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Can you claim frequent flier miles after death of a parent?

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Cashing In,
My mother passed away. I am wondering what happens to her accumulated AAdvantage points. Can I have them transferred to my account? Thanks for your help. -- Peggy

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Peggy,
I'm sorry to hear about your loss. Airline policies on the transfer of miles after a death are often restrictive, but it's always worth calling and asking.

Judging by the official terms and conditions posted for American Airlines' AAdvantage program, it would appear you're out of luck, unless your mother specifically left them to you in her will. Even then, the airline doesn't make any guarantees. 

AAdvantage terms and conditions state: "Except as otherwise explained below, mileage credit is not transferable and may not be combined among AAdvantage members, their estates, successors and assigns. Accrued mileage credit and award tickets do not constitute property of the member. Neither accrued mileage, nor award tickets, nor upgrades are transferable by the member (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise by operation of law. However, American Airlines, in its sole discretion, may credit accrued mileage to persons specifically identified in court approved divorce decrees and wills upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to American Airlines and upon payment of any applicable fees."

If, by chance, your mother did make you a beneficiary of her AAdvantage miles, you have a stronger chance of collecting them than this clause would indicate. According to a 2012 New York Times article, "The Afterlife of Your Frequent Flier Miles," if you make a transfer request, the airline will send a packet with an affidavit to fill out, indicating which account to transfer the miles into, along with a copy of your mother's death certificate. A representative for the airline claimed in the article that such requests are processed within seven business days. 

American is one of the more generous airlines in this regard. The airline has even waived the $50 transfer fee once charged for miles transfers. US Airways, which is in the midst of a proposed merger with American, also has a reputation for lenience with miles transfers after death, as long as the miles were bequeathed in a will.

Airlines are known for being cagey about mileage inheritance. Both Delta and United state clearly in their terms and conditions that frequent flier miles are not transferable, but both have been known to make exceptions to that rule. This issue seems to be one where the airlines cover themselves with an official line but often have what a Delta spokesman, in the New York Times article, called "exception procedures." 

One other thing to keep in mind is that, barring specific directions spelled out in a will, a spouse may have an easier time getting miles from a deceased's account than a child or other relative. Bottom line is that, while you're still alive, it's worth specifying a beneficiary for frequent flier miles in a will. And if you happened to be named as a beneficiary in someone else's will, it's definitely worth following up with the airline.

See related: Bequeathing frequent flier miles in your will

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Published: October 8, 2013


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