How to Use Points and Miles for Good

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chibelek / Twenty20

A study by Colloquy revealed that in 2011, more than $16 billion worth of rewards points and miles went unused - stagnant in members’ accounts with expiration dates looming. Don’t let your miles and points suffer the same fate!

Loyalty rewards are a valuable currency and it has never been easier to earn, redeem and shop with these hard-earned rewards. United Airlines recently opened a first-of-its kind brick-and-mortar “Miles Shop” at Newark Terminal C where MileagePlus members are able to pay for their purchases with miles. The Hilton HHonors online Shopping Mall allows members to buy a new camera, jewelry and other household goods and Aeroplan members can convert miles into payments to help offset university or college loans.

If purchasing with points isn’t for you, many loyalty rewards programs allow you to redeem your rewards for retailer gift cards, exchange points/miles between programs and gift them to family and friends. Websites, like the Points Loyalty Wallet, help you to keep track of your airline, hotel, retail and credit card programs in one convenient spot, with one login.

With endless possibilities to use and access your loyalty rewards, why not consider using your miles and points for the benefit of others?

Donate your rewards

Hundreds of charities benefit from the generosity of loyalty program members looking for an alternative way to give back, or looking for a quick solution to use rewards before they expire. Insider tip: donating points is an easy way to keep your account active as it resets the expiration clock - just be sure to read the fine print of each rewards program.

Charitable organizations like the Make-a-Wish Foundation® can use loyalty rewards to fly families across the country and grant children's wishes. Doctors Without Borders is able to deliver emergency support, care and resources to those suffering around the world. And the Red Cross can provide travel for volunteers and temporary shelter and food for displaced victims during disaster relief efforts. Many charities rely on frequent travel and through donated rewards points, they can focus on funding other aspects of their programs.

Here are a few ways to donate your loyalty rewards:

Frequent flier and hotel programs

Start at the source. Some simple browsing on your loyalty rewards website will tell you if a donation platform exists, and can typically be found as a redemption option. Each loyalty program differs in its rules and regulations, so look closely at the charities it supports, the minimum contribution amount required, if tax receipts are issued, and if charities have the freedom to use the rewards at their choosing.

Here are some reputable programs to get you started:

  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards: Southwest recently launched their donation program which offers Rapid Rewards Members the ability to donate miles to nine featured charities. Points donated can be used by participating charities to support their extensive travel needs. There are no fees associated with the donation program so members can donate for free. Visit Southwest’s website for more information.
  • JetBlue Airways TrueBlue: JetBlue’s Points Donation platform offers TrueBlue members the ability to donate points directly to charities and causes featured in their program. The minimum donation for TrueBlue is 500 points and features several charities such as Angel Flight, Make-A-Wish® and Visit JetBlue’s website for more information.
  • Alaska Miles: Alaska Miles offers members unique and meaningful ways to support causes they care about. In addition to donating to a featured charity, Alaska also allows the ability to donate unused miles to a Charity Miles Pool. Contributions to this pool will be used to support charities involved in disaster relief efforts when unforeseen disasters strike. Visit Alaska’s website for more information.
  • United MileagePlus: MileagePlus allows members to donate to an extensive list of featured charities including the American Red Cross, Ronald McDonald House Charities and Special Olympics. Similar to TrueBlue, a minimum donation of 500 miles is required. Visit United’s website for more details.
  • Marriott Rewards: Members of Marriott Rewards can donate to featured charities including Habitat For Humanity, Children’s Miracle Network hospitals, International Red Cross and Hotels for Heroes. Be sure to review the terms and conditions as the minimum redemption for the Red Cross is 7,500 Marriott Rewards points. Visit Marriott’s website for more information.
  • Hilton HHonors: Members of Hilton HHonors can donate to an extensive list of charities such as World Vision, Operation Hug a Hero® and Kids Help Phone. For every 10,000 points donated, HHonors will send a $25 contribution to the charity of your choice. Visit Hilton's website for more information.

Other options include donating credit card rewards points, like American Express’s Give Back program which allows members to redeem reward points to make a donation to the charity of their choice. You may also want to explore crowdfunding programs like Give A Mile, which funds airline flights through the donation of travel loyalty points for individuals and families dealing with palliative illness.

Also, look for ways to further your donation. Aeroplan’s Mile Matching days will match your donation on a 1-for-1 basis, up to 500,000 Aeroplan miles, doubling your impact. Some programs may even reward you with more miles or points for your contribution to a fundraising campaign. During the Oklahoma Tornado relief efforts in May 2015, American Airlines offered its AAdvantage members an award of 250 miles for a minimum $50 donation or 500 AA miles for a $100 donation or more, while JetBlue offered its frequent fliers six TrueBlue points for every $1 donated up to $50,000 in total customer donation.

A cautionary tale

While donations are made with the best of intentions, be wary of third-party sites who claim that rewards will be donated on your behalf. The safest and most dependable route is to donate through your loyalty program’s platform or directly to reputable organizations, like the Make-A-Wish Foundation®.

Donating your points or miles is a simple process and it goes a long way. If you’re sitting on a pile of loyalty rewards, consider using them for good and making a charitable donation.

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