Losing someone is always difficult, and it can be confusing to determine what happens to the deceased’s accumulated points and miles. Who has ownership of these loyalty currencies when a person passes away?
As a whole, your points and miles are not considered your personal property. In the terms and conditions of nearly all loyalty programs, you will find statements clarifying that the loyalty currency does not belong to you. For example, Delta’s SkyMiles terms and conditions state the following:
“Miles are not the property of any Member. Except as specifically authorized in the Membership Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be sold, attached, seized, levied upon, pledged, or transferred under any circumstances, including, without limitation, by operation of law, upon death, or in connection with any domestic relations dispute and/or legal proceeding.”
This language can be confusing, reminding you that you have limited control over loyalty programs, their rules and your rewards. Fortunately, most programs (though not all) make it relatively simple to transfer points and miles when you pass away.
Let’s examine various popular credit card, frequent flyer and hotel programs in the U.S. to understand what is permitted in such circumstances. We will also advise how you can prepare for the unexpected yet inevitable.
What to do with reward points if the account holder dies?
Short of having your loyalty accounts each added to your will, the simplest step is ensuring that your loved one(s) have access to your loyalty accounts. That way, if something happens to you, they might have the opportunity to use your points and miles by logging into your account.
In almost all cases (especially regarding flights), you can book travel for someone else using your points and miles. So, by having login access to your loved one’s account, you can book travel for yourself or others using their points. However, be mindful of mileage expiration dates.
When you close a credit card, the unused points could be forfeited. So, ensure you understand the policy for your bank and card before closing any credit cards.
Lastly, hotel points are generally the most flexible for transfers. Regardless of the reason, they can often be transferred (with some limitations) to another member. So, if your loved one has remaining hotel points, you might be able to transfer them to your account.
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How to ensure your points aren’t forfeited
Fewer things are worse than having your hard-earned points forfeited, regardless of the reason. This is why it’s so critical to be aware of each loyalty program’s specific rules when it comes to the death of a member.
Beyond knowing the login (don’t forget the security questions) to your loved one’s accounts, we recommend having electronic copies of a death certificate.
Passing on your points
There are three ways that you can pass on your points. So, depending on the loyalty program, you may have access to one or two of these options. These are the typical choices, ranking from best to worst:
- Transfer the points or miles to someone else (like yourself).
- Use the points as if the member was still alive.
- Have the points converted via a fixed-rate redemption.
You should transfer the points or miles to someone else whenever you can. This way, the points or miles are yours, and you can use them as you please.
If you can’t transfer the points or miles, see if you can keep the deceased’s account open. This way, you can log in to their account and book travel for yourself or others. The key limitation here is that some points and miles expire.
Lastly, the deceased’s points and miles may need to be used on a fixed-rate basis. This is most common with credit card points when unused reward balances are applied as cash back to the statement balance.
You won’t find any official policy written on Alaska’s website. However, a phone agent told us the airline requires a copy of a death certificate. Then, through its “Memorial Miles” program, it will transfer miles from the deceased’s account to a beneficiary fee-free.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express allows select individuals to make a one-time redemption using their Membership Rewards points if they die. Specifically, their terms state:
“If you die, the executor of your estate or personal representative may be able to make a one-time points redemption, depending on your Product, by calling 1-800-AXP-EARN (297-3276).”
Although a one-time redemption will limit your choices, you still have the opportunity to take advantage of any of the many ways to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points.
American has some language in its AAdvantage program terms and conditions that does not specifically allow transfer after death. Still, the airline gives itself a loophole to transfer the miles if you submit approved legal documents. Here’s what American specifically says:
“Except as otherwise explained below, mileage credit is not transferable and may not be combined among AAdvantage members, their estates, successors or assigns. Accrued mileage credit and award tickets do not constitute property of the member. Neither accrued mileage, nor award tickets, nor status, nor upgrades are transferable by the member (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise by operation of law. However, 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. Mileage credit is transferable between AAdvantage accounts when offered by American Airlines online, with the ShareMilesSM program. The member must adhere to the rules and limitations of the ShareMiles program.”
We called American, and the agent told us some rather generous and good news: If a loved one dies, call AAdvantage, and the program will email you requesting a copy of the death certificate and an affidavit. The affidavit must include the deceased member’s account number and the account information of the person(s) receiving the miles — you can even split the miles from the deceased between two or three accounts if desired. There is also no fee to transfer the miles. So, despite the stiff terms and conditions, it seems American is rather understanding in the case of death.
Capital One no longer publishes what it will do with unredeemed rewards when you die, but it used to have this published on its website:
“In the event we learn of the Primary Accountholder’s death, and there is no Secondary Accountholder, we will apply any remaining rewards balance as a credit to the account at your current cash redemption rate. The account must be in good standing to be eligible for the account credit.”
If this is still true, while Capital One won’t forfeit your mileage balance after you die, you’ll be limited to having your mileage balance converted into a statement credit without a secondary account holder.
Unfortunately, this will massively reduce the value of your Capital One miles. We value each Capital One mile at 1.85 cents. But at the time of writing, Capital One only provides 0.5 cents per mile for cash back toward your statement. You can find additional information here.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase’s policy is essentially identical to the previously-published Capital One policy:
“If we’re notified of your death, your points will be automatically redeemed for cash in the form of an account statement credit.”
Currently, Chase provides 1 cent per point when you redeem for a statement credit. Since TPG’s valuations peg the value of Ultimate Rewards points at 2.05 cents each, you’d be getting less than half the value you could receive by having your Ultimate Rewards applied as a statement credit.
You can read more about Chase’s policies here.
Citi ThankYou Rewards
Similar to Capital One and Chase, Citi ThankYou points are restricted to being applied as cash rewards. However, you must follow specific steps, or your points will be forfeited.
“If we receive a written request within one (1) year of your death from the executor or administrator of your estate, along with evidence satisfactory to us of your death and the identify and appointment of the executor or administrator, we can allow points remaining in your ThankYou account to be redeemed for Cash Rewards. Contact the ThankYou Service Center at 1-800-THANKYOU (1-800-842-6596) (Speech/hearing impaired: 1-877-693-0218 or other Relay Service) for more information.”
Although several steps are required to redeem your points for cash rewards, you can redeem at 1 cent per point. There are many ways to redeem Citi ThankYou points at a better redemption rate, though, as TPG’s valuations peg the value of Citi ThankYou points at 1.8 cents apiece.
To learn more, visit this page and click “Points expiration, suspension and forfeiture” at the top. Then, expand the “Loss or suspension of points” section.
It appears you’re out of luck with Delta. According to the SkyMiles program terms and conditions, while SkyMiles never expire, your account will be closed in the case of death and the miles forfeited.
“Under the SkyMiles Mileage Expiration policy, miles do not expire. Delta reserves the right to deactivate or close an account under the following circumstances:
- Fraudulent activity occurs.
- A Member requests an account closure.
- A Member is deceased.
- A Member does not respond to repeated communication attempts regarding the status of his/her account.
- A Member resides in or relocates to a country where membership is prohibited under applicable law.
- A Member violates the terms of this Membership Guide and Program Rules.”
A Delta phone agent confirmed the policy but also suggested ensuring that my family has my SkyMiles login information so they can continue to use any miles I leave behind. She also said the airline would only transfer miles in these situations by court order, so perhaps that’s worth investigating if you have a lot of Delta miles.
Hilton has a death transfer affidavit available for members to use. There is no fee to transfer points. Alternatively, you can set up a Hilton points pool with up to 10 people for free anytime and share points, though it’s capped at sharing 500,000 points per year. A member can receive a maximum of 2,000,000 points per year.
IHG One Rewards
From the IHG One Rewards terms and conditions:
“Transfer of IHG One Rewards Points Upon Death: When an IHG One Rewards Member passes away, the Member’s Points may be transferred to the IHG One Rewards account(s) of the Member’s beneficiary(ies). The request for transfer should be sent to IHG Customer Care by the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate, along with court documents showing authority, or by a sole beneficiary, along with copies of the decedent’s will and death certificate. The request must be received within one (1) year of the date of death. Transfer fees will be waived.”
You may want to enroll in JetBlue’s family pooling feature, which would alleviate any concerns about TrueBlue points expiring in the case of a death. But according to TrueBlue terms and conditions, your points are gone when you are:
“Accrued Points and Award Travel do not constitute property of member and are non-transferable (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise.”
Again, we called the airline, and a TrueBlue agent confirmed the points could not be moved. So it’s best to do family pooling or have your loved one’s login to continue using the points if something happens to them.
“In the event of a Member’s death, the Company may, in its sole discretion, allow unredeemed Points from the deceased Member’s Account to be transferred to a family member or a friend who is an active Member upon the Company’s receipt and review of all requested documentation and communications. Awards, hotel stays, Elite Membership Status, Lifetime Membership Status, and the related benefits, including, without limitation, Elite Night Credit, will not transfer to the recipient of the Points.”
TPG readers have shared that the person receiving the points needs may need to be specified in the deceased member’s will. Readers have also said they’ve needed to provide the death certificate, documentation showing who is the executor of the estate, member name of both accounts, membership number of both accounts, address on both accounts and more.
The Southwest terms and conditions provide the following information:
“In the event of a Member’s death, his/her account will become inactive after 24 months from the last earning date (unless the account is requested to be closed) and points will be unavailable for use.”
However, we called the corporate relations number for Southwest Rapid Rewards and asked what could be done in the case of death. The agent said a copy of the death certificate could be sent in, and the Rapid Rewards from the deceased’s account would be moved to a beneficiary fee-free. Of course, it’s still a good idea to ensure your loved one(s) can access your account if needed.
The United MileagePlus terms and conditions state the following:
“In the event of the death or divorce of a Member, United may, in its sole discretion, credit all or a portion of such Member’s accrued mileage to authorized persons upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to United and payment of applicable fees.”
We called United to ask what the fees would be. However, the agent could only tell us that the typical transfer fees may be waived, subject to the airline’s approval after the required documentation has been submitted.
World of Hyatt
From the World of Hyatt terms and conditions:
“In the case of documented death of a Member, points (but not elite status or awards) are transferable on a one-time basis to one (1) person sharing the same residential mailing address as the deceased Member. Receipt of points in such a transfer requires the recipient to be a Member. (Hyatt will have no responsibility for any disputes related to the transference of the points of a deceased Member and, in the event that Hyatt receives competing transfer requests from more than one (1) person sharing the deceased Member’s residential address and such dispute cannot be resolved to Hyatt’s satisfaction, Hyatt may refuse all transfers and void the deceased Member’s points.)”
Plan with these steps
If you’re wondering how we’re personally handling this situation, here’s Richard’s take:
I’ve personally taken the following actions to ensure that my wife and kids can utilize my points and miles in case something happens to me:
- I track my rewards on a third-party site, and my wife can access my login to this site. That way, she has all the information to continue using my points and miles without alerting the loyalty program. Redeeming tickets for people other than yourself typically isn’t a problem for most loyalty programs. However, you must be careful if you have points or miles in programs like Korean, ANA, Asiana and JAL, which require family registration.
- Our wills state that loyalty program points and miles go to the next of kin in line with succession if one or both of us pass.
- I’ve got a couple of my closest points and miles friends lined up to help my wife with these loyalty assets in case something happens to me.
- While doing the above research, almost all airline agents I spoke with volunteered to ensure your loved one has your login information so they can continue using your points or miles after you die without alerting the airline. In my opinion, this is the easiest and smartest strategy.
We certainly don’t want to think about our mortality, but it’s even harder to think about a considerable stash of loyalty assets going to waste because you didn’t prepare.
Points and miles represent thousands of dollars of value for many of us. Remember to not always believe what you read in a program’s terms and conditions. As shown above, a quick call to the airline can relieve some stress and provide comfort. However, in some cases, you may need to log in to the deceased’s account and redeem rewards as if they were still alive.