When you think about you wealth and assets, what are some things that come to mind? Cars, houses, or bank accounts are probably the first things that pop into your head. One asset that most people may not think of that has a lot of value, but if improperly planned for can vanish upon death, are frequent flyer miles. Although each airline has their own policy, most state that frequent flier miles accumulated throughout someone’s lifetime can’t be passed on. Seasoned travelers can have hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of miles which can equate to a large amount of money, so on the surface it may seem like a problem. However, the paperwork may say one thing but what the airlines do in practice can offer a different path.
Airlines With Paperwork
Most airlines have their own set of terms that outline how they deal with a deceased member’s miles and although most say they don’t allow them to be passed on, some do have paperwork that allow for it. American Airlines, for example, has their “AAdvantage program” that says they do transfer mileage to heirs. Upon request, they can give you a special affidavit form for beneficiaries to sign to show they are the rightful recipients of the miles. The heirs will need to send that along with a death certificate and American Airlines will transfer the miles. United Airlines also has a similar program but in order to take advantage of it you would have to specifically ask for it. Spokeswoman Karen May says that United in the past has made decisions on a “case by case” exception when members have died. If you want your heirs to receive your miles, they would have to apply for the exception, send in the death certificate, a $150 transfer fee, and a signed and notarized affidavit that United would provide.
Airlines Without Paperwork
Other airlines don’t have any paperwork for heirs to sign and in their contracts say miles can’t be passed upon death, but some airlines will allow for it if you just ask nicely. Virgin America spokesman Dave Arnold said the airline does make “case-by-case” exceptions to that rule if heirs can provide documentation of a bequest. Southwest Airlines allows you to transfer miles from one account to another account for a transfer fee of about 1 cent per mile. To do this, however, you need to make sure you leave behind your account information so your heirs can log in and transfer those miles. Another airline that doesn’t have paperwork for mileage transfer is Delta. In 2013, their spokesman publicly said that they do not allow for mileage points to be transferred upon death. Despite this being the official rule, there are cases of Delta looking the other way. An example of this took place several years ago. Roberta Bekerman, a widow, wrote to the airline saying, “It is with great sadness that I inform you that my beloved husband, Phillip, passed away on December 21st […] Please be so kind as to transfer his accrued SkyMiles into my account.” According to a New York Times report, Delta granted Ms. Bekerman her wish and she was awarded her late husband’s miles.
Although you can’t guarantee your airline miles pass on to your intended beneficiaries, there are steps you can take to help make it a possibility. Insert a line in your Will stating something along the lines of, “I leave [beneficiary] my airline miles from [airline] if allowed.” Also advise whoever is receiving your miles to be polite to the airline customer service- being nice can go a long way. Either that or take advantage of your miles when you’re alive and go on a nice vacation.
Planning for valuable assets can be difficult and there are times where people don’t know what they can and cannot transfer. Call our office to schedule a free 30-minute consultation or call us at (650) 463-1550 to speak with one of our attorneys to get an estate plan started for you.