Planning for Frequent Flyer Miles
Compliments of Law Offices of Phillip T. Wylkan, Certified Elder Law Attorneys
By: Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc
This article examines the transfer of frequent flyer mile accounts to beneficiaries. It looks at Anthony Bourdain’s will and its disposition of his miles. The article points out that these are contractual rights and you may or may not be able to transfer them at death.
Frequent Flyer miles and other reward points can be valuable resources. Many credit card companies give tens of thousands of miles or points for opening an account and then give miles or points for each purchase. The typical frequent flyer mile is worth 1.5 cents. While this may not sound like much, a balance of 100,000 miles would be worth $1,500. It’s not uncommon for people to have hundreds of thousands or more miles or points in different programs for airlines, hotels, and more. Here’s a link to an estimate of the value of points in various programs.
Some who travel frequently for business or pleasure can amass a great deal of value in these programs. It may be possible to bequeath the value in those programs to others. For example, when Anthony Bourdain, the late TV chef, international traveler, and star of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown died, he left a Will leaving the bulk of his estate to his 11-year-old daughter, Arlane Busia-Bourdain, but left his frequent flyer miles to his estranged wife, Ottavia Busia-Bourdain. Here’s a link to more information about Bourdain’s death and Will.
It’s important to remember that you may or may not be able to dispose of your miles (or other rewards) at death. These are contractual rights and they are controlled by the terms of the contract, which typically specifically states that you cannot bequeath them or otherwise transfer them at death. However, despite the contracts, in practice, most airlines do allow a transfer to next of kin or as specified in a Will. So, it may be worthwhile to include them in your Will. Here is an article which lists the policy of each major airline. (The article also mentions a backdoor solution: giving login information to someone you trust who can access the account after your death (a violation of the contractual terms).)
As frequent flyer miles and other reward program points are intangible assets, you could not dispose of them via a tangible personal property list referenced in a Will or trust. They would have to be disposed of in the Will itself. But, even so, you’re relying on the company’s kindness to refrain from enforcing the terms of the contract.
It’s better to use those reward miles and points as you accumulate them, rather than stockpiling significant value which may be vulnerable to being forfeited at your death