Can you inherit airline miles?

4 min read

Things to know about transferring frequent flyer miles or other rewards

  • Airlines consider rewards like frequent flyer miles to be a benefit, not something of legal value.

  • For this reason, they are not obligated to transfer them after death.

  • However, many airlines will pass on a portion of a person’s points, miles, or other rewards when they die.

  • Read the terms and conditions of the specific programs carefully before calling customer service so that you can hold them to their written policies.

  • In most cases, airlines waive the transfer fee when the rewards holder has died.

If your loved one traveled a lot, they likely had frequent flyer miles, or belonged to another airline rewards program that allowed them to accumulate points toward rewards like discounts on flights or hotels.

While you are dealing with all of their other open accounts and memberships, your loved one’s rewards may be a particular source of anxiety. In a sense, these are a benefit that they earned, and closing the accounts without extracting them in some way can seem like a waste.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of complicated rules around transferring points or miles, and only some airlines allow it at all. But a few important tips will help you understand what can and cannot be done with your loved one’s airline rewards.

Are airline miles assets? 

First, it’s important to note that airline companies officially do not consider frequent flyer miles to have any legal value. They deem them a benefit they provide on an individual account, not the account holder’s property, and so they retain the right, for example, to strip someone of their accumulated miles if they violate the airline’s regulations. The airlines are thus not under any legal obligation to transfer them to anyone else upon the account holder’s death.

However, some airlines do have a policy of allowing a portion of the account holder’s points to be passed on. In this case, although the airline does not consider them property, they do fall into the category of intangible estate assets and must be dealt with along with the rest of the the estate.

It is possible that these assets are accounted for in your loved one’s will, if they had one, but in most cases they become part of the residuary estate. If there is no will, it may even be necessary to evaluate their monetary equivalent in order to divide them fairly between the heirs. (Estimates vary, but they are generally thought to be worth less than 2 cents per mile.)

Read the fine print, then call

Even airlines (and other rewards programs) that do allow points to be passed on or transferred generally do not advertise this. In fact, most make it very difficult to find out whether you can transfer points and what procedures to follow if you can.

Your best bet is to look up the terms and conditions of the specific programs online and read them carefully. Fine print can be a slog, but even if you don’t understand every detail, it will give you a sense of whether there is such a policy and the outlines of how it works.

Airlines are not under any legal obligation to transfer rewards to anyone else, but some do have a policy of allowing a portion of the account holder‘s points to be passed on.

Then you’ll want to follow up with a phone call to a customer service representative. They may initially tell you that miles cannot be transferred, but if you have read differently in the terms and conditions, point out that they do have a procedure for transferring miles and you are seeking help with that process. It may take a few calls, but they should be able to help you transfer your loved one’s points or rewards to a beneficiary’s account. 

Each airline has a different policy, but usually you will need to provide proof of death, letters testamentary or letters of administration, and details of your loved one’s account.

How are rewards transferred?

If you do not have an account with the relevant airline, you will have to open one. Then the airline can transfer the points from your loved one’s account and close it. In general, only the points themselves are transferred; any elite status or other tier your loved one may have attained by earning a certain number of points does not transfer.

Airline rewards programs usually have fees associated with transferring points from one account to another, but in most cases these fees can be waived if the account holder has died. A customer service representative should be able to help you complete transfer for free provided that you supply the proper documentation.

Airline rewards programs usually have fees associated with transferring points, but in most cases these fees can be waived if the account holder has died.

Some common airlines and partner rewards programs that transfer points for free and with relatively little hassle include Alaska Airlines, Southwest, Hilton Honors, Marriott Bonvoy, and World of Hyatt. United Airlines officially charges for transfers, but they often waive this fee. (Some programs, for example Marriott Bonvoy’s, will often only waive fees if the points are explicitly left to the recipient in the will.)

If, however, the airline in question simply does not allow for the transfer of miles after someone passes away, you may still be able to transfer them directly if you have access to your loved one’s login information. You will likely have to pay transfer fees in this case. Checking the airline's terms before doing so ensures that no rules are broken.

In the wake of losing a loved one, their airline points and miles are probably not the first thing on your mind. But if you (or someone else close to your loved one) are able to retrieve their points and use them to travel, it can be an amazing way to honor their adventurous spirit.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.