Mileage Giving: How to Donate Frequent Flyer Miles

Five year old Mary Kate from Louisiana had a “life threatening” medical condition. When the Make-a-Wish Foundation learned about this, they asked the little girl what she wanted. Her response: to see snow. The child’s modest dream came true. With the help of Make-a-Wish, young Mary Kate flew to Vail with her family and played in the snow–also thanks to frequent flyer miles. That’s right – air miles donations.

Air Miles for Smiles

Do you have a lot of frequent flyer miles you’ll never use? Suzanne Robertson does. This writer travels a lot, on many different airlines, and admits, “I find that accessing and applying the miles is a gigantic hassle and not a good use of my time, and as a result, my miles sit unused and eventually expire.”

She’s not alone.

It’s been estimated that there are approximately 17 trillion frequent flyer miles that go unredeemed. People spread out their miles over several airlines and never amass enough on a single carrier, or they can’t be bothered with the redemption process like Suzanne, or maybe they simply forget about them. But if you can’t use those miles, don’t throw them away. They still have value for someone when they’re donated to charity.

Take the Red Cross. The disaster relief organization loves donated miles. Meghan O’Hara, the manager of the charity’s “in-kind donations” says, “After the earthquake in Haiti, the Red Cross used donated travel to transport our disaster supplies and personnel in and out of the region.”

Miles can help move animals, too. Canine Assistants, a charity that trains dogs for people who have mobility difficulties or are in need of “seizure response” or have other health problems, uses donated miles to fly new owners to meet with and train with their animals, and sometimes miles are used to fly the dogs to specialized veterinary care. Says Canine Assistants founder Jennifer Arnold, “We simply couldn’t do what we do without generous frequent fliers!” Other charities that accept miles donations through different airlines include Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, the Nature Conservancy and many other worthy organizations.

How to Donate Frequent Flyer Miles

It’s actually easy to be generous. These are two of the easiest ways to donate miles:

  1. Contact your airline’s mileage program directly. Many carriers are allied with charities that make donating miles very simple but you can also call or go online to the charity of your choice directly.
  2. Twitter. If you’re active on Twitter, just enter “donate miles” in the search box for organizations that will happily accept your frequent flyer “leftovers.” This is the time of year when many charities are especially active in seeking donations.

By the way, miles donations are generally not tax-deductible. Still it’s a painless way of giving – and, as long as you’re not doing anything with your miles, why not give them to an organization that can do something with them – like, a lot of good? Maybe even an organization that can make a dream or two come true.

If you’ve got a favorite charity you’d like to donate miles to, please share with us below or give them a shout-out on Twitter @farecompare.

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Published: November 15, 2010