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Rules for airline programs have changed significantly since this article was published in 2014. See our loyalty program reviews for updated information about frequent-flyer programs.
As a frequent flyer, you know the secrets to everything flying. If there was an Olympic event requiring you to get through security and to your gate in under 5 minutes, you’d get a gold medal. But do you know what happens to your frequent flyer miles when you pass on? Can frequent flyer miles be inherited or bequeathed? The answer depends on your airline.
Which airlines allow you to inherit frequent flyer miles?
More and more airlines are expiring your miles when you do, but not all of them. We sifted through each of the major airline’s fine print and double-checked by calling each of their customer service representatives. For those airlines with recent mergers, we also included their current or soon-to-be policies and here’s what we found:
|Rewards Program||Formal Inheritance Rules||Undisclosed Inheritance Rules||What You Need to Inherit|
|Alaska||Mileage Plan||NO||YES, to a spouse, child, or whomever is the beneficiary.||Death certificate and proof of beneficiary|
|American||AAdvantage & US Airways Dividend Miles (merged Dec 2013, but currently have separate policies)||NO (for AAdvantage)||YES (AAdvantage), they’ll email you the process.||Death certificate and proof of beneficiary must be provided (within 12 months of the member’s passing for US Airways)|
|YES (for MileagePlus)–account must not have been inactive for more than 36 months|
|Delta||Skymiles (Northwest WorldPerks merged Oct 2009)||NOfor both Skymiles and WorldPerks.||If you have access to the account in question, miles can be transferred for a processing fee and a fee per mile. WorldPerks accounts should have already been transferred, but if not can be transferred at no cost.||—|
|Frontier||Early Returns||NO||YES||Fax/email death certificate to Early Returns Coordinator, include proof of beneficiary, deceased’s account info and phone number to contact beneficiary|
|JetBlue||TrueBlue||NO||YES Call a customer service representative and provide sufficient documentation.||Death certificate and proof of beneficiary|
|Southwest||Rapid Rewards & AirTrans A+ Rewards (merger to be complete in 2014)||NO||YES (Southwest) with proper document.||Proof of power of attorney.|
|YES (AirTrans) can be merged|
|with proof of estate.|
|United||Mileage Plus (Continental OnePass merged March 2012)||YES, at a fee.||“…if others have access to the account in question, they can book flights with the accrued miles without having to do anything else.”||$150 processing fee, complete Deceased Form, and|
|mail in required documentation (including Death Certificate)|
|Virgin America||Elevate||You can transfer between accounts for a fee, but they say nothing about inheriting.||Case by case basis, but…||Fax in power of attorney and give customer service a call|
What else can you do with your frequent flyer miles?
If your frequent flyer program doesn’t allow you to bequeath or transfer your miles to others, you do have other options. Through loyalty program exchange sites, such as points.com, you can transfer your miles to another airline’s frequent flyer program or trade your miles for points in another rewards program. If you’re feeling altruistic, you can donate your miles to the respective charities of each frequent flyer program. Finally, you might have considered selling your miles. Unfortunately, most airlines disallow this either explicitly or implicitly in their terms and conditions and doing so comes with dire consequences.
You’ve worked hard to earn your miles, so don’t just let them expire. Whether this means leaving it to your child or grandchild, gifting or donating it, or exchanging it for points in Best Buy’s reward program, there’s quite a bit you can do with them before you say your final goodbye.