During the holidays, the charitable urge predictably surges. And for consumers who are strapped for cash but flush with frequent flyer miles, donating miles to worthy non-profits is a way to make a meaningful difference without stressing the bank account.
Many of the larger airlines make it an easy matter to make mileage donations. In most cases, it's as simple as choosing an eligible charity and number of miles from drop-down lists on the airlines' websites, and pressing the "Donate" button.
The numbers are significant. US Airways, as an example, reports that members of its Dividend Miles program have chipped in more than 700 million miles since 1998. The Aeroplan program, affiliated with Air Canada, has raised more than 188 million miles. And so far just this year, 45,491 members of United's Mileage Plus program have donated 175,039,559 miles.
Following are links to the charitable mile sections of the airlines whose programs have ongoing charity miles opportunities:
The charities chosen by the airlines to receive donations through their mileage programs tend to be the large national organizations that most Americans are familiar with. That leaves thousands of smaller local charities without an efficient way to put themselves on the receiving end of mileage donations.
Frontier suggests, on its website, that if EarlyReturns members don't see a preferred charity on the airline's list, they should simply transfer their miles to an account in the name of someone representing the charity.
Wait just a minute, Frontier!
The price to transfer miles is 1 cent apiece, so it would cost $600 to transfer 60,000 miles. No doubt that's great for Frontier. But the giver would be better served by donating that $600 to the charity, which can use the cash as it sees fit.
When it comes to donating miles to charities that aren't on the airlines' lists of supported organizations, you'd be better off dealing directly with the charity, redeeming your miles for tickets issued in the names of travelers designated by the charity.
If giving is good, getting a bonus for giving is even better. Following are some opportunities to get extra value from your mileage donations:
Through January 15, 2011, American will award two miles for every $1 that AAdvantage members donate to support UNICEF, up to a maximum of 2,000 miles per member.
Delta SkyMiles members who make a cash donation by December 15 to AID Atlanta, the Grady Health Foundation, or the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project can earn up to 15,000 elite-qualifying miles—5,000 miles for donating $500 or more to one of the organizations, and 15,000 miles for donating to all three.
Not mileage-related, but Southwest—which doesn't have a permanent charitable-donations feature as part of its Rapid Rewards program—is offering to donate $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation every time a Southwest flyer uses Facebook to check-in through December 25.
Through December 31, US Airways will match the first 1,000 of every 5,000 miles, up to 25,000 miles, donated to the American Red Cross, Mercy Medical Airlift, Fisher House Foundation, and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Reader Reality Check
Have you donated miles to charity?
Will you this year?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.