Giving back: How to donate your airline miles, hotel points and cash back to charity
September 26, 2019
When it comes to redeeming all those points and miles you’ve earned with your rewards credit card, donating them to charity is one option you might not know about.
There are some great reasons to consider donating your rewards to charity. For one thing, it’s a way to put miles or points you wouldn’t ordinarily use to work. According to a 2017 Bankrate survey, three in ten Americans never redeem the rewards they earned with their credit card.
Aside from that, donating your points or miles can help you keep your rewards card active. Not to mention, it’s a useful (and simple) way to support causes or organizations you believe in.
Curious about what’s involved in donating your rewards? Here’s everything you need to know.
How does donating points or miles work?
How you go about donating your credit card rewards depends on where you earned the rewards. If you earned them with your 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 options may vary based on which organizations your card issuer partners with.
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.
If you’re redeeming points or miles earned through a frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program, the process may be a little different. In that scenario, you may redeem rewards through the hotel or airline’s site or the loyalty program’s website if it’s separate. Or, the airline or hotel maybe able to handle your redemption request over the phone.
It’s also possible that your chosen charity could accept donated miles or points directly. Miles4Migrants, for example, accepts donations through its website.
What are miles and points worth when you donate to charity?
Any time you’re redeeming miles or points, it’s important to know how much value you’re getting in exchange for your rewards. If you’re donating rewards, you may want to know how they convert and how the charity really benefits.
There are two primary ways your rewards can be used once they’re redeemed:
In the first scenario, the charity of your choice could use miles or points to book flights and other travel arrangements for the people it serves. Miles4Migrants, for example, uses donations of miles to help pay for flights to reunite members of refugee families.
If your card issuer or loyalty program converts travel rewards to cash value, the charity you’re donating to would receive a cash donation. The upshot of that is that cash donations can be used to cover a variety of expenses, not just travel. That’s good if a charity isn’t exclusively travel-focused and serves people in need in other ways.
The downside of having your miles or points converted to cash is that they may end up losing some of their value in the process. For example, 10,000 Membership Rewards points earned with the American Express Platinum Card would be worth $100 in flight credit if you’re redeeming for travel. But those same 10,000 points would be worth $70 when you donate them through the American Express JustGiving program.
Redemptions made through airline or hotel loyalty programs may also be converted at a different value, compared to what you’d get if you redeem for travel. If you have a set goal for the dollar amount you want to donate to your favorite charity, it’s important to factor in the conversion rate so you know how many points or miles you’ll need to redeem to hit your target.
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
If you’ve decided you’d like to donate your travel rewards, the next step is deciding where to donate them to. These tables highlight where you can donate miles or points to through airline and hotel programs, as well as top card issuers.
Donating Airlines Miles
Donating Hotel Points
Donating with Issuers
|American Express||1,000s of charities through JustGiving, including the American Red Cross and the Nature Conservancy|
|Citi|| American Red Cross|
|Discover|| American Cancer Society|
American Red Cross
Children’s Miracle Network
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
World Wildlife Fund
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.
Make sure you read the fine print
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.
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.