Travel Tuesday Top 10: Charity Donations Using Points and Miles

Apr 16, 2013

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With the terrible events in Boston yesterday and many of our thoughts turning to how we can personally contribute or donate to help in the wake of the marathon tragedy, I thought I’d put together a list of the best ways that you can put your points, miles and dollars to use by giving to charity both for this cause and beyond it, as well as a few organizations working specifically on the Boston Marathon bombing and others that offer the possibility of donating points and miles directly.

1. Give money on a credit card: Although your time and miles are valuable, what charities need most is money to carry out day-to-day operations, especially in the wake of unexpected tragedies like yesterday’s. These days most charities will accept donations by credit card, Some cards like the Chase Freedom actually give category spending bonuses (usually in the last quarter of the year when charitable spending is highest) for donations to charity, while others like the FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa actually offer a constant 3X spending bonus on charitable donations, so check the terms of your credit card to see which one might be the best for you to use on donations. However, if you are considering donating money to charity, be sure to consult a site like to research any organization you are thinking of giving to and verifying both its legitimacy as well as whether it is actively helping out in the situation you would like your donation earmarked for.

Many major airlines like American allow you to donate your miles to charity.
Many major airlines like American allow you to donate your miles to charity.

2. Donate miles: Many airlines make it easy to donate those hard-earned miles to any number of charities directly through their websites. For example, Air Canada partners with numerous charities including Engineers Without Borders and Kids’ Horizons and during April they are matching donations to certain charities; Alaska has several partners such as Angel Flight, Hero Miles and its own Alaska Airlines Charity Miles pool; American lets you give to partners like Operation Bring Heroes Home, Miles for Kids in Need; Delta, whose charities include American Cancer Society, Salvation Army, Children’s Miracle Network; Hawaiian Airlines partners with 11 organizations including the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, Special Olympics and others; United’s partnerships include those with multiple charities like American Red Cross and The Salvation Army; and US Airways, which partners with several charities such as American Red Cross and Miles of Hope.

3. Donate hotel points: Several hotel chains also offer their loyalty program members the opportunity to donate points to charities including Hilton, which partners with the Red Cross; Hyatt, which partners with the, Make a Wish Foundation, Marriott whose several charity partners include American Red Cross and Rewarding Communities, and Starwood, which partners with Red Cross and Unicef.

You can redeem credit card points like Amex Membership Rewards for charitable donations.
You can redeem credit card points like Amex Membership Rewards for charitable donations.

4. Donate credit card points: If you’ve been accruing points to a credit card program, chances are you can redeem those points for charitable donations as well. For example, through its Members Give page, Amex credit cardholders can redeem Membership Rewards points at the rate of one cent apiece (10,000 points = $100) to the charity of their choice; and if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, if you log into the Ultimate Rewards portal and click on the Cash Back tab, one of the options is “Donate to Charity,” although currently the program is only partnering with the ASPCA and the World Wildlife Fund. Apart from that, some banks waive processing fees on charitable donations so that your entire donation goes to the charity you choose. Capital One cardholders can donate via the bank’s No Hassle Giving site, which waives transaction processing fees for 1.2 million verified charities, so you have your pick.

5. Swinging into action immediately following yesterday’s tragedy, this organization “crowdfunds” reader-suggested charity projects and verifies their legitimacy, and has already set up a liaison to help family members of the Boston Marathon bombing victims get to their loved ones. You can Tweet them at @hope, where you can contact the point person directly and donate.

Hopemob is already helping Boston Marathon victims' families.
Hopemob is already helping Boston Marathon victims’ families.

6. KULA Causes: This is a great organization that launched back in 2010 and partners with both JetBlue True Blue points and Milepoint to let frequent flyers donate their miles to the cause of their choice. KULA supports 2.5 million projects in 80 countries, and you can read about the ones that are in your area or work with a cause that you hold dear and donate your points specifically toward it. It’s a great platform to put your miles to use in exactly the way you want while also engaging with the charity to which you donate.

7. Make it personal: You don’t have to donate your miles or points to a charity in order to see them do good. If you know of someone who could use help getting somewhere – whether it’s for medical treatment, visiting loved ones, or any other reason you support, consider using your airline miles or hotel points to help get them where they need to go or to cut down on accommodation costs for them while they’re there. You might not be able to contribute to their cause financially, but using your points for such a purpose is as good as opening up your wallet to donate and a touchingly personal way to help out someone in need.

8. Use Amex Bluebird: One of the great things about Amex’s prepaid Bluebird card is that it basically functions like a checking account, so you can load it with Vanilla Reloads that you purchase using a points-earning credit card and then simply cut a check from your account that is mailed directly to the charity of your choice. This is a handy option to have in your back pocket when the charity you want to donate to doesn’t accept credit card payments or you want to avoid having a credit card charge the charity a processing fee, and great way to earn points while doing good.

Double or even triple your miles donations to Make-A-Wish in April thanks to John Cena and United.
Double or even triple your miles donations to Make-A-Wish in April thanks to John Cena and United.

9. Make-A-Wish Foundation Mileage Match: I reported on this last week, but the Make-A-Wish Foundation is one of the world’s best-known charities and partners with tons of airlines. Throughout the month of April you can double or even triple the miles you donate thanks to WWE star John Cena and United, both of whom are offering to match mileage donations this month, so if you were thinking of donating to this worthy cause, now is the time to get even more mileage (pardon the play on words) out of your miles.

10. Take it on the road: Apart from opportunities to contribute while at home, one of the most innovative charities out there and one that lets travelers contribute meaningfully to communities they visit is Pack for a Purpose. Pack for a Purpose partners with hotels and lodges all over the world to provide travelers with packing lists of much-needed supplies specific to their destination which visitors can leave with their lodgings to distribute to the local community.  It’s a great way to maximize that precious suitcase space and leave a little bit of goodwill behind when you visit a community in need.

If you know of more charitable giving opportunities, please share them in the comments below.

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