Do you have travel miles and hotel points that are worth thousands of dollars sitting in your loyalty accounts right now?
Whether enhanced by credit card rewards or simply a function of staying loyal to an airline or hotel chain, many of us have banked stashes of rewards points or miles that have serious value.
And while you probably have plans for a tropical vacation or two that could use them up, have you ever wondered what happens to those points if you meet an untimely demise?
On a recent episode of The Clark Howard Podcast, money expert Clark Howard was asked for advice on what to do to preserve the value of these rewards after death.
It’s a tricky subject, but we’ll walk through what Clark said and dive into some ideas for handling the situation.
Ask Clark: What Happens to Travel Miles and Hotel Points When You Die?
During a May episode of The Clark Howard Podcast, one of Clark’s listeners asked a question that may not have occurred to many loyalty points collectors — but perhaps should.
Kathy from North Carolina asked:
“We’ve earned a lot of travel miles and hotel points over the years. I wanted to know what happens to all of the points if we were to pass away before using them. Can we have them go to the kids? I’d hate for them to be lost.”
“Kathy, this is something that, if you go to a lawyer who does wills, estates and trusts, this is automatic with them. It will be on the forms you fill out ahead of time for them, either computer-generated or paper forms. They will have you fill out all your frequent flyer programs and the account numbers for them, hotel programs, car rental programs where you may have points and anything like that.
“Because, technically, this is weird, but your points in your miles are not yours under the law. They belong to the airline or hotel or whatever. But airlines and hotels generally honor what is stated in a will — generally, not always.
“Now, let me tell you what practically goes on in a lot of families. So what people will do is they will give who they want to have the points or miles later their account number and sign in. So it better be a kid or a friend you really trust. And at the time you do pass away, they just sign into the account as if you’re still there and use up your points. But that’s messy, and the proper way to do it is to have it reflected in your will.
“This is just one of those things that get overlooked. People have ended up forfeiting huge amounts of points or miles because they didn’t plan and prepare for this.”
You can listen to Clark’s response, which is transcribed above, here:
Ideas For Preserving Your Travel Miles and Hotel Points
As Clark mentioned in his response to Kathy, the rewards points or miles aren’t actually yours. They belong to the company with which you’ve earned them.
That creates uncertainty for those who stand to benefit from your rewards when you die, but there are some steps you can take now to reduce the likelihood of those rewards being forfeited.
1. Include the Rewards in Your Will
This isn’t a 100% guarantee that your loved ones will receive everything, but it’s probably the best step you can take to ensure that the redemption process goes as smoothly as possible.
By designating a recipient of your rewards in your will, you’ll give the executor of the estate a clear path to contact the credit card company, airline or hotel with the authority to speak toward the desired wishes for your points.
As Clark pointed out, this doesn’t guarantee that the company will follow through with your wishes, but these companies generally will honor what is stated in a will. After all, it’s good for business to respect your friends and family (who could be current or future customers) during what is sure to be an emotional time.
American Airlines has a policy that is a good example of why this is worth your time. The language declares that rewards are not transferrable upon death, but there’s a caveat to allow for a will to supersede that:
Except as otherwise explained below, mileage credit is not transferable and may not be combined among AAdvantage members, their estates, successors or assigns. Accrued mileage credit and award tickets do not constitute property of the member. 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. However, American Airlines, in its sole discretion, may credit accrued mileage to persons specifically identified in court approved divorce decrees and wills upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to American Airlines and upon payment of any applicable fees.From AAdvantage program Terms and Conditions
2. Research the Company’s Policies Individually
Whether you’re dealing with a credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, there’s a good chance it has an established policy on the distribution/forfeiture of points upon a customer’s death. It’s usually tucked away in the fine print of a user agreement that you’ve probably never read.
The language varies from company to company, so knowing upfront what your family may be dealing with upon your death could help you make decisions on how to spend or allocate your rewards while you’re still alive.
For example, American Express offers executors of estates a phone number to call for a “one-time points redemption,” while Capital One says that it will automatically convert rewards into cash in the form of a statement credit upon notification of death.
Here are some links to the fine print that includes these policies for several popular rewards programs.
Credit Card Issuers
3. Stop Hoarding and Start Using
I know I’m guilty of saving up my credit card or hotel rewards points with plans for free, lavish vacations in the future.
But depending on your age and health, it may be wise to start assessing whether sitting on a large sum of rewards points or miles is the best strategy.
If you have thousands of unused points sitting in your account, it may be time to start liquidating it. Book that trip you’ve been thinking about taking, transfer some points to your friends or family as a gift or maybe even look for a cash-value redemption to put money in your pocket.
After all, the companies issuing these rewards are very clear in telling you the points or miles belong to them, not you. You may as well take what they’re offering while you can.
4. Entrust Your Login Credentials to Someone Else
As Clark mentioned, the simplest way to use up your rewards may be for a trusted family member or friend to use your login and password to redeem or transfer rewards.
Some people may find this both ethically and legally questionable (and we don’t recommend it as your top plan), but it may be the “last resort” option for using up what you’ve earned over the years.
As I’ve identified in this article, many of the popular rewards programs have policies that would make rogue post-death account usage unnecessary.
If it is necessary, there’s a chance your trusted family member or friend could either cash out or transfer the points to their account with little effort by using your login and password as though you were still alive.
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