Anthony Bourdain Included Frequent Flyer Miles in His Will. Here’s How You Can, Too.

Anthony Bourdain was a fascinating and complicated man. He certainly inspired a portion of my travels. He left the bulk of his estate to his 11 year old daughter.

Reportedly his estate is worth just over $1 million, which raises a ton of questions about why it’s not much more. Additionally, if he had outlived his daughter, his will says her inheritance would go to her nanny. (Update: there’s also a trust with additional assets.)

In his will Bourdain specifically bequeathed his frequent flyer miles to his second wife (they separated in 2016).

Bourdain, who traveled the globe for his culinary adventure shows, gave his “accumulated frequent flier miles” to his wife. He asked her to “dispose of [them] in accordance with what [she] believes to have been my wishes,” he says in his will.

Although loyalty programs say your points belong to them, they are an asset. Each program treats points differently when a member dies. It’s advisable to know the policies of the programs you belong in, and to specify your wishes about your miles in your will.

How Major North American Airlines Programs Work When You Die

Aeroplan While “membership terminates on death” per the terms and conditions Aeroplan has explained to me that 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). Alternatively the spouse or residual heir can simply 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

Update: the fee to transfer no longer applies and points no longer have to be used within 12 months, instead regular expiration will apply once the transfer occurs. (HT: @tewmgd)

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has an unpublished policy to follow the transfer instructions of the member — allowing a fee-free transfer to a spouse, or to another designee with copy of will (a death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).

American AAdvantage 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 SkyMiles miles expire when you do

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

Points may not be transferred to a Member’s estate or as part of a settlement, inheritance, or will. 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.

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

Radisson Rewards will allow transfer of points upon death if the request is made within a year and accompanies a death certificate and will.

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

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 within one year of death

  • Marriott points can be transferred to a spouse or domestic partner upon death. However they cannot be transferred to anyone else as part of an inheritance. And they are not transferable in a divorce.

    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.

    Here are Anthony Bourdain’s travel tips. Here’s everything he hated.

  • 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. It’s being reported that Bourdain’s estate is actually quite a bit larger. There is a trust for his child which wasn’t known about yesterday, which is sealed, and under his ex-wife’s control.

    2. This is really good to know. Thanks for posting. I actually thought that UA didn’t allow transfers upon death or divorce but maybe they changed the policy since I last looked.

      I didn’t see anything in the UA TOS about what the “applicable fee” would be. Do you know? Thanks

    3. This is a very insightful post – Thanks Gary for addressing an issue that is not usually addressed.

    4. Though they say it’s an exception, American was awesome on this issue. Very kind and even found an old US Airways account of my mom that I didn’t know about.

    5. This is very interesting and useful. Thank you. Do you have any information on Amex or Chase points?

    6. At least on AA, when paying to redeem any miles for another person, all they require is that the name you type in for the credit card matches the name of the AA account.

      Another words, If it’s Bob Smith’s AA account and the ticket is for Brenda Smith, Brenda can use her credit card to pay and put Bob’s name as the cardholder on AA’s website, and the purchase will go through. American has no way to know the account holder’s name of the credit card.

      I wish AA would have a more clear policy, because they reserve the right to say No and immediate confiscate the miles, when there are other work-arounds. If they just charged a reasonable fee and guaranteed they’d accept a legal directive, it’d be more of a win-win.

    7. @Girth irrelevant and not likely more than a Mil or two. Plus, That trust was likely set up pre-separation and Andy didn’t have access to it.

      Fact is: Estate exemption is $10mm. No financial planner would be shielding assets to only apply $1.2mm against exemption. Ocham’s Razor = he only had $1.2mm in liquid assets at time of death. Not like he had to pay for airfare.

    8. This subject has been on my mind. With more than 1 million miles racked up with AX, I have limited use of the Platinum card for the past two year due to a concern the points will be useless upon my passing. Any thoughts about how to maintain the points upon passing?

    9. This subject has been on my mind. With more than 1 million miles racked up with AX, I have limited use of the Platinum card for the past two years due to a concern the points will be useless upon my passing. Any thoughts about how to maintain the points upon passing?

    10. Can’t you just use the points, without telling the airline or hotel that the owner of the points is no longer here.

    11. I’ve talked to my 5 adult kids about this and have instructions in the book “I’m Dead. Now What?” I think they should quickly use all of my points and miles to book a fabulous vacation and scatter my ashes. If my 99-year-old mother outlives me, they should take her with them.

      Seriously, while we are on the subject of planning for our deaths, get the planner/workbook “I’m Dead. Now What?” $13 on Amazon. I’ve updated my will several times, but this makes you think about things that are not in your will. I have Word documents for each section that I keep in Dropbox. That way I can update as things change. I print it out and stick it in the book. Just giving your family your password manager log-in isn’t enough. They need to know where to look and for what.

      I almost died twice when in my 50’s – once on the operating table, the other time in a car accident. I’m sixty and too many of my contemporaries have left this earth already. It is not too early for me to think about making life easier for those I leave behind.

    12. @ Girth I wouldn’t say $1.2 mil is all that large, especially for someone as recognizable as Bourdain was. Then again; look at how many athletes and actors end up broke.

    13. Yes you can use the points without telling the airline that the person has died, provided, of course, that you know the login and password info. Regarding AA, they contacted me when my late husband’s miles were about to expire, and offered to transfer the miles to my account. Transfer occurred within 24 hours.

    14. All these posts about Chase cards and no explanation how UR points are handled upon death? Egregious or intentional oversight?

    15. This is why my strategy of burning miles is good. However, I am having trouble doing this due to lack of time to travel.

    16. New York state has some weird laws. In New York, you MUST re-title assets to the trust before death or it doesn’t count. In most states, you can say “upon death, my GM or Ford stock goes to the trust” or “Schedule A of the Trust-1,000 shares of ExxonMobil” and it’s ok, even if the stock is titled as “Joe Smith”, not “Joe Smith Trust”. Not NY.

      There could be major battles ahead.

    17. My mother refused to lease one Southwest point on the table where she realized she was terminal. We each received a stack of gift cards courtesy of her Southwest points.

    18. @BB There are many reasons to place assets in trust besides estate tax avoidance. Also, many states have estate taxes with lower exemptions than the federal tax. In short, we know little about Bourdain’s assets from his will. Which is one of the other reasons for having trusts…

    19. You can always leave the survivor your frequent flyer PASSWORD! It’s really that simple. They will go online, & in your account book a trip in their name. Or they can even do it over the phone, acting like it is YOU (the deceased) & asking for a ticket to be placed in the survivor’s name. That’s our plan. All that needs to be done is to give the person your security questions & passwords to each of the accounts. Period the end.

    20. I can’t believe the continual carrying on about this guy who the vast number of Americans never heard of.

    21. This post offers legal advice. Anyone wanting to leave miles or points in a will should consult a lawyer not a points and miles expert. However giving the lawyer a copy of this post might help to lower the cost of preparing a last will and testament that will stand up to legal scrutiny.

    22. If you’re still reading…

      For the average person, the airlines don’t know you died. The funeral home will notify the Social Security Administration, and the banks ride those coattails. If for some reason a loved one dies, RUN, don’t walk to the bank and empty that safe deposit box (If you have access with the key), and any cash you need to hold you over.

      FYI, the airlines aren’t notified. 😉 As long as you know the account info, you should be ok, even with Delta and SW.

    23. Regarding Chase UR points…
      Per Chase Rules & Regs on their rewards page “If we’re notified of your death, your points will be automatically redeemed for cash in the form of an account statement credit.”. Additionally, “Points aren’t your property and have no cash value. You can’t transfer or move points unless expressly provided for in this agreement. Additionally, points can’t be transferred by operation of law, such as by inheritance, in bankruptcy or in connection with a divorce.”…

    24. You cannot use a dead person’s credit card legally, if it has their name on it and they are dead using that card is fraud whether they are an au on your account or you are an au on their account (that you were supposed to inform the cc to shut down on their death since you are supposedly in charge of their affairs if you have access to their miles)! You should seriously warn people if they go that route they are opening themselves up to be prosecuted for credit card fraud.

    25. Excellent post — and even better the “common sense” notes in the discussion. (re. passwords and accounts) Still, worth thinking about the unthinkable.

      ps, to the curious Bourdain haters here, guessing he must have gored their favorite oxes along the way. (puns intended) In my case, he was among my rare heroes…. able to cut through the political “stuff” and with great empathy take his audiences to…. well, “parts unknown.” (My favorite episodes were his program from Iran and Gaza….. both took a lot of courage to pull off — not so much with his hosts, but with “powers-that-be” that wanted to shut him up and would have preferred keeping us in total darkness.) May he yet inspire emulators.

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