfer for up to a year after a person dies. To actually get the transfer processed, all you need do is to submit to them a copy of the will and a copy of the death certificate.
To anyone who has plenty of Rapid Rewards with Southwest, the airline has a clean and blunt answer to this question – no transfers. Southwest doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to those frequent-flier miles. There is a way around this though. You just need to use the Rapid Rewards account number and password of the deceased person. You’ll be able to use it for up to two years.
Delta and United
Delta and United, the two biggest airline companies in the US, have no real consistent policy in the matter. If you try to call Delta about getting any SkyMiles transferred, there’s a good chance that they’ll read you the rule book that says that transfers are not allowed. But some call center agents do use their discretion to give you a SkyMiles affidavit that allows you to get the transfer. Apparently, it’s done on a case-by-case basis.
If you go by the rule book United doesn’t allow you to transfer your Mileage Plus miles. But some call center agents do allow you to make a $75 payment and get them transferred.
How should you go about getting your airline to be reasonable?
With each of these airlines that we’ve talked about here, you don’t need to actually go get things formally transferred to have someone else make use of them. No one stops anyone from using those miles if they know the account number and password. You might waste a few miles this way, but it’s better than nothing. For the most part, it shouldn’t be a problem if the person using the miles has the same address and last name as the person deceased. If it’s a different name and a different credit card, though, the airline might object.
We all tend to jealously hoard our frequent flyer miles. It can be a wonderful thing to look at your collection of thousands of miles and know that they can take you somewhere far away and magical. People treat their miles as if they were money in the bank. But are they? Can you give them to someone – say when you pass on? Apparently, most people don’t think of this, and the airlines bank on it. There are all kinds of problems that crop up when you decide to leave your miles to someone.
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