Divorce and Your Frequent Flyer Miles
How to divide frequent flyer miles when a couple splits.
Divorce raises a number of questions, and for frequent travelers, one of those questions is, What will happen to my miles? Dividing up miles and points at the end of a marriage isn’t straightforward, partially because loyalty currency isn’t identical to cash currency. Miles and points don’t have a fixed value, and the programs frequently include a clause in their terms and conditions stating that the programs themselves, not the members, own the currency. You may have a million miles in your account, but if you don’t actually own them, you aren’t entitled to give them to anyone you wish—or share half of them with an ex-spouse. So, while divvying up miles in a divorce seems like it should be simple, there are complications, which are further complicated by the fact that divorce laws vary from state to state.
Marital assets include all property acquired during a marriage. If miles and points are earned by a spouse while a couple is married, they are subject to becoming part of the divorce settlement. One way to deal with this is for one spouse to keep the miles/points but to have them be available for the other spouse to use when needed, but this is not an ideal situation to place yourself in. Who wants to know that your ex is using the miles to vacation, for example, in Hawaii with a new love interest? But this might work if the split is relatively amicable. Remember that the person responsible for holding onto the miles must then be sure to keep the accounts active or risk being in contempt of the divorce agreement, if any of the miles expire. Another option is for both parties to agree to use the miles for the children.
Another way to handle this is to call the program in which you have miles/points and request that your miles/points be divided into two memberships for you and your soon-to-be ex. Although this is not normally allowed by programs, in some instances, it can be done and most likely with a fee attached. One person I talked to said he got a court order as part of the settlement, requiring the frequent travel program to split the miles/points into two separate accounts, placing a burden on the program to do so or show up in court to contest it.
Yet another way to handle loyalty currency is to let one person keep the miles or points and come up with a fair market value of what they are worth and credit the other spouse with the money. The problem with this solution is that miles are notoriously hard to pin down with a monetary value. But if both parties can agree to a value, then this may be the way to go, especially because it marks an end to the miles issue and then both parties can move on with their lives.
Splitting miles during a divorce is tricky: Frequently the program owns the miles, not the member, and the program is not required to assign miles to anyone but that member.
Randy Petersen is widely regarded as the world’s leading expert on frequent-flyer programs. He founded FlyerTalk.com in 1998—the largest discussion forum on loyalty programs—and MilePoint.com in 2011. He is also publisher of Inside Flyer magazine. He holds more than a million miles in at least five airline and four hotel loyalty programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.