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Miles4Migrants Helps People Rebuild Their Lives in Safe Homes

This nonprofit helps disadvantaged immigrants escape from tragic situations

Frequent flier miles are only as valuable as the redemptions they are used for, and dream vacations or family trips are not the only way to put your loyalty program balance to good use. Global events often lead to heartbreaking political situations that force people to flee their homeland at a moment’s notice, sometimes with just the clothes on their back and nowhere to go. 

That’s where Miles4Migrants comes in. This nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charity organization helps disadvantaged immigrants and their family members escape from tragic situations by providing onward travel opportunities with donated frequent flier miles. 

Most recently, in Afghanistan, the world saw firsthand how people of all ages were forced out of the familiarity of daily life and thrust into new places with little notice. Afghan refugees boarded humanitarian aid flights in Kabul bound for military bases or other airports around the world. But, when they arrived, where would they go next, and how should they get there? 

Photo of people sitting on a plane with a quote written in white

Photo: Suhyeon Choi / Unsplash

Miles4Migrants has helped more than 1,000 people find safe homes in the past month, thanks to donated miles and points. In the coming months, the organization foresees the need to help tens of thousands more people.

“We need mileage donations now more than ever as our team is working in overdrive booking flights for Afghan refugees in addition to our normal caseload of flights for refugees and asylum seekers around the world,” Cat Cooke, the organization’s head of marketing, told TripSavvy. “In prior months, we were redeeming more than 232,000 miles per day. Now with the increased flight requests for Afghan evacuees, we are averaging 1.95 million miles per day.”

Those who need a flight can apply for help via nonprofit partners who request flights on behalf of refugees, asylum-seekers, and asylees who meet Miles4Migrants’ mission. This includes many immigrants in U.S. detention centers awaiting more details on where they can go next. The organization handles a lot of U.S. to Mexico transborder flights, for example.

The organization’s partner nonprofits include the Minority Humanitarian Foundation, whose staff connect with recently released detainees at “drop-off point” detention centers to offer help. Another is the International Refugee Assistance Project, a virtual public interest law firm that provides legal aid to displaced people.

Miles4Migrants books onward flights for migrants at no cost to them. The organization does not accept direct requests for flights but relies on other aid organizations to help select eligible and need help the most. This allows Miles4Migrants to focus on this critical issue and raise mileage funds while another nonprofit partner handles the diplomatic logistics. For example, the partner verifies that flight recipients have the legal approval and necessary documents to travel to (or legally seek asylum in) the United States or their resettlement country.

A family being reunited in an airport

TripSavvy / Julie Bang

Travelers can donate miles, points, or cash to help in this mission. The organization accepts miles and points from various airlines, but it has the greatest need for Air Canada, Air France/KLM, Alaska, Southwest, and United miles. (This is presumably because these are the easiest programs for redemptions as well as helpful in getting those in need where they need to go most.)

U.S. airlines helped to bring people to the United States, but Afghan refugees (like many others before them) were on their own once they landed on U.S. soil. Many arrived with small children and only a few suitcases with their worldly possessions. Miles4Migrants assists them by using donated frequent flier miles and credit card points to help them reach a final destination. 

The nonprofit also accepts credit card points, which bring even greater flexibility since they can be redeemed like cash for any flight (and not just award tickets with redemption availability). This includes American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

To donate, members can share their details and pledges to the Miles4Migrants website. Once a recipient for the donation has been identified, Miles4Migrants organizes their trip using the donated miles. 

People can also make cash donations to Miles4Migrants, which is particularly helpful since award tickets often have an associated fee and additional taxes to collect. Monetary donations are used to cover these costs.

In addition to knowing that you have helped people in need find a new home, there is also a benefit to you in donating miles. While you cannot take a tax deduction for donating miles in the same way you can for giving cash (monetary donations to Miles4Migrants are tax-deductible), mileage donations will reset any related expiration date for your account balance. 

Cropped shot of a female traveller checking her boarding pass & passport at the boarding gate in the airport

Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

Many programs will expire unused miles in your loyalty program account typically after 18-24 months with no activity. You can reset this expiration date by earning or redeeming miles in any way. This includes accruing or redeeming miles for a flight or via a program partner (hotel, rental car, or retail venue). Donating mile also triggers a new countdown to expiration. For many people over the last year, travel has not been on their radar, which has affected their loyalty program accounts. 

Some airlines paused the expiration clock, but for those that have not (and it’s always good to know for the future), mileage donations of any amount can keep loyalty accounts alive. It’s a good idea to do a personal audit of your accounts each year to help avoid your miles and points getting clawed back from a program due to inactivity. You may have even forgotten that you have miles and points with a particular program, and it is always a good idea to keep track of what you have and when or if they will expire.

Why let your miles languish in your program account if you have no immediate plans to use them? You can help someone in need by donating them, which can be the most high-value redemption of them all. The resources and experience of a trusted nonprofit like Miles4Migrants make that easier than ever.

“Recent headlines have been shocking and alarming,” adds Cooke. “Miles4Migrants provides a way for people to take action now to help people rebuild their lives in safe homes.”