Even if you have a valid will, it probably doesn’t address a surprisingly valuable asset – your frequent flyer miles. Whether you often travel by air or simply use an airline credit card, these miles can quickly add up.
Some credit card companies will give you thousands of miles just for opening an account, as well as additional points for every purchase you make. Airlines value these miles differently, but each mile is typically worth about 1.5 cents. That means that a cache of 200,000 miles could be worth $3,000. That’s not nothing, but of course the real value comes in using the miles to book free air travel, perhaps even in business class.
Upon your death, some airlines allow you to bequeath your unused miles to loved ones, but others do not. In some cases, the airline’s policy is not entirely clear-cut. The best approach is to make provisions for your frequent flyer miles in your estate plan. This will ensure that to the extent the airline allows it, your miles will be passed on to someone you care about. Here are four steps to consider taking:
1) First, have an experienced attorney prepare a Last Will & Testament that specifically mentions your frequent flier miles and names someone to inherit them. Airline miles fall into a category of estate property called “digital assets,” which also includes electronic files, online accounts, passwords, and crypto currencies, such as bitcoin.
2) Second, make sure your lawyer also prepares a Durable Power of Attorney that authorizes your spouse, partner, or someone else you trust to manage these assets if you become unable to. The person you designate, called your attorney in fact, must generally have your “lawful consent” in order to access an account or otherwise manage a digital asset. 3) Next, prepare an inventory of all your frequent flyer accounts, including the user names and passwords. With this information your attorney in fact, or the personal representative of your estate, can manage your miles in keeping with your wishes. This can be especially helpful in the case of an airline without a set policy on what happens to the miles of a deceased traveler.
4) Finally, consider gifting your frequent flyer miles if you don’t plan to use them. Some airlines that don’t allow miles to be inherited may allow them to be donated. For example, United allows miles to be transferred to another MileagePlus account. While maybe not ideal, this is certainly a better outcome than having the miles canceled upon your death.
Bear in mind that these measures will enable to you to pass on your frequent flyer miles only to the extent that the airlines allows it. Many airlines simply won’t permit miles to be transferred when an account holder dies. But even some of these airlines will make exceptions in their discretion if a will identifies a specific person the account holder named to receive the miles.
At least one airline, JetBlue, allows a family to pool its miles. If a family member dies, the surviving members can use the remaining miles as their own. Check with your carriers to see what their policies are.
Mae West famously said, “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.” Wherever your final journal may take you, try to ensure that someone you care about can enjoy the frequent flyer miles you leave behind.
- Lee Carpenter is an attorney dedicated to serving Maryland’s LGBT+ community. His practice focuses on estate planning and administration, as well as some family law and business matters. He works in the Baltimore office of the law firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr and also teaches Estates & Trusts as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. He has written regularly for Baltimore Out Loud since 2014 and is a frequent lecturer on topics related to same-sex marriage and LGBT law. A Maryland native, he is proud to call Baltimore home and lives in the city with his husband and son.