How to Include Miles and Points in Your Estate Planning

Via Jerry, the July issue of Estate Planning Developments for Texas Professionals (exciting reading!) has a piece on transferring frequent flyer miles at death.

It’s a nice companion to the classic April 2004 Inside Flyer article that explains in broad terms how programs treat miles in death, that piece is especially useful for understanding the extent to which miles are an asset of the estate vs. forfeited when the member is no longer alive to use them (and covers the similar case of divorce).

The newer article provides updated details on a series of programs, domestic and international and even proprietary credit card programs, outlining ability to transfer at death, cost to do so, and procedure.

If you’re planning your estate and are a significant accumulator of miles and points, this is useful reading. Although, legalities aside, it’s often simplest to just make a list of your account numbers and passwords and have your spouse book awards out of your account. Some programs require that folks besides the accountholder that are eligible for award tickets be designated in advance, that can often be done online or at least can be done in writing. British Airways, for instance, says they’ll only speak directly to the member — so the spouse (assuming not same-sex) may need to have someone call for them acting as though they were the member, or better yet fill out the forms in advance to designate your spouse to speak to the program on your behalf and then it’ll be far less sketchy.

Bottom-line is it’s often easiest to just use the miles in an account rather than transfer miles at death, but many programs do permit such transfers and miles are sometimes treated as de facto assets when it comes to transferring the fruits of loyalty from one member to another when they pass away, even when at other times the programs maintain that the miles are not assets of the member to be transferred at will and the IRS generally doesn’t view miles earned from personal travel or personal credit card spend to be income for taxation purposes. It’s a fine line to walk, but many programs find a way to thread the needle to offer some modicum of compassion and the possibility of future travel.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Did you know that your google ad running with this page is BIG GIRL BRAS! what a crack up!

  2. I agree with you – that it is better to just have the miles in the account than to transfer them.

    The only exception is possibly with American Airlines since miles transferred at death will be counted toward lifetime status!

  3. On the British Airways tangent: Weird. Because the website repeatedly failed to book a simple roundtrip award via the companion voucher, I called and booked it on a Sunday morning. But the voucher was in my wife’s account, and I gave a credit # in her name. She never joined the line.

    Maybe the household account and that fact I’m her companion had something to do with it.

  4. My guess is that this will become a bigger issue as aging baby boomers — the first group to really benefit from frequent flyer programs — are getting up there in years.

    Just this week I had to do generate some activity in my parents’ AA accounts, because they hadn’t travelled in 18 months and got the letter notifying them that they could lose their frequent flyer balances. My dad was one of AA’s earliest AAdvantage members, because as a senior executive he did a lot of business travel in the early ’80s.

    I’m guessing someone will eventually publish a list explaining the “inheritance” rules at each airline, and how accomodating they are. I agree with you that it’s probably best to just use up a deceased family member’s ff miles, but if transfer is relatively easy, that could be a better option.

  5. I think all the interest generated by Gary’s blog post has crashed the website. After many unsuccessful attempts, I finally got the following message at 3:30PM on 7.13.11: “The SSRN website is not available at this time.”

  6. I won a law suit against a theif of a contractor who says he can’t pay. During the job, he bragged about the millions & millions of air-line miles and hotel points he made off of people. Do you know how to go after these points? Since my lawyer charges $550 an hour, I need to know if there is a way, rather than going broke for him trying to find out. Any help would be great. Thanks for taking the time to help, if you could.

  7. @Daraius
    > The only exception is possibly with American Airlines
    > since miles transferred at death will be counted toward
    > lifetime status!

    Coming soon to a law and order episode near you… :-O

  8. Note that many airlines requires taxes and fees to be paid with a credit card
    that has the name and address of the frequent flyer member. I suggest the
    use of what can be bought at different stores, like Ralph’s Grocery Stores in
    California, called a Visa, Mastercard, or American Express Gift Card – which
    you prepay and then, when booking give the name and address of the
    deceased for the card

  9. @John

    As an attorney, I too would love to know if these award miles/points have ever been transferred via a judgment. I think I may have a clerk (intern) look into this and write a memo. It would be great if anybody already knows the answer.

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