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Q&A: Dealing with Your Deceased Dad’s Miles

SmarterTravel

The airlines’ policies regarding the transfer of frequent-flyer miles in the event of death or divorce run the proverbial gamut. Making matters still more confusing, many airlines’ practice deviates from their published policies.

The following reader question concerns miles in American’s program, and the case to be made for circumventing the airline’s rules altogether.

Question

I’d like your advice. My Dad died recently, and had 51,000 miles/points in his AAdvantage account. I was managing his account before he died, and with his permission, have access to his online account, profile, email address, etc. My sense is it might be far easier to apply his miles to a trip taken by a family member, under his name in his account, as opposed to officially transferring the account.

Do you have an opinion about the easiest way to deal with this? He wanted me and my kids to use his points, but didn’t have time to take steps to officially do any transferring or adding names to his account.

Answer

First, a quick review of American’s policies and procedures regarding the disposition of miles in a deceased AAdvantage member’s account.

Here’s the rule, as published on American’s website:

Neither accrued mileage, nor award tickets, nor upgrades are transferable by the member (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise by operation of law. However, 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. Mileage credit is transferable between AAdvantage accounts when offered by AA online, with the shareAAmiles program.

Confusing, right? What it seems to be saying is that a deceased member’s miles cannot be transferred to another person. But American might let you do it anyway, if you can provide the proper documentation. And then there’s the reference to American’s shareAAmiles program, which allows the transfer of up to 100,000 miles per year among members’ accounts. (A 51,000-mile transfer would cost more than $600.)

What you are considering—using your dad’s credentials and miles to book award trips for surviving family members—is certainly possible. And to answer your specific question, it is unquestionably the simplest and easiest way to ensure that your dad’s wishes are accommodated. But it also depends on your misrepresenting yourself—pretending to be your dad—and would therefore fall outside the program’s rules. If American were to discover the ploy, they would almost certainly close the account and confiscate the miles. Or worse.

I make it a point not to recommend that my readers break program operators’ rules, even if they are rules I disagree with. So I will leave you with a question: Is it worth the risk of being discovered and losing the miles to avoid the hassle and, possibly, the expense of going through authorized channels?

Reader Reality Check

What would you do?

How should airlines handle such matters?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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