“Delta wants to charge my wife for dying”

When Don Horger’s wife passed away, he asked Delta Air Lines to transfer her SkyMiles to him. Delta agreed, but only if Horger would pay the transfer fee. Horger didn’t think that he should be charged the fee.

“The Delta agent I spoke to said it would cost $130 to transfer her miles to my account,” he says. “It seems very unfair to be charged for dying. My wife certainly would have preferred to be able to use her miles. I think Delta should transfer my late wife’s remaining SkyMiles to my account without charge.”

When Horger contacted our advocates for help, he also posted an inquiry to our help forums. Our help forums are staffed by industry experts, who often have helpful suggestions about how to address issues with airlines.

Our forum advocates suggested that Horger try calling Delta again. And if still unsuccessful, follow up with polite correspondence to company executives. We list executive contact information for Delta on our website. Our forum advocates thought that Horger should inform Delta that American Airlines and United Airlines had transferred miles for him at no charge.

Although Horger’s circumstances were unfortunate, Delta was following its established transaction terms by charging him to transfer his late wife’s miles to his account. And Delta’s guidelines provide that the miles “are not the property of any member” and aren’t transferable through legal proceedings which may occur due to death.

Horger followed the suggestions of our forum advocates. He reported that he called Delta again and initially, got the same response. He didn’t give up, and asked to speak to a supervisor. Using the company contact information on our website, Horger also sent polite emails to the Delta executives. Horger and his wife were loyal Delta customers, and it was shameful that it tried to extract another fee through Horger’s wife’s account, after she passed away.

Related story:   Delta Air Lines

Horger said that the next day, he received a call from the first person he had emailed on our list of contacts. She was very apologetic and, as a goodwill gesture, waived the transfer fee and added 5,000 extra miles to his account.

We’re happy that Horger successfully engaged in self-advocacy and that he is “very pleased with the result.”

Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from Elliott.org, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight.

  • finance_tony

    AFAIK, as long as he was the owner/custodian his late wife’s account, he could have used her points directly out of the account to buy a ticket for himself. If there weren’t enough points in there for a ticket (such that he had to combine them with his account), it seems like a lot of rigamarole for something of such marginal value.

  • Patrica

    My brother died unexpectedly. I accessed his account and was able to donate his mileage to Children’s third world hunger. There were a number of charities that it was possible to donate to, but I know this choice would have made his heart glad. Just a thought for others in a similar situation.

  • Zarkov505

    In 1995, Delta gave me the impression that they had an informal internal policy that, while they didn’t want anyone giving away the store, nobody would ever get in trouble for going a bit too far to help a customer. They preferred their people to err on the side of helpfulness, and, if it cost Delta a few cents, or a few dollars, the customer goodwill and word-of-mouth advertising it generated was well worth it.

    That was then, this is now.

  • Noah Kimmel

    “Delta wants to charge my wife for dying” Dramatic?

    Look, I am very sorry for the OPs loss. I can’t imagine what that must feel like and I know it can be frustrating to deal with airlines of all things while sorting out estate and admin work.

    However, most fliers know that you cant transfer miles for free between people (except for JetBlue family pooling). Transfers have a fee, regardless of reason. Airlines don’t want a secondary marketplace of miles where you barter or sell them. Right or wrong, this isn’t some crazy new policy. Nor is this some “death fee” but a fee for a transaction service to transfer miles, done for everyone, living or passed. Fortunately, there is an easy way around this, you can log in with her credentials and use her miles to book for yourself. Once the account is drained below 5500 (smallest delta flights) then donate them or buy magazines.

    I am glad the OP got a nice exception, great use of advocacy, but I hardly see this story as one of Delta misbehaving. It seems more of a grieving person seeking (and getting) an exception to a policy that is well-understood by many.

  • MF

    Yes, all well and good. If the transfer fee was something like $25, closer to the real cost of making the change, then perhaps we would not see this sort of egregious change fee having to be negotiated. I suspect it was a bit of grieving/principle more than actual dollars in this case. Your point about donating miles is a good reminder of alternatives.

  • greg watson

    What a total rip-off………………this paying for a fee………….to transfer earned or paid for ‘loyalty miles’ to a family member. With most plans….’miles’ are actually worth……. 1/2 to 1 to 1 1/2 cents (although they have no ‘cash value’) ………..& probably can be transferred in approx. 30 seconds. Some airlines have ‘purchase additional miles’ plans…………& I am familiar with one plan that charges….2 3/4 cents per mile. Talk about ‘cash grabs’

  • Bill___A

    I don’t like the fee, but the headline is unjust too.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    I’m not sure about Delta, but when I looked into transferring a deceased relative’s miles it was based on how many were being transferred. If it’s a large amount, it’s worth the larger fee. In the end I had more miles so I transferred enough to get me to the next reward (worth the $20-30 it cost) and let the rest expire. Had there been enough for a reward on that account alone I probably would have just used it directly from the deceased’s account.

    I don’t agree the article calling the fee shameful. It’s well documents that fees exist for transferring miles. The alternative policy could be forfeiting a deceased person’s miles. At least they offer a way to access them.

  • cscasi

    It’s all about the bottom line for the company; not for the benefit of its customers. Sad, but true.

  • joycexyz

    Charging his wife for dying? Really? Get someone else to write your headlines. This isn’t the first one that sounds like it belongs in The Inquirer.

  • greg watson

    ………..no kidding !…………………Captain Obvious……

  • jerrymandel

    As stated above, he should have just used her miles without saying anything to Delta. BTW-BA lets you pool Avios in a family account and you can transfer Hilton Honors points.

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