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Grounded by the Pandemic? Donate Your Unused Points and Miles

Here’s how to give that accrued loyalty to a good cause.

Are you still grounded by the pandemic? Don’t let your credit card points and airline miles lay idle—consider using them philanthropically.

Nonprofits tend to fall into two camps when it comes to using points and miles. Some swap them for cash donations; others redeem them as intended, for flights or hotel rooms. It generally takes about 25,000 miles to book a domestic flight; the American Red Cross will use such donations to send volunteers for hurricane or wildfire relief.

Airlines, which typically require a minimum donation of 1,000 miles, maintain partnerships with a large handful of nonprofits to make those transfers simple and secure. (American allows donations of less than 1,000 miles if you give your entire remaining balance; JetBlue’s floor is 500 points.)

Marriott Bonvoy partners with the National Park Foundation and Unicef, which uses points to serve meals for hungry children. Alaska Airlines’ donations to Medical Teams International provide lifesaving care to disaster survivors and refugees. (It can take 75,000 miles to get a volunteer from the U.S. to Ethiopia, where MTI delivered support amid a refugee crisis and the pandemic.)

Delta Air Lines miles go to international nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, which this year used the gifts to get rebuilding volunteers to Haiti after the earthquake in August.

Points and miles go furthest when they’re redeemed for flights or hotel beds. Charities that are less dependent on travel are more likely to convert points and miles to dollars, though that causes their value to decline sharply. (Think 10,000 Hilton points for a $25 gift to Team USA.) Others may apply your contributions to offset administrative travel instead.

Although none of these contributions are tax-deductible—the IRS classifies points and miles as corporate gifts, rather than earnings—they come with the upside of avoiding expiration. Some loyalty programs still have cutoffs: American AAdvantage miles largely disappear 18 months after the last activity, for instance, and Alaska Mileage Plan balances get deleted after two inactive years. Giving some away restarts the clock.

Any donation is better than no donation, especially from companies such as United Airlines or Marriott that offer holiday-season matching. But if you’re uninspired by your loyalty program’s official list of partners, other organizations that rely heavily on points and miles have programs to take them off your hands. Here are three to consider.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation might be the best known. During the pandemic, the organization paused travel-related wishes (trips to Walt Disney World, say, or an elephant rescue center) but continued to organize grants closer to home. It restarted domestic trips for fully vaccinated families this fall.

Since its inception in 2014, Give A Mile has procured 780 “flights of compassion” to people visiting a terminally ill loved one. The organization primarily accepts Air Canada/Aeroplan points and United miles; others can make cash donations to help cover taxes and fees associated with award tickets.

Miles4Migrants supports domestic travel for asylum-seekers who’ve landed in the U.S. It normally redeems about 232,000 miles a day, but that number has jumped tenfold as the organization scrambles to help a long, vetted list of Afghan refugees. Mexican transborder flights and regional flights to help immigrants released from U.S. detention centers are other common requests. Besides miles from many of the major programs, Miles4Migrants accepts unused travel vouchers and credit card points from American Express, Capital One, and Chase.

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