We previously wrote about the opportunity to pass unused reward miles or points to loved ones in the event of death, but what happens when someone passes away with travel that is already booked? The importance of this question is apparent when the following two points are considered together. First, as estate planning attorneys, we commonly see the desire for clients to review – and make any desired changes – to their estate plans before big trips or air travel. Second, when individuals actively pursue accumulating airline reward miles and maximizing their value, they are all too familiar with the limited reward availability offered in many cases. This encourages early booking, as early as about 11 months in advance (when flight information first becomes available), and contributes to a scenario where air travel for a second trip is booked before the first trip is taken.
If a frequent traveler (whether he or she has booked with miles or with cash) passes away before having the opportunity to take the trip that was planned, there are options. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the policies and procedures of some of the most popular U.S. airlines.
Delta: “In the event of death of the passenger prior to the date of travel, tickets issued at nonrefundable fares will be refunded to the deceased passenger’s estate.” It seems that Delta may also charge an administrative service fee, to be deducted from the refunded amount, “for processing any permitted changes to nonrefundable tickets.”
United Airlines: “United will refund change fees and tickets in certain cases,” which include the death of the traveler. To request a refund, contact United Customer Refund Services and be prepared to provide a death certificate. To be considered, the refund request must be received prior to the ticket’s expiration date. Interestingly, in some cases, United appears to allow you to name someone to whom a refund may be issued at the time of booking. If you have a trust (and accounts titled in trust), you could consider naming your trust as the designated refund recipient.
American Airlines: American Airlines will issue refunds for both refundable and nonrefundable tickets in the case of the death of the passenger, with supporting documentation such as a death certificate. The refund will be issued to the original form of payment.
Jet Blue: Jet Blue will issue a refund in the original form of payment for the ticketed customer and any traveling companions. The request must be accompanied by a death certificate and submitted within one year of the original ticket issue date.
Southwest Airlines: The Southwest Airlines refund policy does not specifically address refunds upon the death of a passenger. Based upon the available information, it seems that fully refundable tickets without restrictions can be refunded within one year from the date of issue to the original form of payment. For “refund exceptions on nonrefundable travel,” you must write to the Refunds Department (Southwest Airlines / Refunds Department / P.O. Box 36649 / Dallas, TX 75235) and include the unused ticket or proof of purchase with confirmation number. We would also recommend sending a death certificate since it will likely be requested and should expedite the process.
If you are reading this as someone dealing with the death of a loved one, we are sorry for your loss, and we hope that this information is helpful in allowing you to navigate the refund process. If the refund policy of the carrier that applies to your situation states that the refund will be provided to the original form of payment, requesting the refund as soon as possible is prudent so the account that the refund will be posted to is not inadvertently closed, nor left open for an unnecessarily long period. Acting quickly is also important from the standpoint that in many cases, refunds are only available within one year of the original ticket issue date, and tickets may be booked as far as 11 months in advance. Barring any customer service exceptions, this could allow only a month from the decedent’s death to request the refund.
If you are reading this as a frequent traveler, you have the opportunity to take some steps to ease the process for your survivors in the event of your death. You should print a copy of your booking confirmation to be kept with your estate planning documents, which will quickly draw attention to something that might otherwise be overlooked and will greatly help your trustee or personal representative. When you’ve safely returned from the trip you can remove it and replace it with the documentation for your next journey. In the unfortunate event that you pass away before your scheduled trip, you will have peace of mind that the asset will not be overlooked, and perhaps, it will enable a loved one to carry on your legacy and take a trip of his or her own.
If you have questions about requesting a refund for travel booked by a decedent, or you have questions about ensuring that your own booked travel isn’t overlooked in the event of your death, contact Mammel Law at 248-644-6326.
** The information in this article is accurate as of July, 2016. We will do our best to keep this information updated, but you should check the relevant pages listed or an estate planning attorney if you need assistance with obtaining a refund due to death.