How to donate unused rewards miles and points

By: Cathleen McCarthy and Sienna Kossman
January 31, 2020

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.

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:

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.