We all have that friend who loves to travel. Usually, that person is involved in some sort of company sponsored reward program that allows them to accumulate miles or points. This begs the question – what happens to those miles/points when the individual passes away?
As an account holder for a travel rewards program, this may seem implausible, but most programs possess sole discretion over the accumulated miles/points of a deceased customer. Once informed of a member’s passing, the company has the right to close the account and take back all of the miles/points. As these rewards are not assets in the traditional sense, beneficiaries are not subject to guaranteed transfers of unused miles or points.
Currently, many airlines do not have established transfer procedures for surviving loved ones to follow, in the event of an account holder’s death. In fact, most written policies do not allow such transfers.
Delta Airlines, Singapore Airlines and American Airlines have very strict formal policies, in which miles may not be transferred under any circumstance, and the account will likely be terminated upon the notification of death. Qantas is another airline where the points are forfeited upon the death of the account owner. Further, Qantas has been known to even cancel point transfers if they find out the original account owner died. JetBlue’s rewards are non transferrable, but the program features a point pooling account feature that members can use together. So, if a deceased account holder was part of a points pool, the remaining members can possibly redeem the unused points. Spirit Airlines has a similar program that up to eight people can participate in.
United Airlines has one of the most lenient written policies. In the event of death or divorce, United may credit all or a portion of the member’s accrued mileage to an authorized person with the proper documentation and payment of a transfer fee. British Airways and Emirates have similar policies. Southwest Airlines will allow to you to transfer points for up to twenty-four months after the account holder’s passing, provided that a transfer fee is paid and proper paperwork is presented.
Despite the rigid policies outlined above, verbal follow ups with airline customer service agents revealed transfer requests may be accomplished at the sole discretion of the airline. The subsequent documentation and applicable fees may then vary on a case-by-case basis. This law firm has had good luck getting Delta airlines to transfer miles, but only to a spouse.
Hotel loyalty programs offer more flexibility and clarity with their discretionary policies than their frequent flier counterparts. Hilton Honors allows points to be transferred to another active member within a year of the deceased member’s death. Marriott Bonvoy also allows points to be transferred to existing members. The World of Hyatt only permits a one-time transfer to active members with the same residential address as the deceased member. Points earned from IHG (owners of hotels like Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Kimpton and Staybridge Suites) usually expire upon the death of a member, but they do have a discretionary process to transfer the points for a fee.
Unless you are traveling to a major metropolitan area in America, you will almost certainly need a rental car to get to those bucket list destinations. Many of the top rental car agencies rewards programs do not seem to have established procedures for the death of a member, but Avis does. In the event of a member’s death, Avis may allow unredeemed points to be transferred to an active preferred member, upon approval of all requested documents.
Many of the organizations referenced above will allow their members to donate their miles/points to approved charitable organizations, provided that such donation occurs during the member’s lifetime.
There are two lessons to be learned here. First, think about what you would want to have happen to your miles or points if you pass away. The second, and maybe the more important lesson, is to enjoy your points and miles during your lifetime. Storing away large amounts of miles or points may only cause them to disappear upon your passing. Therefore, get busy traveling!