What Happens to Frequent Flyer Miles When Someone Dies?

Miles After Death

Airplane aisle with group of passengers in seats
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Edited by Benet Wilson

The worst has happened -- a loved one who was a regular traveler has died. So what happens to all those frequent flyer miles that have accumulated? The answer is it depends on the airline. And while most airlines have a written policy of not transferring miles, there are cases where loved ones have made a request for the miles and it's been granted.

Did you know that you could bequeath frequent flyer miles in the case of death?

Usually you can, but airline policies differ. Airfarewatchdog has created a chart of rules - Inheriting Miles: Airline Rules & Procedures - for claiming loved ones’ miles for several airlines, giving you an idea of what is involved in transferring frequent flyer miles in case of death.

Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica says the chart is long overdue. “Sooner or later, many of us will be faced with the possibility of bequeathing or inheriting frequent flyer miles. We found that policies governing the transfer of miles vary from airline to airline, and some airlines flatly state on their websites that miles cannot be transferred upon death, but that's actually not true.”

Here are the policies of the top four U.S. carriers. 

  1. American Airlines: While the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier says that AAdvantage mileage credit is not transferable and may not be combined among AAdvantage members, their estates, successors or assigns. Neither accrued mileage, nor award tickets, nor status, nor upgrades are transferable by the member (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise by operation of law. But the airline says it has the discretion to offer mileage credit to those persons identified in court-approved divorce decrees and wills after receiving the proper documentation and after paying applicable fees. 
  1. Delta Air Lines: There doesn't seem to be much wiggle rules from the Atlanta-based carrier's SkyMiles program, which notes that miles are not the property of any member. "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." 
  1. United Airlines:  The Chicago-based carrier says that under its MileagePlus program, accrued mileage and certificates are not transferable upon death. But according to Airfarewatchdog, the airline will consider requests on a case-by-case basis. If accepted, a family member will have to submit a death certificate and pay a $75 fee to have the miles transferred.
  2. Southwest Airlines:  The Dallas-based carrier's policy on its Rapid Rewards program is pretty blunt -- 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 and points will be unavailable for use. According to Airfarewatchdog, but it admits there is nothing stopping a relative from using a deceased family member's awards up until they expire after 24 months.