CINCINNATI: Membership in US loyalty programs has risen sharply in recent years with tens of billions of dollars in rewards available, but there is a lack of clarity about what happens to a person's accumulated points when they die, a new report has said.

Colloquy, a specialist in loyalty marketing, carried out a survey of leading businesses in the airline, hotel and credit cards categories as well as an online survey of 1,200 consumers and found a wide range of polices were in operation and few consumers were aware of any of them.

Some programs enabled the transfer of points, some did not, some imposed a fee while others waived charges, and some restricted transfer to a spouse or joint account holder. In addition, policies were not always available online while customer service centre staff were often unable to provide accurate information.

Moreover, only 12% of Americans were familiar with their program's policy regarding the transfer of a deceased collector's points. And 76% said they had never even considered what would happen to their points when they died.

In a further finding, 48% of program members thought it important to have an "explicit protocol" in place.

As Colloquy observed: "People tend to carry many secrets to the grave, but unredeemed loyalty points shouldn't be one of them."

The report also argued that the loyalty shown by program members should be acknowledged by marketers or program operators in the event of death. At the very least, it added, there should be a clear policy, listing terms and conditions and a check list of needed documents available online for grieving relatives.

Waiving transfer fees and rewarding those who honestly report a collector's death instead of accessing accounts using the deceased's passwords were further possible actions.

Marketers could also be more proactive, suggested Colloquy, identifying those members who had accrued a large number of points and helping them understand the process of transferring them.

The report also admitted that offering free points transfers would not necessarily attract new members but said it was the sort of gesture that demonstrated empathy and could promote long-term retention and engagement with the beneficiaries.

Data sourced from Colloquy; additional content by Warc staff