Effective March 20th, with no advance notice at all, Delta Skymiles changed their terms and conditions so that miles in a member account are no longer transferable at death.
The single best discussion of how to handle miles in death and divorce was the cover story of the June 2012 Inside Flyer. It succinctly described Delta’s policy as follows,
Upon the death of a Member, the Administrator or Executor of the Member’s Estate may designate one or more other Members to receive a transfer of the mileage credit in the deceased Member’s account. Only whole number amounts of miles may be transferred.
The form for this is no longer on the website. Delta’s membership guide (.pdf) now says:
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.
Now, it shouldn’t be too hard to use up all your Skypesos before you die. While Delta’s miles are generally the toughest to use of any major North American currency, they do give you the option of redeeming for nearly any seat on a Delta aircraft.. for a whole lot of miles. And since Delta’s pricing engine is in many respects broken, it also often prices awards more expensively than it should. I’ve seen Delta.com price an award for >as much as 720,000 miles for one person.
If you do manage to have some miles left, the simplest thing is to leave the person you want to be able to use them with your account number and password in order to secure the redemptions. Just don’t have them mention you’re dead.
At the first Randy Petersen Travel Executive Summit, Jeff Robertson who runs the Skymiles program relayed the story of how they decided to stop expiring miles.
Robertson said that expiring miles were the single biggest complaint they got (American’s and United’s loyalty program heads suggested this was not their customers’ biggest frustration). It was also a sore point for the airline’s CEO who heard from complaining customers on the issue. So they decided to no longer expire miles, describing it as “the right thing to do.”
If Delta was guided by this moral principle, then it would be odd to expire miles at death. A family would get to travel with their loved one during life, but when the family member passes away they not only lose a close relative but also the travel that relative had earned. And it isn’t just a principle in a vacuum, it was a benefit that Delta had offered for years but then took away, and took away with no notice whatsoever.
I was skeptical of the “Delta does the right thing” narrative at the time Jeff Robertson offered it. Delta Skymiles had been an industry leader in shortening expiration of miles in accounts with no activity — from 36 months down to 18. They led the expiration charge.
And when they decided to get rid of expiring miles, they didn’t reinstate the miles they took away from inactive accounts. One might think if it was morally wrong to take the points, they’d have .. you know.. given back the points they took.
Delta reaped the financial benefits of recognizing revenue from the expired miles, cleaning up their balance sheet. And having already done that, grabbed the low hanging fruit, they declared themselves consumer friendly.
That moral superiority, though, doesn’t seem to extend to the toughest times in their members lives. At least after March 20th.
As I understand it, Delta joins United, JetBlue and Southwest in refusing to transfer miles at death. American, ALaska Frontier, Aeroplan, and US Airways all offer the option.
(HT: Loyalty Lobby)