Unlike your own fate, the fate of your points after your death does not have to be a cosmic mystery.
However, not all points programs are created equal. While some will let your loved ones take advantage of your hard-earned points, others will insist that they are buried with you.
In this article, we explain what happens to your points balances with a number of well-known airlines when the account holder passes on. We also advise of ways you can plan ahead so that your points don’t necessarily disappear when you pass on.
Qantas Frequent Flyer
Qantas Loyalty has a hardline stance: all Qantas Points earned but not yet redeemed or transferred prior to the death of the Member will be cancelled with effect from the date of death.
However, Qantas Family Transfers make it easy to transfer points to family members. Existing bookings or redeemed points won’t be affected. Also, all this only happens if Qantas is notified of the death.
Velocity Frequent Flyer
The administrators/executors of an estate can either spend the points or have them transferred out of the deceased account, meaning you can leave instructions for the points to be distributed as you wish. However, this has to happen within 12 months of the death, otherwise, the points will be cancelled.
KrisFlyer, the membership program of Singapore Airlines, is similar to Qantas when it comes to the passing of a member. In particular, they explain that KrisFlyer miles do not constitute personal property and may not be bequeathed or otherwise treated as personal property.
As expected, membership will terminate immediately upon the death of the member, while miles earned but not redeemed at the time of death will be automatically forfeited.
Cathay Pacific and Asia Miles
Likewise, all Asia Miles are forfeited upon the death of the member – those are the redeemable miles you can earn from Cathay Pacific and partner airline flights.
Etihad Guest strays slightly from the status quo. The default position is that, upon death, your points are cancelled and your account is closed.
However, Etihad can change the afterlife of your points ‘at their sole discretion’ but they are likely to ask you for some documentation (such as a death certificate) before they decide to do so, something which other airlines do not mention.
If you are the head of a Family Membership, the family group is dissolved and the rest of your family revert to being on individual memberships. They will consider transferring your points to your spouse if either your spouse or your legal representative ask them to.
If you’re in a Family Membership and you’re not the head member, your points will continue to be part of the Family Membership. If you’re not in a Family Membership at all, again, Etihad will consider transferring your points to your spouse if either your spouse or your legal representative ask them to.
Like Etihad, Emirates has a similar policy with its miles. Upon the notification of death (or bankruptcy) of a member, all of their points and benefits are immediately terminated. If that member was head of a ‘My Family’ account, then that will also be cancelled.
However, at Emirates’ discretion, the points can be transferred to a legal beneficiary upon producing a death certificate and will or similar legal document demonstrating the beneficiary’s entitlement to the miles. This needs to be done within 6 months and only for balances above 2,000 miles.
United’s policy is more family-friendly than most but still relies on the airline’s discretion.
In the event of the death of a member, United may, in its sole discretion, credit all or a portion of such Member’s accrued mileage to authorized persons upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to United and payment of applicable fees.
American Airlines AAdvantage
Like United, American Airlines may transfer miles to people mentioned in divorce papers or wills, as long as there is satisfactory documentation and upon payment of any applicable fees.
Otherwise, American Airlines miles are generally non-transferrable in most cases.
Unlike the other two main US airlines, Delta is firm on its policy, saying that “miles are not the property of any member”. They are not able to be bequeathed or transferred after death. Delta also reserves the right to deactivate or close an account after a member passes away.
It is possible to transfer miles between accounts for a hefty fee under the normal program rules. Otherwise, sharing the details of your Delta account login would help with approved relatives being able to redeem your miles in the event of your death.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
It’s not documented online, but many sources including TPG confirm that Alaska Airlines has a generous program called ‘Memorial Miles’ where simply providing a death certificate will enable a beneficiary to have the miles transferred to them, fee-free.
British Airways Executive Club
British Airways adopts the typical stance of “Avios points are not transferrable … and cannot be bequeathed, devised or otherwise transferred by operation of law.”
If the primary member of a Household Account dies, the remaining members must nominate a new head or a new member to take over, within three months. You can pool family miles through a Household Account. It may be better not to notify British Airways of the death in this situation.
However, we are aware of a scenario where approaching BA with the death certificate of a member resulted in the Avios being transferred to a beneficiary*.
There isn’t much information about what happens to Avianca LifeMiles should you pass away. Given that most readers here would have purchased big chunks of LifeMiles to use for flights, there are often significant costs involved.
A recent community post was written by someone with direct experience in this matter^. Their husband passed away and upon notification, Avianca apparently closed his account, forfeited all miles and also did not refund taxes paid for upcoming award travel.
What can you do about it?
Most airlines state that miles aren’t the property of its members and can’t be bequeathed. Most programs have a similar statement that says you can only transfer them in accordance with the terms and conditions.
So, putting your frequent flyer points in your will is worth a shot, as there are many stories on the grapevine where airlines have agreed to transfer points out to family members after death, with the appropriate paperwork. This isn’t always guaranteed though.
One obvious way around this dilemma is to give a family member access to your account so they can transfer the points out (or continue to redeem them for flights) before the account is closed.
For Qantas and Virgin Australia, this is a pretty desirable option, especially since they recently relaxed their rules around family transfers. But, if you’re thinking of going down this road, there are a few things you should take note of:
Some risks involved
Firstly, the account will only be closed once the airline finds out about the death. Airlines actually have no way of knowing when an account holder dies, and their family have no obligation to tell them. Keep that in mind if you’re calling up to cancel flights or request a refund because of the death of the account holder.
The second thing to keep in mind is that there are some risks involved with giving out your account details so that points can be transferred after your death. The key one is that the airline may consider it a technical breach of their terms.
This is because technically, points will be cancelled automatically once the member dies (it is the whole account that closes once they are notified of the death). This means that if your family members transfer points after your death, they will be transferring points that were technically already cancelled.
If Qantas finds out about it, they may consider it a ‘material breach’ of the terms and conditions and that means that they might decide to reverse the points transfer or even cancel your membership altogether. If they wanted to do this, they would have to notify you and give you 21 days to respond.
KrisFlyer and Asia Miles also have the same option open to them if they think you have “acted dishonestly or in any manner that is unacceptable.” They don’t have to give you the opportunity to respond.
The last thing to keep in mind is that airlines won’t help you out if the person you give your login details to decides to spend your points before you die (or in a way you didn’t want).
Frequent flyer programs have no automatic way of being notified of a person’s death and will most likely rely on being told by family members, who really have no obligation to tell them. Here’s a quick summary of all the airlines mentioned in this article, ranked from most user-friendly to most restrictive:
|Virgin Australia||Relaxed||Points can be transferred to a beneficiary within 12 months|
|Alaska Airlines||Relaxed||Miles can be transferred with the appropriate paperwork|
|Etihad Airways||At discretion||Miles transfer may be allowed with documentation|
|Emirates Airlines||At discretion||Miles transfer may be allowed with documentation|
|United Airways||At discretion||Miles transfer may be allowed with documentation|
|American Airlines||At discretion||Miles transfer may be allowed with documentation|
|British Airways||At discretion||Avios transfer may be allowed with documentation|
|Avianca Airlines||Strict||Account and LifeMiles forfeited upon death|
|Delta Air Lines||Strict||Account and all Skymiles forfeited upon death|
|Qantas Airways||Strict||Account and all Qantas Points forfeited upon death|
|Singapore Airlines||Strict||Account and Krisflyer miles forfeited upon death|
|Cathay Pacific||Strict||Account and Asia Miles forfeited upon death|
If you decide to let someone transfer or use your points after you die, that person will have to risk their own membership because the airlines may not look too kindly upon them if they find out.
The cleanest way to get around this is to transfer the points out while you’re still alive and kicking (but obviously this isn’t always possible).