There are many universal affairs that most know need to be put in order, such as property and other physical assets; one that may not be top of mind is how to manage someone’s reward points once they pass.
The most common types of rewards points are accumulated from credit card companies, airlines, and hotels. Because rewards points are not considered property, you are not legally entitled to have them transferred to anyone in the event of your death. This means that ultimately whether your points can be transferred, or used by those that survive you, is dependent on each company’s policy, if the company has one.
Although each company may have its own unique policy, there are some steps to take that tend to be useful across the board:
1. Specify your desired beneficiary in your will or estate plan.
A stated clause will never hurt. This gives specifications for where you desire the points to go, if the company’s policy allows transfers.
2. Check the policies of each of the rewards programs.
It is recommended to personally speak to a representative, as this sometimes may allow you to bypass a company’s default written policy.
Calling will also allow you to learn if there are any time frames for eligibility of rewards points. Some points may be forfeited immediately on cancellation of an account.
The executor of the estate can also send a formal written request to the company’s Membership Rewards Correspondence Unit to get rewards distributed.
3. Ensure that your beneficiary can access all login information and credentials.
For airline or hotel reward points, often others may be able to still use your points after you have passed as long as they are able to log in to your account.
4. Use as many points yourself as you can.
Points do not appreciate in value, so it is often most beneficial to use as many of your points as you can while you are still living.
5. Gather relevant documents.
The most common documents that may be needed to get points transferred are an electronic copy of a death certificate and relevant affidavits.
Credit card companies typically have policies in place that designate what happens to the accrued points on an account once the account holder dies. It is important to notify credit card companies in a timely manner once a loved one has passed, as there is typically a set time frame that notification must occur within in order to avoid financial fraud. Credit card companies have rules that make it illegal to make new transactions with a deceased member’s credit card account.
The three main options that you may encounter when dealing with credit card points are: 1) automatic cash-back redemption; 2) transfers; or 3) forfeiture. In an automatic cash-back situation, the company may cash out the remaining points and credit them to the estate or executor. Once the credit has been transferred to the executor, the one who manages the deceased member’s estate, the named beneficiary may inherit it. The potential downfall to this option is that this often lowers the value of the points. If you are able to transfer points, the remaining points on the deceased member’s account may be transferred to your own. While the points retain the same value, this may involve acquiring and filling out certain paperwork, such as a death certificate and affidavits. A forfeiture is arguably the worst scenario. This can occur if the credit card company has an automatic policy where once an account is canceled or the member passes, everything will be forfeited, resulting in a total loss of all points.
Although you will likely encounter more flexible policies in airline reward programs than credit card reward programs, it is still company dependent. As with credit card programs, it is very helpful to contact a customer service representative from the airline to determine what their specific policy allows. While many policies can be found online, you may be able to access more points by speaking to a representative. Delta Air Lines and Southwest have the least forgiving policies, as they do not allow for the transfer of points once an account holder passes away. Other airlines that have Point Pooling programs offer a potential workaround since for certain airlines, up to eight members can be linked to and share collective points. If one member of the group passes away, the rest of the members are still able to access the points. Finally, some airlines do allow for a transfer of points. Similar to credit card reward programs, transfers typically would require paperwork like an electronic death certificate and/or affidavits.
Alternatively, if you have the deceased account holder’s login information and credentials, you may be able to bypass getting involved. If you are able to log in to the account and the points are able to be used towards other flights, you may proceed as if nothing has changed. Though, one thing to still look out for would be if certain points or miles have expiration dates. These will expire as normal, so it is helpful to determine how to use the points soon so that you don’t need to keep the account open longer than necessary.
Hotel reward programs are typically the easiest to deal with. Although each hotel is still able to specify and customize their policies how they choose, it is typically only in regard to transfer request time constraints and whether fees apply. Generally, the most popular hotel reward programs offer a method for an account holder’s beneficiary to transfer or obtain points upon the passing of the account holder. Reach out to the hotel’s reward program representative to determine which documents are necessary for the transfer. Examples of documents may include, but are not limited to, a death certificate, proof of shared residence, or a will.