Do your frequent-flier miles expire when you do?
As larger portions of Americans' assets move from the material world to the digital realm, all that time and effort invested with loyalty programs has accrued an estimated $50 billion of accumulated value.
Individuals could rack up thousands of dollars' worth of rewards. Yet policies are varied and inconsistent for bequeathing airline miles and other loyalty rewards to a beneficiary after death, according to a recent study, "Inherit the Windfall" by Colloquy, the research group for loyalty program provider LoyaltyOne.
Some policies are clear and published online; others are vague, unpublished or inconsistently applied. Worse, some customer representatives reached by phone were ill-informed, providing answers that contradict written policies, Colloquy found.
Here are some examples of U.S. airlines' policies.
Frequent-flier miles or points cannot be transferred after death on Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines. American Airlines and US Airways, however, allow the free transfer of those rewards after a person dies. United Airlines allows a transfer but charges $150.
Experts offer consumers these tips:
Use them up. As a preventive measure, use your points as you accumulate them. Redeem them for yourself or as gifts to others.
Leave logins. Often, you can sidestep the hassle of transferring rewards to heirs if you keep records for online account login information, such as a user name or account number and the associated password. Also, note your wishes about who should get the value of the accounts.
Try a transfer. If you must transfer rewards and the account has worthwhile value, attempt a transfer even if the company's policy forbids it. Colloquy found that company policies are inconsistently applied, so it's worth a try.