It is not unusual for today’s consumers to participate in customer loyalty programs. Most airlines have created programs to reward frequent flyers with “miles” or “points” that they can use towards free or discounted travel. Many credit card companies offer their cardholders an opportunity to earn “cash back” on their purchases or “points” for discounted goods or services.
Many people have accumulated a staggering amount of points or miles and may die without having “spent” them all. There is one estimate that frequent flyers are holding at least 3.5 trillion in unused miles. In a recent article entitled “Rewards from the Grave: Keeping Loyalty Program Benefits in the Family”, two law professors explore what happens to these miles and reward points after a member of the program dies.
What Happens to My Points?
The general conclusion is that frequent flyer miles and other reward program points are not considered the property of the program members, so these benefits are usually forfeited after a member dies. However, some companies do offer some methods to make use of the accumulated miles or points, especially if the rewards are specifically mentioned in the member’s estate planning documents. The authors give summaries and links to the rules governing the airlines, Capital One, Wells Fargo and Best Buy Reward Zone.
The authors note that many companies may have an informal policy of allowing benefits to be transferred. Contacting customer service may be the best way to determine what steps to take to ensure reward points or miles stay in the family. Even though points may not be transferable at death, if a family member knows the online login information of the rewards member, it may be possible for the remaining benefits to be redeemed or transferred to another member. Finally, many programs allow a member to share or give their rewards to non-members. Therefore it may be advisable to transfer unused rewards during life, especially if the member has a large balance and does not anticipate using it before his death.
The most important point is for the member to recognize the value of his membership rewards and discuss them with his estate planning attorney. Equally important is leaving members the information they will need in order to redeem the miles or points, such as an account number, user name and password.
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