Many news outlets have picked up on the fact that Anthony Bourdain bequeathed his frequent flyer miles to his ex-wife in his will. Here’s how she should handle them.
The will asks her to “dispose of them in accordance with what she believes to have been my wishes.” That’s it. And that’s enough. I have similar language in my will.
But what to do next is the tricky part. Forbes published a convoluted article discussing the difficulty of transferring points from one name to another. It notes that every airline has a unique policy. Some charge to transfer the points while others do not allow it.
Travel + Leisure adds:
While some airline loyalty programs are not eligible to be passed on when you do (like Delta and Southwest), others may transfer points for a fee. Those planning on bequeathing their miles should specifically mention a recipient in their will.
That’s bad advice. Here’s what you should do instead.
View from the Wing nicely outlines individual airline and hotel policies when it comes to bequeathing points. If you want to do it the official way, knock yourself out.
But that creates needless complication. With very few exceptions (Korean Air Skypass being one), your credit points and frequent flyer miles are largely flexible. By that, I mean your miles are not limited to tickets booked in your name. You can use your miles to book tickets for others. This is true for all U.S. airlines as well as popular international loyalty programs likes Aeroplan, British Airways Executive Club, and Lufthansa Miles & More.
Rather than attempt to transfer miles into the name of the beneficiary, give the beneficiary control of the deceased person’s account. The beneficiary can then use the original account to book tickets in her name or for anyone else. All you need is the account number and password to book online. When booking over the phone, you may be asked personal information (e.g., date or birth or home address) or security questions about the account holder, but the process of booking is quite straightforward. Don’t tell the agent your father died and you are using his miles. It is easiest if you just pretend to be the account holder or say you have been given permission to act on behalf of the account holder and then answer any security questions a reservations agent may ask.
The same policy applies to credit card points
The same policy applies to your credit card points. It is true that my Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express points can only be transferred to my accounts or to the accounts of authorized cardholders, but that’s just one extra step. Once the points are transferred, bookings can be made for anyone, no matter the name on the account.
If a will sets multiple beneficiaries for the miles, the executor or trustee can act as the account manager and make bookings for the beneficiaries on the behalf of the deceased account holder.
Your will or trust should include specific instructions on how to access these points. Use programs like 1Password or Award Wallet to consolidate account numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, PINs, and security questions into a single source.
This advice may run against the letter program policies, but not the spirit. I’m trying to help you out here. It’s a low-risk, path of least resistance that allows for the easiest use of miles. It just makes sense.
A small story to illustrate my point. When my uncle died, his brother served as executor. One bank account had about $5,000. Instead of just writing himself a check from his brother’s checkbook and clearing the account out, he went to the bank, announced his brother had died, and asked to began the process of reclaiming the money in the account. A multi-week process followed, with ridiculous amounts of paperwork before the money was finally released. Fees were also involved. The problem could have been solved with one check in a matter of moments. The same logic applies to frequent flyer miles.
Think practically. There’s no need to make the process of miles disbursement a difficult process. Just ensure that all the information needed to access your accounts is readily available and updated.