What To Do About Airline Miles?

This Thanksgiving, we’re going to Palm Springs for a week to visit family. To fly our family of four from Seattle to Palm Springs costs $3,500. That’s insane, right? I get that Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year and everyone wants to go to Palm Springs at Thanksgiving, but that still seemed insane to me.

Instead of coughing up the $3,500, we instead dug into our bank of reward miles. The cost of the trip ended up being comparable to the cost of flying a family of four to Palm Springs in July (i.e., when no one goes to Palm Springs), so I felt much better. I’ve patted myself on the back at least 20 times, congratulating myself on the “win.” Seriously – if you’ve seen me over the last two weeks, you have heard me talk about this. It’s embarrassing.

OK, so I really like airline miles. Specifically, Alaska Airlines airline miles. I love collecting them (aka spending money), I love using them, and I love feeling awesome about the money I’ve “saved” when I use them.

Most of my clients really love their miles, too. And most of my clients have been socking away miles waiting for retirement when they’re going to do a bunch of traveling. Unfortunately, I have worked on a lot of estates that have a huge bank of airline miles and they are lost or forgotten as part of the probate process. So, I’ve had to deal with this a lot lately: are airline miles transferable on death?

Generally speaking, they are not. When you create an airline mile account with an airline, the contract you sign/agree to specifically outlines that miles are not transferable ever. However, I have found in my practice that most airlines have unwritten policies that permit the transfer of miles at death, you just have to take a few steps to satisfy their requirements. Additionally, I find it is very helpful to have a provision in your Will that specifically directs that airline miles should be distributed to a certain person; the airlines like that.

Here’s a quick summary of what some of the bigger airlines will do for you when someone dies with airline miles when someone dies:

Bottom line: depending on the airline, we can probably get your miles into the right hands with some effort. If you have a lot of miles, it would be worth including a provision about where they should go when you die in a Will. In some cases, miles can be really valuable and should be preserved!

An alternative option: just use all your miles before you die and it won’t be a problem! High five!

Published 11/04/2018.