What Happens to Your Miles When You Die, and How Should You Prepare Today?

I’ve described several frequent flyer worst case scenarios:

Not there’s no worst case scenario quite like dying. Perhaps the least important thing that happens when you die is where your miles go (the frequent flyer afterlife) and yet it’s always good to be prepared.

Here are policies and some anecdotal reports for several programs:

  • Aeroplan “membership terminates on death” per the terms and conditions but I’ve read reports that they’ll allow heirs to redeem miles for 12 months afterwards.

      Update: Aeroplan reached out with the following clarification.

      • A spouse or residual heir if no spouse can transfer points to their account at $0.01/mile plus a $30 processing fee (plus taxes).

      • The spouse or residual heir if no spouse can redeem points from the account for a period of 12 months for a processing fee of $30 (plus taxes). After 12 months, remaining miles are forfeit.

      To choose one of these options, provide a copy of death certificate and will to Estate.solution@aeroplan.com

  • Alaska has an unpublished policy to follow the transfer instructions of the member — allowing a fee-free transfer to a spouse, or to another designee with copy of will (a death certificate would be required in both cases).

  • American has a policy against transferring points on death but then offers that they’ll do it as an exception.

    American Airlines, in its sole discretion, may credit accrued mileage to persons specifically identified in court approved divorce decrees and wills upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to American Airlines and upon payment of any applicable fees.

  • Delta miles expire when you do

  • Southwest has a policy similar to Delta’s — your miles pass onto the afterlife when you do.

  • United will not allow transfer of points upon death, either, at least according to the program terms though I’ve seen more than one reference to it being allowed anyway for a fee so ‘hang up call back’ may be required.

  • Club Carlson will, anecdotally, allow transfer of points upon death.

  • Hilton allows for points transfer upon death. Here’s the required form.

  • Hyatt will permit transfer of points to someone at the same residential mailing address. (They actually let you transfer points to any member for free anyway.)

  • IHG Rewards Club points may be transferred to a beneficiary within one year of death

  • Marriott points can be transferred to a spouse or domestic partner upon death.

  • Starwood will allow transfer of points to another active SPG member upon review of requested documentation.

In general the best advice is to:

  • Use a mileage tracking service like Award Wallet, and leave your intended recipient your account information so they can access your frequent flyer accounts. This will help them keep track of accounts, prevent miles from expiring, and even redeem miles without informing the program of your change in status.

  • Add a note along with your will indicating your intentions for whom you wish to receive your points. This will avoid doubt (as folks fight over your assets, and also so that programs feel comfortable releasing points to the intended recipient). The points aren’t your assets and won’t obligate a program to do as you wish, but it makes your intentions clear.

  • Some programs, like American, may require that taxes be paid for with a credit card belonging to the member whose miles are being used. So an authorized user card in your name may be necessary.

  • If your recipients don’t want to ‘redeem as though they were you’ then consider asking the program for help even if their policies say they don’t. Many programs have been known to offer points transfers on an exception basis.

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. M-I-L passed away 2 years ago. Club Carlson took a few months after a couple missteps, but transferred to her daughter, my wife, the only heir, w/o serious problem.

  2. Maybe this is overkill but I’ve done three things:

    First, I told my Power of Attorney Agent-in-Fact (who also happens to be my Executor) that if I’m terminal and Hospice is brought in, he should start cashing in my points and miles for award travel for a couple family members and close friends to take an amazing trip I’ve planned for them. I also put a paragraph in my Power of Attorney authorizing my Agent to deal with Points and Miles.

    Second, I drafted a codicil to my will directing my Executor to use the points to go online as soon as practicable after my death and redeem my miles and points for my family and friends to come to my funeral.

    Third, as the old saying goes (“Even when you die you have to connect through Atlanta on your way to Heaven”), I directed my Executor to pay Delta to upgrade me to “Cargo Class” and ship my body back home.

  3. Note to self screw over family by writing into will that points are to be used to fly my corpse round the globe in first class.

  4. My father passed last week after just opening the Delta Amex (w/ large sign-up bonus) and a new Southwest Premier card, therefore yesterday we used these two cards to pay the funeral costs to hit the bonus and get those miles. Sadly….. I saw this post today.

    Do you think if we just log in as my father and don’t notify them that he has passed that we can use his SkyPesos and RapidRewards until they run out?

  5. My dad passed away last summer. Regardless of what their rules say, American and Starwood both couldn’t have been nicer in transferring his points to me and my brother once we provided requested documentation and followed their procedures/instructions.

    JetBlue wouldn’t transfer because they said that this is what Family Pooling is for.

  6. How do the programs even know you died? What stops your family to keep using your miles (apart from having potentially to call the airline)?

  7. @German Expat, it seems to me this would often work. They won’t know you died unless someone tells them, and if your next of kin have your log in information, they could simply go online as you and redeem miles for themselves or others until the account is exhausted. Has anyone had a problem doing that?

  8. 1. Don’t tell the airline/points people you died
    2. Don’t cancel the credit card that goes with the points
    3. Pay off the balance of the credit card and SHUT UP.
    4. Go on line and buy those around the world tickets for you living relatives while you rot away at the mortician’s basement.
    5. Make the hotel reservation and tell them your son/daughter will be there since you broke your leg and can not travel

    AND give your heirs your user name, passwords, codes and award numbers

    Call your CPA to file your last tax return

    DEATH AND TAXES!

  9. Did anyone answer the question about American Express Reward points, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You points? For some of us, these are most important because they can be used to purchase products or cash out too in addition to having transfer partners. Valuable information in his post, but surprised Gary didn’t cover these programs.

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