What Happens to Credit Card Points and Airline Miles When You Die?

An airplane flies in heavy fog.
Getty Images


If you have a travel rewards credit card or elite status with a hotel or airline, your stash of points could be worth thousands of dollars.

But what happens to those points and miles after you die?

It turns out reward points aren’t considered property — so you typically can’t name a beneficiary to inherit them. You’re not legally entitled to have them transferred to anyone upon your death either.

“Each company has its own specific stipulations and requirements,” said Nick Ewen, senior editor of The Points Guy, a travel website focused on helping readers accumulate reward points.

However, some companies may let a family member cash out the rewards or transfer points after an account holder dies.

Whether you’re planning ahead so your family can utilize your rewards after you’re gone or you’re a family member trying to navigate a loved one’s account after they’ve passed, here’s how to manage reward points upon death. (Note: You should get legal advice before you start navigating a deceased person’s estate.)

Credit Card Reward Points

Every credit card issuer has its own rules for managing points after death. Many handle these situations on a case-by-case basis.

Give the company a call and ask if points can be redeemed or transferred to another account.

American Express Membership Rewards

Points can be reinstated to a new Basic American Express account or redeemed by the estate or an eligible party, according to the company’s website.

If you’re the executor of the estate, you’ll need to send a formal written request to the company’s Membership Rewards Correspondence Unit to get the points distributed.

Make sure to call American Express before you cancel your family member’s credit card. According to the company’s website: “Accrued Membership Rewards points will be forfeited immediately upon cancellation of all cards…The estate or eligible party may only be able to redeem points within a certain time frame.”

Capital One Rewards

Capital One doesn’t say on its website if points are transferable upon death, although it does provide instructions on how to close a member’s account.

Your best bet is to call Capital One and ask what your options are.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

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

You’ll need to provide proper documentation, including a copy of the death certificate.

Airline Miles

Airline companies have more straightforward policies on how to transfer frequent flier miles after death.

Not every airline lets you transfer points. But remember: A phone call to customer service can go a long way.

American Airlines

American Airlines, like nearly all airlines, states in its terms and conditions that points are not property and therefore cannot be transferred upon death.

However, the airline may be willing to work with you if you give them a call.

According to the company’s policy: “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.”

Delta

Delta has pretty strict rules against transferring SkyMiles after an account holder’s death. You can try calling the company — just don’t hold your breath.

Frontier

You can enroll in the company’s Family Pooling program, which allows two or more members to link their accounts and earn points together. This way a friend or family member can access your miles automatically after you die.

The company’s policy gets a little confusing If your account isn’t linked with another person. Frontier says points can’t be transferred upon death, but its website also states: “In instances of multiple executors or heirs of miles based on court documents, miles are divided as directed by the court.”

JetBlue

You can enroll in JetBlue’s Points Pooling feature, which lets you add up to seven friends and family members to a single account so you can earn awards faster.

If you fly with JetBlue frequently, this can help ensure your family has access to your TrueBlue points in case you die.

Otherwise, the company doesn’t let you transfer points outside of the pool program, according to the TrueBlue terms and conditions.

Southwest

Southwest, like Delta, also has strict rules against transferring Rapid Rewards points to someone else after an account holder dies.

While points can’t be transferred to another account, the account won’t be deactivated until 24 months after the person dies.

United

If you’re a member of United’s MileagePlus Program, your points and miles can be transferred after you die.

Your family will need to provide the fees and documentation required by the airline.

According to the company’s website: “In the event of the death…of a Member, United may, in its sole discretion, credit all or a portion of such Member’s accrued mileage to authorized persons upon receipt of documentation satisfactory to United and payment of applicable fees.”

An empty hotel corridor.
Getty Images

Hotel Rewards

Compared to credit card points and airline miles, hotels generally offer a simple path to claiming points from a deceased person’s account, with much clearer language and step-by-step instructions.

Hilton Honors

You can transfer points from a deceased member’s account to another member after contacting Hilton. You’ll need to provide a copy of the death certificate and official documents establishing your legal authority over the member’s estate.

You must request the transfer within one year of the member’s death.

There’s no limit on how many points can be transferred, and Hilton won’t charge you a fee to transfer them.

Hilton provides clear instructions on how to transfer reward points after an account holder dies.

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott’s rewards program, Marriott Bonvoy, lets you transfer points to another existing Marriott Bonvoy account.

You need to supply the death certificate and documentation showing you’re the executor of the estate. You’ll also need to provide the name and account numbers for both accounts, along with details about the request.

Here is the step-by-step process to transfer points.

World of Hyatt

Hyatt makes it easy to transfer points to another World of Hyatt rewards member after the original account holder dies.

According to the company’s policy, points can be transferred after death, but not elite status or awards.

Points can be transferred one time to someone sharing the same residential mailing address as the deceased member.

Just make sure two people don’t call Hyatt customer service asking to transfer points.

According to the company’s terms and conditions: “…in the event that Hyatt receives competing transfer requests from more than one person sharing the deceased Member’s residential address and such dispute cannot be resolved to Hyatt’s satisfaction, Hyatt may refuse all transfers and void the deceased Member’s points.”

Accessing Points After Someone Dies

Navigating a loved one’s affairs after they pass away can be stressful and exhausting.

If you’re trying to access their credit card points or airline miles, you can try logging into their account or calling customer service.

Contact Customer Service

If you’re dealing with credit card points, you should call the credit card company and explain the situation. You might be able to get the points transferred to your own account or cash them out.

Have a copy of the death certificate handy when you call.

Here are some of the options you might encounter:

  • Automatic cash-back redemption: The company may cash out the points and credit it to the estate or the executor. This often lowers the value of the points.
  • Transfers: This option lets you transfer the points to your own account. However, it may involve some paperwork and a transfer fee.
  • Forfeiture: You’ll lose everything in the account. This is the worst case scenario.

Giving customer service a call is worth a try, even if transferring points isn’t clearly spelled out in the company’s policy. Many customer service representatives have the flexibility to waive transfer fees and credit the miles or points to your account.

Try to Access the Account On Your Own

For airline miles and hotel points, it might be easier to just log into your family member’s account and use their remaining points that way.

“The reality is these programs aren’t going to know that your loved one has passed away unless you notify them,” Ewen told The Penny Hoarder.

Of course, you’ll need access to their passwords and login information to do so.

“The most important thing is for your loved one or the executor of your estate to have access to these accounts so they can log in and take the appropriate actions,” Ewen said.

Not Recommended for Credit Card Points

However, Ewen said the same rules don’t apply to credit card points.

“If you continue to utilize a credit card or its points after someone dies, that’s basically financial fraud,” Ewen said.

There are laws about closing a person’s credit card accounts in a timely manner after they die. It’s illegal to make new transactions on a deceased member’s credit card account.

Credit cards are part of your traditional assets, so they must be properly settled upon an account holder’s death, Ewen said.

In this situation, call the credit card company and see if points can be transferred or cashed out.

How to Pass Along Points After Death

What if you’re planning ahead to pass along points to your family after you die?

Since most companies decide how to handle a deceased person’s points on a case-by-case basis, the smartest thing to do is to redeem your rewards regularly. This way, you don’t build up a small fortune of unused credit card points that become worthless after you die.

“Take an ‘earn and burn’ mentality,” Ewen recommended. “Your points will never be more valuable than they are right now, so the best thing you can do is use your miles when you’re around to enjoy them.”

Another option is adding family members as authorized users on your credit cards or “pooling” points with loved ones.

Give Your Family Access to Your Account Information

Some people leave their login information and instructions in a digital estate plan.

This document can help your loved one navigate your various online accounts after you pass away.

If you’re looking for a way to consolidate information about all your rewards programs into one place so your family can easily access the information, check out AwardWallet.

AwardWallet lets you link all your loyalty program information to a single app. You can also access AwardWallet from a desktop or laptop. So long as your loved one has your AwardWallet login, they can easily see the reward balances for each of your accounts.

Add It to Your Will

Check the policies of each rewards program you use and see if points can be transferred to a beneficiary after you die.

You can also try leaving your points or miles in your will.

However, even if you include a clause in your will to transfer points to a loved one after you die, it may be fruitless if your final wishes go against the company’s policy.

In most cases, putting a clause in your will can’t hurt.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.