How to donate unused rewards miles, points

Cathleen McCarthy
Personal Finance Writer
Travel, small business and consumer credit expert

 How to donate unused rewards miles, points photosbyhope/Getty Images

 

 How to donate unused rewards miles, points photosbyhope/Getty Images

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 and about-to-expire 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.

You also can donate miles over the phone by calling the airline’s customer service number and requesting its frequent flyer program. Delta also offers an email option, a mailing address and fax number for miles donations. 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.

The airlines have been terrific, but if it wasn't for the American people donating their miles, this would not be possible.

-- Tish Stropes 
Hero Miles 

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 every wish that comes over the transom 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.”

According to American Airlines, 60,390 AAdvantage members donated more 144,759,621 miles in 2016 to the airline’s Kids In Need program, providing transportation to more than 300 children (and their families) in need of medical, educational and social services attention. 

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 it’s 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.

 

Charities where you can donate your miles

Organizations to donate miles to by category

If you're looking to donate to a specific cause or category of causes, you can look through organizations that popular U.S. airlines support through mile donation programs.

 

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 use them specifically to transport personelle or service animals to help people across the country and world. 

  • Disabled Sports USA

Airline: United

Their mission is to provide leadership and opportunities for those with disabilities to develop independence, confidence and fitness habits through community sports, recreation and educational programs.

  • Guide Dogs of America

Airline: United

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.

  • Special Olympics

Airline: United

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

  • Canine Assistants

Airline: Delta

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

  • Special Olympics Hawaii

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

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

 

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. 

  • Miles for Kids in Need

Airline: American Airlines

The American Airlines Kids in Need program provides medical, educational, and social services to help give children a better future.

  • Children's Miracle Network

Airline: Delta

They use donated miles to transport kids across the country for necessary pediatric treatment.

  • Unicef

Airline: Delta

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

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

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

  • HUGS (Help, Understanding, and Group Support)

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

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.

  • Shriners Hospital for Children

Airline: Jetblue, United

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.

  • Make-A-Wish®

Airline: American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United 

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

  • The JetBlue Foundation

Airline: JetBlue 

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.

  • DoSomething.Org

Airline: JetBlue

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.

  • City Year

Airline: Jet Blue

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.

  • First Book

Airline: JetBlue

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. 

  • PENCIL

Airline: JetBlue

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

  • Cradle of Aviation

Airline: JetBlue

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

  • Alaska Pride

Airline: United

Alaska Pride emphasizes the importance of education and success after high school through meaningful afterschool programs.

  • Casa De Esperanza de los Ninos

Airline: United

Casa de Esperanza de los Niños (The House of Hope for Children) is a safe place for children in crisis due to abuse, neglect or the effects of HIV. Casa de Esperanza provides residential, medical and psychological care according to the needs of each child. Counseling is also available to the parents in appropriate situations.

  • Eagle Mount Bozeman Donation

Airline: United

Eagle Mount Bozeman facilitates and implements therapeutic recreational programs and opportunities to benefit people with disabilities and children with cancer. They also provide support for their families.

  • Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation

Airline: United

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation seeks to prevent pediatric HIV infection and to eradicate pediatric AIDS through research, advocacy, and prevention and treatment programs. 

  • Healing the Children

Airline: United

Healing the Children provides medical care to children in need through 13 chapters nationwide and many international partners.

  • The Hospital for Sick Children

Airline: United

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education.

  • Iowa Homeless Youth Centers

Airline: United

They work to eliminate homelessness among children, youth and young mothers in Polk County, Iowa.

  • March of Dimes

Airline: United

The March of Dimes is a nonprofit organization that promotes pregnancy and baby health through the prevention of birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

  • New Ballet Ensemble & School

Airline: United

The New Ballet Ensemble & School is a Community School of the Arts program that serves the youth of Memphis.

  • ROCK (Real Options for City Kids)

Airline: United

ROCK is a nonprofit youth development organization in San Francisco that offers sports, fitness, community service, learning enrichment, leadership training and outdoor adventure programs for area children ages 6-17.

  • Ronald McDonald House Charities

Airline: United 

They find and support programs that directly improve the health and wellbeing of children all over the world.

 

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

Airline: Delta, United

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

  • Ride 2 Recovery

Airline: United

Ride 2 Recovery provides rehabilitation through Project HERO cycling programs throughout the U.S. R2R designs and builds specially adapted bikes to suit injured veterans’ needs. 

  • Wounded Warrior Project

Airline: United

Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization that empowers military veterans with service-related injuries or illnesses through mind, body, educational and economic programs that help veterans transition back to civilian life.

  • Luke’s Wings

Airline: Delta

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.

  • Honor Flight Network

Airline: Southwest

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.

  • Team Rubicon

Airline: Southwest

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

  • The Mission Continues

Airline: Southwest

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

  • USO

Airline: JetBlue 

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

  • Miles for All Who Serve:

Airline: American

Miles for All Who Serve assists organizations that work to support veterans, military members and their families.

 

Helping wildlife and the environment 

If you're passionate about saving the environment, there are also quite a few charities where you can donate your unused credit card rewards. These organizations are dedicated to helping restore the ennironment, protect wildlife and educating the public on how everyone can get involved. 

  • The Nature Conservancy

Airline: Delta

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

  • The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

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

  • Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

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.

  • Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

Airline: JetBlue

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.

  • Carbonfund.org

Airline: JetBlue

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.

  • Ocean Foundation

Airline: JetBlue

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

  • Student Conservation Association

Airline: Southwest

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

  • Seacoast Science

Airline: United

The Seacoast Science Center provides learning experiences in natural science through dynamic and innovative programs and exhibits.

 

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

Airline: Delta, Southwest, United

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.

  • AmeriCares Foundation, Inc

Airline: JetBlue, United

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.

  • The Salvation Army

Airline: Delta

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

  • All Hands Volunteers

Airline: Southwest

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

 

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 charties use donated points and miles to fund travel for emergency patient needs and groundbreaking research opportunities. 

  • American Cancer Society

Airline: Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, United

The American Cancer Society uses donated miles to transport patients to needed medical treatment centers.

  • Angel Flight

Airline: JetBlue

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.

  • Blood Bank of Hawaii

Airline: Hawaiian Airlines

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.

  • Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF)

Airline: Delta

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

  • Cleveland Clinic

Airline: United

The Cleveland clinic is a nonprofit group that works to provide better patient care through dedicating resources to research and education programs.

  • Dream Foundation

Airline: Southwest

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.

  • Golfers Against Cancer

Airline: United

Golfers Against Cancer is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that raises money for cancer research.

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center

Airline: United

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

  • Mercy Medical Airlift

Airline: United

Mercy Medical Airlift 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.

  • Miles for the Cure

Airline: American

They support breast cancer research through the Susan G. Komen Young Investigators Grant Program.

  • Miles to Stand Up

Airline: American

Miles to Stand Up raises funds for many types of cancer research.

  • Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA)

Airline: United

MDA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to curing muscular dystrophy, ALS and other related muscular diseases through healthcare, support services, advocacy and education

  • National Cancer Prevention Fund (NCPF)

Airline: United

The NCPF raises funds to support comprehensive research programs that help prevent and treat cancer while educating the public.

  • ORBIS International

Airline: United

ORBIS is a nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to treating blindness through hands-on training, public health education, improved access to quality eye care and partnerships with local healthcare organizations.

  • Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO)

Airline: United

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

  • Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (VCCRI)

Airline: United

The VCCRI is researches heart disease and cardiovascular biology, provides cardiovascular research training and facilitates the rapid application of research discoveries to patient care.

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. 

Take into consideration whether rewards donations is the best option for your situation and the specific charity you are looking to donate to. 

Unfortunately, there are also scammers looking to profit from a donor’s good intentions.

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. Charities too small to partner with airlines can request miles donations through sites such as MileDonor.com, but donors have to grant enough miles to cover a ticket and then book the flight in the user’s name.

Also, remember that if you want a tax deduction on charitable contributions, you won’t get one by donating miles. Miles donations are not refundable and will register as anonymous to the charities. If you prefer to be personally involved, consider donating miles directly to the charities or via donation requests at MileDonor.

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.

See related: Airline and hotel rewards donation chart


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Updated: 11-16-2018