Do frequent flier miles die with the account holder?

  • Article by: KERRI WESTENBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 29, 2011 - 5:41 PM
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A woman sent her husband and their three children on vacation to Hawaii -- posthumously. After her death, the family used her frequent flyer miles to get to the islands.

A reader heard that story and asked, can frequent flyer miles be bequeath in a will?

Absolutely, they can. According to George Hobica, president of airfarewatchdog.com, there is legal precedence for transferring miles upon a death (and another sort of permanent end: divorce). But the airlines don't advertise that, "perhaps because they don't necessarily like to do it," said Hobica.

Read the fine print on most mileage program rules and it'll say that miles are nontransferable. In reality, miles are shifted every day. (Living beings can transfer them for a service fee and a per-mile charge that varies from airline to airline; it can be costly.)

In the case of an inheritance, an airline may charge a small service fee (but not the per-mile charge) and will probably need to see some documentation. Hobica's airfarewatchdog.com website has a nifty chart detailing what major airlines require to move miles to an heir; see it at www.startribune.com/a763.

There's a somewhat sneaky way to circumvent that system, though. Airlines don't need to know that a frequent flyer has died. His or her family could simply use the account number and password to book flights, provided they know them.

But before passing along your miles -- by sharing your account information or writing a will -- be sure they're going to someone who will think warmly of you while they catch a Hawaiian sunset.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.

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