Delta Air Lines issued a strange announcement last week (buried in here on page 25), but some background may help. It is very common throughout the travel industry that at some point, loyalty program miles or points will expire. It varies by vendor but many will wipe out an account if there is no activity after maybe a year. This actually happened to me years ago with United Airlines.
Delta, however, has a policy that their miles never expire even if they were earned ten years ago and you never purchase anything else. While they are not the only one to be so benevolent, it is a benefit appreciated and a public relations high road.
With this background, it was quite surprising when Delta announced last week that your accumulated miles may indeed expire. Yes, you can accumulate them for years but your account may vanish coincident with your death. Of course this won’t affect you – after all, you have passed – but it will affect your heirs, maybe your spouse or children.
But it does more than that. It is very common for members to accumulate miles and points for special trips. It is not hard to imagine saving up those miles perhaps for a retirement party or very special anniversary. Now throw in a wrinkle that one person dies suddenly. By any measure, this is a tragedy by itself. While the vacation plans are obviously ruined, those miles could have been used to transport family and friends to a funeral or service.
Some of the largest accounts are held by business travelers. After all, they are the ones likely to fly the most, stay overnight at hotels the most, rent the most cars, etc. Imagine you have five million points accumulated but one sudden moment can wipe that out entirely.
It is gruesome enough to talk about such a topic but the fact is, Delta is implying you can transfer the miles if you plan properly. No, it will not happen for loved ones that die suddenly but for anyone else, they can be transferred prior to death. For example, those with diagnosed terminal illnesses may want to either quickly use or transfer their accumulated miles. Presumably, even someone on life support can have a document prepared giving another person the power of attorney to transfer the miles. Of course I realize that when anyone is so near death, very close to the last thing on their mind will be their loyalty points and miles (except perhaps those of us on BoardingArea!). Sadly, Delta has moved this to the forefront with their new policy.
Can Delta even do this? After all, didn’t I earn these miles through my years of loyalty? The vendor defense seems to center around their belief that they can change the rules whenever they desire. These terms, of course, change over time but presumably we agree to these changes as a condition to keep our accounts. However, I am not a lawyer so no legal opinion here.
Despite the negative public relations fallout here, Delta does use language that may offer some hope. Their program rules say “Delta reserves the right to deactivate or close an account…” In other words, they are not specifically saying they will close the account of someone who passes away, only that they can if they so desire. The vendors have – or at least believe they have – total control and absent court rulings otherwise, they will decide unilaterally what you can and can’t do.
Note that many other travel providers have similar policies already in place. There are, of course, far too many to list the policies of each one but this blog should give you pause to check out your favorite airline, hotel, car rental and other accounts to see just what their rules are. I know I’ll be checking out all of my accounts.
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