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By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If you travel by air, chances are you’ve racked up frequent flyer miles. Whether you use them to upgrade your seat or book a free ticket, the last thing you want is for them to expire. But 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan takes a look at another reason why they may go to waste, and you probably haven’t prepared for it.

As Betty and Joe Scarlata of Robbinsville New Jersey traveled the world, they racked up an impressive amount of frequent flyer miles. Betty says, “Once we retired we could use the miles to travel where ever we were going without having to pay for it.”

But when her husband Joe passed away suddenly last June, getting the 241,000 miles in his frequent flyer account transferred into Betty’s account was easier said than done. She says, “We both accumulated these miles together, we earned them, why can’t I get them.”

“In general the airlines aren’t going to make it easy to give your miles to your loved ones,” says Brian Kelly. Kelly is known as The Points Guy, his webpage guides people on maximizing airline miles. According to Kelly, “You don’t own your frequent flyer miles and credit card points, every program states that at any point in time they can change the rules.”

And those rules vary from carrier to carrier. For example US Airways and American allow frequent flyer miles to be transferred upon a person’s death. But that’s not the case with Delta and Southwest. Betty was dealing with United. She says, “The one person that I spoke to said there was nothing you could do.” That’s the same thing United told 3 On Your Side, but Betty says, “then they transferred me to the estates department and there they told me that I could get the miles for a $150 fee. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.”

Eventually Betty was successful transferring the miles after paying the fee. But there is another way to pass on your miles after you’ve passed on. Kelly suggests including your frequent flyer account numbers and passwords in your Last Will and Testament or at least in a spot where your family can access them. Kelly says,
“That way your loved ones can just log in directly to your account, use your miles, because most airlines will let you use your miles and book tickets for anyone.”

Or better yet, do as Betty now plans to do. She says, “Start using your miles, don’t let them sit!”

Since most frequent flyer miles expire if there is no activity on an account, it’s important that you act quickly to either transfer or use the miles. For more information from Brian Kelly on the best ways to maximize your miles visit:


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