Giving back: How to donate your airline miles, hotel points and cash back to charity
April 7, 2020
Many businesses today offer ways to earn rewards as a thank you for using their service. Some of the most popular rewards are those provided by credit cards — in the form of airline miles, hotel points, cash back and points redeemable for merchandise, travel, statement credits, gift cards and more.
Although we usually think of what we can buy with our cash back or where we can go with our airline miles, you might not know you can donate them to your favorite charities. Your giving impacts countless people, and there are many great reasons why you should consider donating your rewards to charity.
How donating can benefit rewards members
- Keeps your rewards membership active
- Great way to prevent points from expiring
- Simple and easy way to support causes and organizations that matter to you
- A chance to do a lot with a little
How donating can benefit charities
- Supports groundbreaking research
- Easy way to make dreams come true
- Gets help to disaster-stricken areas
Charities rely on your support to do their work because as nonprofits, they survive on donations. Many have partnered with credit cards, airlines and hotels to offer multiple ways to donate that doesn’t involve opening your wallet. Donating loyalty rewards is integral to expanding the organization’s reach, mobilizing relief efforts and offering help to those that need it most.
Most insurance providers have stepped up to cover medical expenses related to the coronavirus. However, many people directly or indirectly affected by the virus will have other long-term financial impacts. With the majority of individuals either required to report to work for essential businesses, sent home to work, furloughed, laid off or simply displaced — this pandemic is stretching financial situations to their breaking point for countless people.
Even in the midst of disaster, though, we find ourselves stronger than ever as a community. Already, global COVID-19 relief efforts have blown past any natural disaster relief fund in the world through the generous giving of corporate, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.
If you want to do more to help others (from a distance), have you considered donating to persons impacted by COVID-19 using your airline miles, hotel points or cash back?
How donating can benefit response and recovery efforts to COVID-19
- Help fund community-based organizations and nonprofits supporting COVID-19 relief efforts
- Help fund resources for your community
- Fund workers who were laid off
- Strengthen detection and treatment efforts
How does donating points or miles work?
How to donate charity points or miles depends on where you earned the rewards.
Donating points earned through a travel credit card
You should be able to redeem them right through your card’s redemption portal online. To do that, you log in to your account, then navigate to the redemption page. Assuming donating rewards to charity is an option through your issuer, the next step is choosing which one you’d like to receive your donation. The list of choices may vary based on which organizations your card issuer partners with (more on that later).
From there, you can decide what amount of your rewards you’d like to donate. Keep in mind that your card issuer may require you to have a minimum amount of miles or points to redeem for a donation.
Donating points or miles earned through a frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program
This process looks a little different. In this scenario, you may redeem rewards through the hotel or airline site or the loyalty program’s website if it’s separate. Or, the airline or hotel may be able to handle your redemption request over the phone. Log in to your account and search for your redemption portal, or call or email customer service to see which charities they’re affiliated with.Donating online is usually just a case of choosing your donation level in your rewards portal. Each charity has its minimum donation amounts. Some accept fewer than 1,000 points or miles, while others start at 10,000. Airlines like JetBlue and Delta let you choose a specific charity, but others like American Airlines divide points to partners within a category of your choosing. Depending on which card issuer you’re using and who you’re giving to, your rewards may convert to a cash donation or remain in their original form to apply to flights and accommodations.
Donating points directly to a charity?
It’s also possible that your chosen charity could accept donated miles or points directly. Miles4Migrants, for example, accepts donations through its website. Your miles donation actually works as a pledge. You fill out your personal and loyalty program information along with the number of miles you’re pledging. Miles4Migrants has a minimum of 12,500 miles when placing a pledge. When there’s a need that matches your request, the organization reaches out to you to book the flights using your miles.
A few large charities like Make-A-Wish, which grants the wishes of seriously ill children, take your miles donations on their website. You select your frequent flyer program and enter the requested information to process your donation. It can be an excellent way to breathe life into expiring miles, because donated airline miles to Make-A-Wish never expire.
When donating directly to a charity, the FTC warns to watch out for potential scams. The last thing you’d want is to give away your valuable rewards to a charity that doesn’t exist or to one that’s just going to pocket the money. Research the charity before using its online giving portal and look for any complaints against it, negative reviews and whether others have tagged it as a scam. You can also look up reports and ratings on the FTC’s website. See the end of this guide for more on how to avoid a charity scam.
What’s the value of my miles and points when they’re donated to charity?
The reality is, many rewards members don’t use all of their accrued points or simply never use them at all. According to a 2017 Bankrate survey, three in 10 Americans never redeem the rewards they earned with their credit card. For a rewards member, that likely translates to a forgone travel upgrade that they won’t miss.
|Donating as a Rewards Credit||Donating Rewards at Cash Value|
|– Ensures your donation specifically benefits charities seeking travel support (bookings, travel arrangements, etc.)|
– Donations go directly to a beneficiary- Charities may pay fees to pool or transfer points and miles
– Limited redemption options and restricted use
– Donation covers a wide variety of expenses (not just travel)
– More widely accepted by charities
– Usually converts to a lesser value than credit
– Converted values depend on loyalty program
– Can be used by non-travel-focused charities
But for nonprofit organizations supporting underserved communities, those points translate to missed opportunities to help someone. To understand the real impact your points can make, let’s take a look at Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit serving America’s military families.
Operation Homefront helps disabled military families temporarily find a rent-free place to live as they sometimes wait months for Veteran’s Affairs (VA) benefits to kick in. Many injured veterans receive only 25% to 50% of their pay as a benefit. For families who can’t afford a home, the charity arranges for permanent housing. They also fund overdue bills, repairs and other critical family needs for active or veteran service members. Here are just some of the ways rewards donations made a lasting impact through Operation Homefront:
- $200,000 given toward Choice Hotels bookings for service members (2018/2019).
- 360 service members received stays at Choice Hotels around the U.S. from points donated by rewards members in 2018 through 2019.
- 10 wounded veteran families were given a surprise gift of rent-free transitional housing apartments in Gaithersburg, MD. Many of them used the donation for a much-needed getaway they often can’t afford or to visit a location with family they haven’t seen in a long time.
Are points or miles donated to charity tax-deductible?
Generally, no. The IRS views miles or points as a discount, not taxable income. So any miles or points you earned and donated to charity wouldn’t qualify for a tax deduction. To count as a tax-deductible donation, you’d have to donate property or money to the charity directly but you could earn rewards by charging your donation to your card.
Best airlines, hotels and issuers for donating miles and points
Are you ready to donate your rewards? Your next step is choosing who to give them to. These tables make it easy to find your airline, hotel or card issuer and see which charities they partner with. Points programs all work a little differently in their points expiration policy. We’ve also highlighted those differences for you.
Donating Airlines Miles
Donating Hotel Points
|Hotel Program||Partner Charities||Points Expiration Policy|
|Choice Privileges||American Red Cross|
Boys & Girls Club of America
Fisher House Foundation
The Polaris Project
The Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation
|Points expire if you don’t have a qualifying activity for 18 months|
|Hilton Honors||Varies by state||Points expire if you don’t stay at a Hilton Hotel or earn or redeem points for 12 months.|
|IHG Rewards|| American Red Cross|
Youth Career Initiative
|Points expire if you don’t earn or redeem points at IHG hotels or partners for 12 months.|
|Marriott Rewards||American Red Cross|
Children’s Miracle Network
Hotels for Heroes
Marriott Disaster Relief Fund
|Points expire if you don’t stay at a Marriott Hotel or earn or redeem points for 24 months.|
|Wyndham Rewards|| Armed Services YMCA|
Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation
Save the Children
|Points expire if you don’t use your account to earn, redeem or transfer points for 18 months. Points also expire 4 years after you earned them, regardless of your account activity.|
Donating through travel card issuers
|Issuer||Partner Charities||Points Expiration Policy|
|American Express||1,000s of charities through JustGiving, including the American Red Cross and the Nature Conservancy||Points never expire, but your points may be forfeited or lost under certain conditions|
|Citi|| American Red Cross|
|Points expire 3 years after you earned them, regardless of your account activity. Shared points expire 90 days after you receive them.|
|Discover|| American Cancer Society|
American Red Cross
Children’s Miracle Network
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
World Wildlife Fund
|Cash back or miles never expire. If you don’t use your account for 18 months, Discover credits your account with your cash back or miles rewards balance.|
If your card issuer isn’t on the list, it may be because they don’t allow for direct donations of rewards to charity. But you can still do good by redeeming rewards for a cash deposit to a bank account and donating the money that way. If you’re looking for a new card option, check out our recommendations for the best credit cards.
Get in on the rewards so you can give out to charity
Signing up for credit card rewards programs lets you earn points or miles, which you can redeem in a multitude of ways, including cash back, travel, entertainment and charitable donations. Take a look at our best rewards credit card to see which one might fetch you the most rewards.
Giving your points and miles away to organizations that need your support is an easy way to donate without dipping into your bank account. When donating points or miles to charity, there are a few rules to remember.
First, donate through the hotel, airline or card issuer and don’t use third-party sites. That could open you up to scams, and there’s no way to guarantee that your rewards are going to the organization you want to donate them to. The only exception may be donating points or miles to the charity directly if they allow that. But still, be sure to check out the nonprofit thoroughly before handing over your information. Remember also to look closely at the rules and guidelines for each hotel or loyalty program and your credit card’s rewards program. Get to know which charities each organization supports, the minimum amount of rewards you’ll need to redeem and how the charity will be able to use the rewards you’ve donated. And if you’re interested in getting started with a rewards card, check out this list of the best rewards cards for travelers.