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Needed: Frequent Flyer Donations

If your New Year’s resolutions include a commitment to be more charitable, consider donating some of your frequent flyer miles.

Many nonprofits have been double-whammied by the current economic meltdown. First, their endowments have shrunk as the stock market pulled back. And second, with unemployment soaring and no end to the recession in sight, individuals are less likely to make donations.

Frequent flyer miles won’t change the economic fundamentals, but they can assist worthy organizations in maintaining their operations during these challenging times. Depending on the organization, miles help by defraying travel expenses associated with daily operations, or helping needy individuals get to a site where charitable services are offered.

All larger airline programs allow their members to donate miles, which are either directed toward an organization specified by the member or allocated out at the airline’s discretion.

Alaska Airlines, for example, offers several donation options, including Hero Miles (transportation for members of the military injured in Iraq or Afghanistan), Make-a-Wish Foundation, and Medical Teams International. Or miles can be directed to the Alaska Airlines Charity Miles Pool, for dispersal to a revolving list of charities chosen by the airline.

Continental supports such organizations as the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the March of Dimes, Dream Foundation, AmeriCares, the American Red Cross, and others.

And Northwest’s AirCares program supports more than 30 charities.

If doing good isn’t reward enough, airlines or their charity partners periodically offer extra incentives for donations.

Through January 31, for instance, members of American’s AAdvantage program can earn two miles for every $1 they donate to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

And United recently offered to send teddy bears to cancer patients for every $50 or 7,500 Mileage Plus miles donated to the American Cancer Society. (By December 29, over 52 million miles and $110,000 had been collected, and they had run out of teddy bears. Donations are still being accepted through January 31 however.)

Note that mileage donations are not tax-deductible, the IRS having deemed that it’s simply too difficult to place a stable value on frequent flyer miles. But today, those miles are more valuable than ever for non-profits struggling to continue their good works.

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