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Rewards Programs

How to donate unused rewards miles and points

Summary

Are your miles about to expire? Don’t rush out and spend them on something you don’t need just to get rid of them. Donate them to charity instead – you get the same result, minus the useless merchandise cluttering your house

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Are your miles about to expire? Don’t rush out and spend them on something you don’t need. Donate them to charity instead.

“These miles are making a difference,” says Tish Stropes, vice president of the Maryland-based Fisher House Foundation, which manages Hero Miles, among other charitable organizations. Hero Miles uses donated miles to fly family members to visit wounded members of the military.

Most major airlines and several hotel chains have charity programs that benefit from miles donations. All of these programs partner with a long list of organizations benefiting everything from cancer research to cultural pursuits. For some airlines, you can do some good by donating as few as 500 miles.

How it works

Even though you can’t claim a tax deduction for donating rewards, it’s a nice option when you find yourself with less discretionary income and, if you travel a lot for business, a pile of unused miles.

Most major airlines offer a few ways for members of their frequent flyer programs to donate miles. The best place to start is the airline’s website where phone and mail options are listed, or you can donate online after checking out the airline’s charities. Many times, donating is as simple as plugging in your membership number and choosing how many miles you want to give. You usually have to donate at least a minimum amount, and that number can vary widely – from 1,000 points or fewer, up to 10,000 points and beyond – depending on the charity.Some large charities, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of seriously ill children, will also take miles donations directly.

What causes do airlines support?

There are a plethora of options available, depending on the airline with which you have miles. However, there are a few causes that seemingly all airlines are supporting.

Make-A-Wish is supported by several major U.S.-based airlines, including Delta, United, American Airlines, Southwest and JetBlue, underscoring the popularity of programs that help children in need. Kids’ fantasies have become more ambitious since the first wish was granted in 1980 to a child who wanted to become a policeman. In 2016, fulfilling a typical wish cost about $10,000.

More than 77 percent of all wishes have a travel component. Granting each of this wishes would require 50,000 round-trip tickets each year. “More than 168 million airline miles were donated to Make-A-Wish,” says Josh deBerge, director of communications for Make-A-Wish America. “To put this into context, Make-A-Wish would need more than 2.8 billion airline miles to cover all air-related costs for wish kids and their families.”

Hero Miles is another option you’re likely to find on your airline’s list of charities, even though Hero Miles has been around only since 2008. Five airlines offer Hero Miles donation options and its grown rapidly, with 63,000 tickets booked so far. “By adding a family’s love to the healing process, these service members are able to heal faster and get out of the hospital,” Stropes says.

Airlines work cooperatively with Hero Miles, waiving booking fees and rescheduling emergency flights as needed, without charging extra. “The airlines have been terrific, but if it wasn’t for the American people donating their miles, this would not be possible,” Stropes says.

Many U.S. airlines give their members the ability to donate air miles right from their website. American Airlines offers three different categories you can pick from – Miles for Our Social Good, Miles for Our Well-Being and Miles for our Heroes. Once you select your desired category, American will allocate your miles to partners within that category. Delta, United, JetBlue, Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines give you a little more flexibility by letting you select the specific organization you’d like to give your miles to. Here are some of the organizations you can select. For a complete list, visit your favorite airline’s website:

Helping those with disabilities 

Charities and organizations that help the disabled use donated miles and rewards as cash back on expenses to help lower costs, and a few of them specifically to transport personnel or service animals to help people across the country and the world.

Guide Dogs of America

They are dedicated to providing guide dogs and instruction free of charge to blind and visually impaired men and women from the U.S. and Canada.

Airline: United

Special Olympics

They provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Airline: United

Canine Assistants

They use donated miles to transport service dogs to help adults and children with disabilities.

Airline: Delta

Special Olympics Hawaii

Special Olympics Hawaii provides year-round sports training for those with intellectual disabilities who live in the Hawaiian Islands.

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

Helping youth programs

Youth programs are one of the most common types of organizations that airlines regularly support. No matter what your specific passion is regarding helping children, you’ll be able to find a reputable organization to donate to through your favorite airline.

Unicef

They use donated miles to deliver safe water, healthcare, educational materials and more to children all over the world.

Airline: Delta

Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii

They are a preventative, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children ages 6 to 16 grow by matching them with volunteer mentors.

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

HUGS (Help, Understanding, and Group Support)

HUGS is a private, nonprofit charity in Hawaii that provides a variety of support services to families whose child has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or a medically fragile condition.

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

Shriners Hospital for Children

Shriners is a pediatric hospital with multiple locations dedicated to providing healthcare to children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate.

Airline: Jet Blue, United

Make-A-Wish®

Make-A-Wish® grants thousands of wishes for children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions each year throughout the U.S. and its territories.

Airline: American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United

The JetBlue Foundation

The JetBlue Foundation promotes interest in STEM fields by working hand-in-hand with local and national organizations and schools to help develop educational programs and support aviation-related initiatives.

Airline: JetBlue

DoSomething.Org

DoSomething.org is one of the largest organizations for young people and social change, with 2.9 million members who tackle campaigns that impact a wide variety of causes worldwide.

Airline: JetBlue

City Year

City Year is an education-focused, nonprofit organization that partners with public schools and teachers to help keep students in school and on track to succeed through providing young AmeriCorps volunteers to support students who need extra care and attention.

Airline: Jet Blue

First Book

First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise that has distributed more than 120 million brand-new books and educational resources to the largest and fastest growing network of schools and programs serving children from low-income families throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Airline: JetBlue

PENCIL

PENCIL creates innovative and impactful models of ongoing collaboration between businesses and and New York City Public Schools.

Airline: JetBlue

Cradle of Aviation

Cradle of Aviation serves as an educational center in Long Island that promotes contribution to aerospace, science and technology.

Airline: JetBlue

Helping the military

Most major airlines have at least one partnership with a military organization or charity. Our service members sacrifice so much for our country, and your donated points and miles can help bring them home and help them readjust to civilian life.

Fisher House Foundation – Hero Miles Program

The Fisher House Foundation provides airline tickets to wounded, injured and sick military members and their loved ones through their Hero Miles Program.

Airline: United

Luke’s Wings

Luke’s Wings uses donated miles to transport wounded veterans and their families, including final flights that unite veterans in hospice care and their loved ones.

Airline: Delta

Honor Flight Network

The Honor Flight Network provides transportation to all American veterans capable of traveling to Washington D.C. to see the memorials dedicated to honors their service.

Airline: Southwest

Team Rubicon

They unite military veterans and first responders to rapidly deploy first-response teams.

Airline: Southwest

The Mission Continues

The Mission Continues deploys veterans on new missions within their communities to help them adjust to civilian life through community impact.

Airline: Southwest

USO

The USO helps military service members stay connected to their family, home and country throughout their service.

Airline: JetBlue, United

Helping wildlife and the environment

These organizations are dedicated to helping restore the environment, protect wildlife and educating the public on how everyone can get involved.

The Nature Conservancy

They use donated miles to send employees to ecological areas to help protect land and nature.

Airline: Delta

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)

CORAL works with local leaders and community members to protect coral reef ecosystems around the world through long-term and long-lasting conservation programs.

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project

They are dedicated to the conservation of Hawaii’s native forest ecosystems, developing and implementing techniques that recover Maui’s endangered birds and restore their habitats through research and conservation techniques.

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

WCS saves wildlife and natural ecosystems worldwide through conservation and education. They also own and operate five zoological parks in New York City– the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and the New York Aquarium.

Airline: JetBlue

Carbonfund.org

Through climate change education, Carbon makes it easier for individuals, businesses and organizations to reduce and offset their climate impact and hasten the transition to a clean energy future.

Airline: JetBlue

Ocean Foundation

Their mission is to support, strengthen and promote organizations dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments around the world.

Airline: JetBlue

Student Conservation Association

Their mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders by engaging young people in hands-on service projects that help the environment.

Airline: Southwest

Helping with disaster relief

Disaster relief organizations can use donated points and miles to send teams to affected areas and provide travel for medical emergencies.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross provides shelters, food and emotional support to disaster victims; supplies more than 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches life-saving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families.

Airline: Delta, Southwest, United

AmeriCares Foundation, Inc

AmeriCares is a nonprofit disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization that provides immediate response to emergency medical needs and supports long-term humanitarian assistance programs worldwide.

Airline: JetBlue, United

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army uses donated miles to move personnel in times of disaster and to provide travel for social service or emergency medical needs.

Airline: Delta

All Hands and Hearts

All Hands and Hearts uses donated miles to help send volunteers to address the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters.

Airline: Southwest

Helping with healthcare needs

For those who have a specific healthcare organization or cause that is near to your heart, airlines have also partnered with medical organizations. Many healthcare organizations and charities use donated points and miles to fund travel for emergency patient needs and groundbreaking research opportunities.

Angel Flight

Angel Flight is a nonprofit organization that coordinates and schedules free flights for patients and their families who need to travel to access medical treatment.

Airline: JetBlue

Blood Bank of Hawaii

The Blood Bank of Hawaii is a nonprofit organization that provides blood products for cancer therapy, surgical procedures, trauma treatment and more to almost 20 hospitals in Hawaii.

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF)

The BCRF uses donated miles to connect researchers from around the world to advance the study of breast cancer science.

Airline: Delta

Dream Foundation

The Dream Foundation is dedicated to granting wishes for adults through the dedication of hundreds of volunteers and more than 600 hospices and healthcare organizations nationwide.

Airline: Southwest

MD Anderson Cancer Center

The MD Anderson Cancer Center is one of the world’s most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, prevention and education.

Airline: United

Mercy Medical Angels

Mercy Medical Angels uses donated miles to provide medical flights for patients suffering from disabilities, rare disorders, injuries, burns and other conditions that require treatment at medical facilities.

Airline: United

Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO)

They are a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of transplant candidates, recipients and their families, as well as the families of organ and tissue donors.

Airline: United

Other ways to donate points and miles 

If you don’t want to donate your miles through an airline loyalty program, there are other options on how you can donate. For example, if you are interested in helping immigrants or refugees, there is a program called Miles 4 Migrants that uses donated frequent flyer miles to help those displaced due to war and persecution.

Credit card issuers

Many credit card issuers also offer a way for cardholders to donate their rewards.

Tips and traps to watch out for

Donating points and miles isn’t necessarily a replacement for cash donations, and it’s important to consider whether or not donating points and miles is the right fit for your situation.

Points and miles donations are not tax deductible because they are considered discounts instead of income. There are also differences in how credit card issuers and loyalty programs treat points and miles donations. Because some issuers and airlines convert miles donations to a cash value rather than actually donating the points or miles themselves, rewards donations can have a lower cash value due to redemption value variations.

Unfortunately, there are also scammers looking to profit from a donor’s good intentions, so be wary of third-party sites claiming they will donate miles for you. Airlines demand control of miles transfers, so it’s likely best to use their sites to donate your rewards.

All charitable organizations require travel, and many absolutely depend on it. So if you want to help a good cause and you’re sitting on a pile of unused miles or travel rewards, keep your eyes open, show your big heart and donate them.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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