He Who Dies With the Most (Delta) Points… Loses?

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)

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. Not sure I agree with this statement: “Now, it shouldn’t be too hard to use up all your Skypesos before you die.”

    Exactly how do I know when that is? 🙂

  2. Hi, Gary. I tweeted a reply to you with this info, but just wanted to let you know that links don’t seem to be coming through in your Tweets anymore. I’m seeing the headline, but no link to the article. Just FYI.

  3. I think United does transfer miles, but it requires a $75 fee. IMO that’s not a big deal and very different from Delta’s blanket ban.

  4. You mentioned the right way to proceed: never EVER tell the airline someone is dead. Just use the miles.

  5. As you said, tell whomever inherits your account not to mention you’re dead. I’ve been earning and redeeming from my kids’ accounts for years, especially for promo purposes, and haven’t had them interact with Delta once. Heck, one of them wasn’t even born yet when his account was started 😉

  6. While I always appreciate advance notice concerning program changes, in this case only, I don’t see how advance notice would be helpful in any pragmatic way. It’s not like I would try to die sooner before the changes would take effect.

  7. If you had ever had the misfortune to live in Atlanta for any length of time you would quickly get a sense of why putting your miles with these “good ole boys” is the last thing any intelligent being would do…………

  8. I’m really not sure what would motivate this change. Indeed, it’s kind of silly on the part of the airline because it is insanely easy to use someone’s miles after their death. So why not just let folks do it legitimately?

  9. You mention the name of an American Co. (that too Delta Airlines) and the word morality in the same sentence? That was good for a laugh.

  10. What about a Skymiles member who was deceased prior to March 20th…would that person’s miles be transferrable?

  11. This could effect some life support decisions in Atlanta I think. Also, when they do their lynchings in Georgia these days do they inform the victim they are taking their frequent flyer miles?

  12. If you hate someone and are terminally ill, make sure you transfer them all of your skymiles before you die!

  13. No if you really hate them you change your password and email address so they will never figure it out then tell them they can have all your miles and all they have to do is contact Delta at this 800 number……….

  14. Evil how this all works. Delta conspires to have its rewards engine return the requirement for 1,000,000 Skymiles just to fly to the town 100 miles down the road, you go into a heart attack, then they confiscate all your Skymiles as you die.

  15. Signed the petition, above:
    Perhaps Delta management should hear from anyone who objects!

    Bad move, Delta. No survivorship means that I can no longer fly Delta within 10 years of my expected death. I have over 1,000,000 SkyMiles in my account right now. Guess that I cannot add anymore. American now must become my airline of choice – your no death miles transfer is the cause of this change.

  16. I believe Rene over at DeltaPoints wrote about the transfering of unused miles upon death topic way before the June 2012 Inside Flyer article.

    If Delta Airlines truly wanted to spin this new policy in their favor, they would have given SkyMiles members the option of “willing” (for lack of a better term) any unused miles to the SkyMiles – SkyWish or SkyWish Asia charities of their choice.


  17. Well and I wrote about it probably 8 years agp, I was just pointing to the most up to date and comprehensive piece on the subject of transferring miles at death

  18. Look for Delta’s press release to explain that they couldn’t give advance notice because that would have caused thousands of mile-obsessed members to commit suicide in order to preserve transferability of their miles. The new policy strikes a blow for eternal life!

  19. DL miles sure are the toughest to redeem. I just had a nightmare in redeeming a ticket to Africa on KQ. Most DL agents have no clue how to search for KQ award space. I had to teach them how to long sell.

  20. Living in ATL now, I struggle with the idea of spending $25K on my DL Amex to ensure I can continue to earn Medallion vs just crediting to AS and being done with it. I’m not planning on passing anytime soon, but things like this really hack me off.

  21. @mj – ‘move’ to Canada,,, or let me know if you don’t know how to generate 24k/yr free via amazon payments…

  22. I was skeptical of the “Delta does the right thing”- of course you are, when does Delta ever do the right thing????

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