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Can I Donate Miles to a Charity of My Choosing?

SmarterTravel

Dear Tim,

Is there a way to donate frequent flyer miles to a 501(c)(3) organization if it is not listed on any airline’s donation page?

S.J.

Dear S.J.,

For those who aren’t aware, most large airline and hotel loyalty programs make it possible for program members to [%2462653 | | donate miles %] to select charities. The keyword here is “select.” To ease administrative headaches, travel suppliers limit the donations to a few charitable organizations, typically nationally recognized nonprofits such as the Red Cross and the American Heart Association. For more on charitable mile donations, visit MileDonor.com.

If you are comfortable donating to those particular charities, then the programs’ websites make it easy and convenient to do so.

The situation is more complicated if the charity you wish to support isn’t on your airline’s official recipient list. But with some extra effort, it is indeed possible to exercise your charitable instincts.

To donate miles to a charity not formally supported by your loyalty program, you must be willing to coordinate directly with the nonprofit in question. If a representative confirms that the charity is in need of free tickets to further its goals, then you can assist the organization with your frequent flyer miles.

When directly supporting nonprofits, you cannot simply donate miles, since miles cannot be transferred for free. What you can donate is award tickets, assuming of course that you have enough miles to redeem for an award. The process would be as follows: First, the nonprofit would provide you with the name and desired travel itinerary of its designated traveler. Second, you would redeem your miles for an award booked in that person’s name.

You should note that mileage donations do not qualify with the IRS for tax deductions, as a cash donation might. On the plus side, donating miles counts as an account transaction and will extend the life of your remaining miles according to the program’s policy.

Whatever the practical benefits of mileage donations may or may not be, giving is always the best gift of all.

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