Published in: Credit Cards | Nov. 2, 2019

What Happens to Your Points and Miles When You Die?

By:  Lyle Daly

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Should you put your rewards points in your will?

Although death is a difficult subject, most people recognize the importance of planning for it. But one thing they don’t often think about is what will happen to their rewards points and frequent flyer miles.

Those rewards can be worth a lot of money, especially if the account holder has hundreds of thousands of points. Whether you're planning ahead so your own points don’t go unused or a loved one passed away and you want to find out what can be done with their accounts, here's what happens to rewards after an account holder's death.

Woman having an out-of-body experience.

Image source: Getty Images

What happens to your rewards points when you die?

Rewards points aren't considered property, so you're not legally entitled to have them transferred to anyone upon your death. That doesn’t mean it's impossible to do so, but it's at the discretion of the company offering the travel rewards program, whether that's a credit card issuer, an airline, or a hotel.

Most rewards programs specify in their terms and conditions what happens to the accumulated points if the account holder dies. Below is the policy information available for each major travel rewards programs, organized by credit card, airline, and hotel programs.

Credit card rewards programs

Program

Policy

American Express Membership Rewards

Points may be reinstated to a new basic account or redeemed by the estate of the deceased account holder, but are forfeited if the card is canceled.

Bank of America Rewards

If the credit card account is closed due to the death or incapacity of the account holder, rewards eligible for redemption may be redeemed if an authorized representative of the estate requests it.

Capital One Rewards

No policy in program terms -- it's handled on a case-by-case basis.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Upon notification of account holder's death, Chase automatically redeems rewards for cash in the form of a statement credit.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

Points are forfeited upon the account holder's death, but Citi can allow remaining points to be redeemed for cash rewards if the executor or administrator of the estate makes a written request within one year of the death.

Discover it Rewards

Discover automatically credits the rewards balance to the account when the account is closed.

Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards

Points are forfeited upon closure of the account and not transferable through an inheritance.

Data source: American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Discover, and Wells Fargo.

Most credit card rewards programs provide a way to redeem points if the account holder passes away. Wells Fargo is the lone exception. American Express is the most flexible, providing the option of either transferring or redeeming the points.

Capital One doesn't have an official policy in the terms for its rewards program. When I contacted them directly, a representative said that they handle these situations on a case-by-case basis. 

Frequent flyer programs

Airline

Policy

Alaska Mileage Plan

No policy in program terms, but miles are transferable to another account upon the account holder's death.

American Airlines AAdvantage program

Miles aren't transferable upon the death of the account holder, but American Airlines may transfer miles if the account holder identifies a recipient in their will.

Delta Sky Club

Miles aren't transferable upon the death of account holder.

JetBlue TrueBlue

Miles aren't transferable upon the death of the account holder, but the airline lets groups of family or friends pool their points, and if a deceased account holder was part of a points pool, the remaining members could redeem the miles.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

Miles aren't transferable upon the death of account holder.

United MileagePlus

United can transfer miles to authorized persons upon the death of the account holder after receiving documentation and payment of applicable fees.

Data source: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines.

Airline frequent flyer programs are a mixed bag. Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, and Southwest have the strictest policies, with each airline prohibiting the transfer of miles if the account holder dies.

JetBlue offers a potential solution through its Points Pooling program, in which groups of up to eight people can combine the points that they earn. If one member of the group dies, the others can still use the points that person earned, so an account holder could set this up with whomever they want to receive their points.

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines allow transfers in this situation, but they may require documentation and transfer fees.

Hotel rewards programs

Program

Policy

Best Western Rewards

No policy in program terms, but points are transferable upon the death of the account holder; if the account has 50,000 points or more, the beneficiary must provide a copy of the account holder's will. Transfers of less than 50,000 points don't require one.

Choice Privileges

No policy in program terms, but points are transferable upon the account holder's death.

Hilton Honors

Points are transferable if a request is made and all required documents are submitted within one year of the date of death.

IHG Rewards Club

Points are transferable to the account holder's beneficiary(ies) if a request is made within one year of the date of death; transfer fees are waived.

Marriott Bonvoy

Points are transferable upon the account holder's death.

Radisson Rewards

Points are transferable if a request is made within one year of the account holder's death.

World of Hyatt

Points are transferable on a one-time basis to one person sharing the same residential mailing address as the deceased account holder.

Wyndham Rewards

No policy in program terms, but the name on the account can be changed with a death certificate showing surviving spouse or partner's name, or account can be merged with surviving spouse/partner's account.

Data source: Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Choice Hotels, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International, Radisson, Hyatt, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

The most popular hotel rewards programs all provide a method for an accountholder's beneficiary to transfer or obtain their points in the event of their death.

Although Best Western, Choice, and Wyndham didn't have information about points being transferable due to an account holder's death in their program terms, they provided the information listed above through their respective customer service departments.

What to do with rewards points if the account holder dies

If you're working through a deceased loved one's affairs and trying to figure out what you can do with their points, your first instinct may be to contact the rewards program. That isn't always a good idea. You could be better off using the points yourself, assuming you can access the online account.

The moment you notify the program that the account holder has passed away, you're stuck with whatever options it offers for that situation. And those usually aren't ideal. Here are some of the problems you could run into:

  • Forfeiture: This is the worst-case scenario, because you'll lose everything in the account.
  • Automatic cash-back redemption: This often lowers the value of the points.
  • Transfers: Although this can be a good option, it may involve a lot of paperwork and a transfer fee.

If you can log in to the account, you have a more convenient option available. Just log in and use the points however you want. Try to find a redemption method you can use soon so you won't need to keep the account open for longer than necessary.

This is the best way to manage a deceased accountholder's rewards from a value and convenience perspective.

What if you can't access the account? In that case, you'll need to contact the rewards program and go with its policy.

How to ensure your points aren't forfeited

Let's look at the other side of this situation. You're a rewards enthusiast with a healthy balance of points and/or miles and you want to know how you can keep them from being forfeited should you pass away.

The smartest thing to do is redeem your rewards regularly so you don't have a huge stash to worry about. There's no reason to hoard travel points (though I've been guilty of this mistake myself). They don't grow in value, so they're not worth keeping for years at a time.

Maintaining a small balance of travel rewards in case you need them at the last minute is one thing. But if you have hundreds of thousands of unused points sitting around, you'd likely get more value by switching to a cash back card.

There are select exceptions to this rule. People who travel often, such as business travelers, sometimes find themselves earning miles or hotel points faster than they can spend them.

So, how can you protect your travel rewards in case anything happens to you? Start by specifying your desired beneficiary in your will. You should also check the policies of each rewards program you use to see what they require to transfer your points to a beneficiary. Make sure the beneficiary can obtain your login credentials and instructions as to how they can access your points if necessary.

Passing on your points

To people unfamiliar with credit card rewards, the idea of including points in your estate planning probably seems ridiculous. But we rewards enthusiasts realize that points can hold considerable value, so it'd be a shame to see them go to waste.

Several popular rewards programs provide options for this situation besides total forfeiture of your rewards. That being said, the safest option is ensuring that a loved one can access your account should they ever need to. And the ideal option is to make sure you use as many points as possible yourself.

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