Can you inherit frequent flier miles?

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 08:00 13/07/2014

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A couple of months ago, Air New Zealand ran into a bit of a media storm after a Christchurch woman realised she could not book a flight using her father's shared Airpoints, just a week after his death.

At the time the airline said it was "standard procedure" for membership rewards accounts to be closed "on receipt of notification of the member's death". As stated in the scheme's terms and conditions, the airline said, a member's points cannot be controlled by another person. "Airpoints Dollars are owned by the member and those not redeemed at the time of the member's death are cancelled unless a formal claim is made by the beneficiary of the member's estate."

The airline's customer service team later backtracked on "null and void" Airpoints, and in the Christchurch family's case, Jaclyn Philpott and her mother were able to use her deceased father's Airpoints account. What a legal and emotional quagmire.

Something like this might appear insignificant in the face of grief, but if your loved one has hundreds or thousands of Airpoints, Shairpoints or other loyalty benefit "currency" they may be vital to ensuring family members can be together to say goodbye. Besides, were they not hard-earned in the first place?

It wouldn't occur to most of us that we might need a legal document to clarify where our Qantas Frequent Flyer Miles or Virgin Australia Velocity Points end up. The best bet, if you have more than a couple of hundred dollars worth of loyalty benefits, is to include them in your will.

So where do the Antipodean airlines stand when dealing with this touchy matter?

Air New Zealand

With more than 1.5 million loyalty programme members, the Airpoints T & Cs state that "membership will terminate upon death of an Airpoints Member" and benefits are cancelled and become invalid. However, if your loved one was smart enough to include their loyalty programme in their will as an asset to be passed on, you have two years to get the executor to write to the airline requesting the transfer of Air New Zealand Airpoints.

Qantas

The Aussie airline deals with Qantas Frequent Flyer Miles transfers on a "case-by case basis" and only after they are informed of a death. According to the airline, "It's important that family members or the executor of a will contact the Frequent Flyer service centre to discuss their individual options", but does not specify what the options are.

Virgin Australia

The Australian carrier, which has a smaller New Zealand membership base with Velocity, has "an inheritance process in place to support member's family and friends" and the member's points can be transferred to another account over the course of a year. The inheritor is decided by the executor of the member's will. However, the will does not have to specify transfer of Velocity points, as loyalty benefits come under general cash assets.

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- Sunday Star Times

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