Got Miles? Use Them for Holiday Gifts

Got miles and a gift list?

With Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah coming up fast, and shopping budgets under pressure from a sluggish economy, many frequent flyer program members are looking to use their miles in lieu of cash to take some of the financial sting out of this year's holiday gift-giving.

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In some programs, you can transfer your miles or points into the account of another program member. But such transfers will cost you.

In American's AAdvantage program, for instance, members can share up to 60,000 miles per year, at a cost of 1 cent per mile or more, plus a $30 processing fee. (During November, American is offering a 25 percent bonus on transferred miles, and raising the transfer limit to 100,000 miles.)

While convenient, many mileage collectors feel that paying to transfer miles they already paid to earn in the first place is either insulting, financially injurious, or both. Luckily, there are alternatives.

When it comes to giving, the two most efficient uses of miles are to donate them to a charitable cause, or redeem them for a ticket issued in the name of a friend or family member.

The majority of the larger airline programs have mechanisms in place that allow members to donate miles to selected charities, typically a handful of organizations chosen by the programs to be national in scope and non-controversial in mission.

Members of Delta's SkyMiles program, for example, may donate a minimum of 1,000 miles to any of 14 charities, including the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and UNICEF. Donations can be made via email or on special pages on the recipient organizations' websites.

And finally, there's the option of simply booking an award ticket in the name of a special traveler on your gift list. There's no extra charge to designate someone other than yourself as the award traveler. And the satisfaction of giving the gift of travel can be, well, priceless.

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