American Airlines Makes It Easier For Your Miles To Outlast You

At Delta Air Lines, your SkyMiles aren’t worth very much – and they expire when you do. Like Delta, Southwest says points don’t expire but that isn’t really true. They get to wipe out the liability on their books for future travel when you pass away. Both airlines literally make money when you die.

American Airlines has long been willing to transfer your miles to a loved one. It’s been on an exception basis, and at times in the past there’s been a nominal processing fee to handle it.

The ability to transfer American Airlines miles at death is now official, and even online, all part of the carrier’s move towards making every interaction possible digital. This is available under Contact American / AAdvantage Account Service there’s an option for “Deceased Member’s Account.”

Some programs have a full time staffer doing nothing but handling transfer requests on death and in the event of divorce. Moving the request process online should at least help streamline the effort.

  • There is no fee for this
  • You don’t need to be logged into the deceased’s account to do it

How American AAdvantage Bequeathing Of Miles Works

American Airlines tells me that the required documentation is:

• Sworn Affidavit states who receives the miles and the number of miles to transfer, and is signed by one of the following:
o Spouse, provided that the spouse is a beneficiary
o Sole heir
o Executor/administrator of the estate
• Death Certificate Photocopy – submitted within one year after the date of the member’s death; does not need to be a certified copy
o For a military death, a copy of the Department of Defense documentation may be substituted
• A will or court order / appointment showing you are the executor / administrator / beneficiary of the decedent member’s estate and that you have the full legal authority to dispose of the member’s estate

They’ll even transfer expired mileage balances at no charge (reactivating them when you’re alive comes with a fee). This is possible as long as you contact American within 12 months after the member’s death and the miles expired after the member died. (If you wait longer than this, reactivating miles triggers the standard fee.)

How Other Major Airlines Work When You Die

Aeroplan No longer charges a fee to transfer points
into the account of an estate’s beneficiary
, including within 6 months of expiration if points expired after the member died.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 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).

United MileagePlus will transfer points to an heir for a fee.

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.

How Hotel Points Work in Estate Plans

Hilton Honors allows for points transfer upon death.

World of 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 after death

  • Marriott points can be transferred to a family member or friend upon death.

    Here’s How You Should Prepare For Your Beneficiaries to Use Your Points

    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.

    They may need an authorized user credit card with your name If you’re just going to redeem the miles out of the member account bear in mind that 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 the beneficiary’s name may be necessary. It doesn’t have to be giving them a card on your account, they can add you as an authorized user on theirs.

    Ask for help even with the rules say no. 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, 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. @ Gary — Always make sure your SO has your SM password and advise them to use your miles up ASAP (which should be as easy as flying all your loved ones to your funeral in economy). Then, tell Delta you’re dead and get a refund of all your unflown tickets.

    2. Don’t inform then you died, make sure someone has your log in info and knows how to book travel from your account. No problem booking travel in another person’s name for airlines and for hotels just add them as a guest on the reservation. My death instructions specifically state how to do this for all my accounts (plus my Amex and Chase points). The companies will never know I’m dead until all the points/miles are used up

    3. It is called the master death list all bank and credit card companies pay to access this

    4. Vasu Raja’s name is mentioned when an unpopular change is made to the mileage/points program. The mentions shouldn’t be one sided. It should be mentioned in the article and other times when positive changes are made as well.

    5. United’s fee is more than $0.01 per mile ($7.50 per 500 miles) to transfer miles, plus a $30 transaction fee, a little less than half the cost of buying the miles directly ($35 per 1000 miles). They don’t distinguish between death and a normal transfer from what I can tell. But, they are having a sale until the end of the month. Unless one is getting a great redemption value, it doesn’t seem worth it.

      One of the ways United terminates a frequent flyer is that their email stops working, which could happen for a deceased person’s email address. I’m sure other programs have similar policies.

      In the US, any points account is likely to be quickly terminated, as to get a death certificate, their social security number has to be provided, that goes on the Social Security Master Death List, to which banks have access. That gives maybe 1-2 weeks before the bank finds out, closes all the credit accounts for new purchases and freezes single-owner checking accounts.

    6. @John H – your are wrong. Banks don’t get notification of death and cancel cards provided they are in good standing. Keep making the payments and they stay alive. Trust me the last thing you ever want to do is notify a program of a death. There are so many ways to work around that

    7. @John H.
      Kept my mom’s bank account going for almost a year after her death. There were several auto drafts coming out of the account. Made deposits regularly and nobody ever said a word. Apparently nobody pays attention to any database. She was getting jury summons 3 years later.

    8. Maybe the focus should be on your survivors. Will they waste the miles and points on bad redemptions? Will they book short-hop domestic first-class seats for 200,000 miles? Will they redeem points for toasters or other junk at huge rates because they don’t really care about travel like you did? Will you roll over in your grave when you find out that they transferred a million miles into Wyndham points so they could stay for a weekend in Toledo?

      I think you should interview the people you might name in your will and question them extensively before allowing them to inherit your miles and points 🙂

      Oh, and I wonder how long it will be before the IRS finds a way to tax such activity. “Death Tax” for travel after death. Would you be able to deduct the transfer cost from such a death and will the IRS put out an entire publication on this topic for our reading pleasure?

    9. Haha we’re still using my dead grandma’s southwest card to keep the points alive

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