How Travelers Can Help Afghan Aid Efforts

Thanks to the world of miles and points, frequent flyers can make a big impact

Afghan Refugees Arrive At Dulles Airport After US Pulls Out Final Troops
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

It should come as no surprise, but Americans have stepped up to the plate during a global crisis. And there is a lot more we can do. As refugees from Afghanistan flee their country to other parts of the world, some of the first people they interacted with were American airline crews that were part of the airlift to get them to safety.

These pilots and flight attendants immediately recognized that their role was more important than an average flight as their passengers were scared for what was to come. They left everything they were familiar with in exchange for safety.

In an interview, Delta Air Lines pilot Alexander Khan recently explained what it was like to fly refugees to the U.S. and how his flight attendants bought presents for the children aboard the flight. Using their own money, they purchased diapers, balloons, coloring books, candy, and other things they knew young evacuees might need. The flight attendants refused to take reimbursement from the pilots.

American crews at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport stocked up the rescue planes with teddy bears, pajamas, and clean clothes. When one of the return flights bringing tired refugees from overseas was stuck waiting out a weather delay in Baltimore, airline personnel ordered pizza for the entire plane.

While flight crew are on the front lines in this effort, Americans at home can help, too.

Both Delta and United Airlines have announced plans to use their loyalty programs to help. United is inviting MileagePlus members to donate miles to one of three organizations supporting relief efforts via its Miles on a Mission platform. The Star Alliance member will match up to 5 million miles raised from members.

These nonprofits include Americares, which coordinates medical care for relief flights, and World Central Kitchen, which provides meals to refugees worldwide. Miles4Migrants books travel for refugees leaving their country and needing assistance to get to their final destination. Many people may not realize that the coordinated airlift effort only brings refugees to an initial entry point in the U.S. but does not provide onward travel. This organization helps to get them to their final destination.

Delta is also raising miles from the SkyMiles community for Miles4Migrants and will match up to 10 million miles raised. 

Miles4Migrants also accepts cash donations and unused flight vouchers to assist refugees in traveling to their new homes. Using a nonprofit donation service like this comes with the assurance that those receiving donations have been vetted through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to make sure that those most in need receive the help. Over the years, Miles4Migrants has used over 85 million frequent flier miles to fly 5,000 refugees to new homes.

Since some frequent flier programs expire miles after a period of inactivity, donating miles is an easy way to keep your account active while helping others. Especially if you have not been traveling much with a particular airline over the past year, donating miles may “reset the clock” on any miles that may expire. 

It’s also wise to review your frequent flier accounts from airlines you may not have flown in recent years for any “orphan miles.” These are miles that are not sufficient for a mileage redemption but can make a big difference if donated to a nonprofit. 

Miles4Migrants also accepts miles from Air Canada/Aeroplan, Air France-KLM, Alaska, and Southwest and credit card points from programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards, and Chase Ultimate Rewards. It also accepts unused credit vouchers from airlines like Alaska, Allegiant, British Airways, JetBlue, Southwest, and United. During the pandemic, many people may have canceled a flight in exchange for a credit. If you do not have plans to use them soon, donate them before they expire.

Many organizations help those in need, including the American Red Cross and the UN Refugee Agency. If you’re passing through an airport with a USO lounge, stop by and ask if they are accepting donations from travelers for refugees. In many communities, refugees are in desperate need of things like diapers and clothes, which you can drop off on your next trip. 

Sometimes you can do a world of good without diving deep into your own wallet, thanks to the world of miles and points.