In times of crisis, like the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, the needs of many nonprofit organizations shoot through the roof. You may have thought about donating, but aren’t sure if you can swing it. Even if you’re worried about money and can’t afford to donate cash, there may still be a way to help (and keep your bank account intact).
Many people don’t realize that most airline, hotel and travel credit card rewards programs offer the choice to donate your points and miles to a variety of charities. This can be a great option if you have a stash of miles and points that you’re not using. You can feel good about helping a charity in need, but you can also preserve your own cash.
If you want to donate some points and miles to charity, here are a few things to be aware of:
You won’t get the best value for your rewards: In most cases, the charity you choose won’t get the same value for your points and miles that you could expect to get if you used them for travel (here’s how NerdWallet values your points and miles). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t donate them. If you have rewards accounts collecting dust, or you want to donate but are worried about your cash flow, giving your points and miles can still be a good idea.
You won’t get a tax deduction: If you donate points and miles to charity, you won’t get to write off the amount the same way you could with a cash donation. That’s because the IRS generally doesn’t view rewards as income.
You might consider donating cash rewards from your cash back credit card instead: Cash is king. Another idea is to take the rewards from your cash back card and donate directly to charity. That way you’ll be able to choose any charity you like, you’ll get good value for your rewards and you’ll also get a tax deduction.
» Learn more: Best cash back credit cards
Still, donating your points and miles to charity can be a sensible option to help in times of crisis. Here’s how to do it using airline miles, hotel points or credit card rewards.
Airline rewards donations
All major U.S. airlines allow you to donate your miles to various charities. In some cases, the charity will receive the miles and use them to help offset the cost of travel for its beneficiaries. In other cases, the airline will receive a cash donation in exchange for the miles.
American Airlines: Let Good Take Flight
American partners with several charities and lumps them into three donation buckets:
Miles for Our Social Good: Nonprofits dedicated to improving health and care for those in need around the world.
Miles for Our Well-Being: A collection of organizations committed to bringing treatment to patients.
Miles for Our Heroes: Charities that support veterans, military members and their families.
Delta Air Lines: SkyWish
Delta’s SkyWish donation program allows flyers to donate miles to a collection of 15 different nonprofits in several different areas. You can opt to donate as few as 1,000 SkyMiles to charities, including Make-A-Wish Foundation, Fisher House Foundation Hero Miles, Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Canine Assistants, among others. You can choose a maximum of five charities to be processed in one transaction on their website.
United MileagePlus: Miles on a Mission
You can support communities around the world by donating United MileagePlus miles to a selection of 20 different charities, including the American Red Cross, Shriners Hospitals and the USO.
If you choose to donate to a charity that’s part of an active campaign (you’ll see the charity designated with a heart symbol on the website), United will match your donation up to an aggregate of 500,000 miles per campaign.
» Learn more: How to donate credit card points, miles or cash back
Southwest: Points for a Purpose
If you’re a Rapid Rewards member, you’re eligible to donate your Southwest points to nine different charities, including Ronald McDonald House, Dream Foundation and Team Rubicon. Choose the number of points you wish to donate (starting at 2,000 points) on the Southwest website and the transaction will be processed by Points.com.
If you would like to give your JetBlue TrueBlue points, you have 18 different nonprofit choices to donate anywhere from 500 to 500,000 points. Since JetBlue is a New York-based airline, several charity options are New York-centric, including the USO of Metropolitan New York, the FDNY Foundation and the New York Restoration Project. Log-in to your TrueBlue account at their donation page to get started.
Alaska Airlines LIFT Miles program
There are 17 different nonprofit options for you to donate your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. Just head to the LIFT Miles program page from the Alaska website, choose your charity and pick how many miles you would like to donate — the minimum is 1,000 miles.
HawaiianMiles: Charity program
Hawaiian Airlines stays true to its local roots and allows frequent flyers to donate their HawaiianMiles on their website to a variety of charities that benefit Hawaii in different ways. For example, instead of donating to the general American Red Cross, your miles will go specifically to the American Red Cross of Hawaii. There are several nonprofit options that support the environment and wildlife, like the Coral Reef Alliance and Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project.
This low-cost carrier offers a handful of charities to donate your Frontier miles to, including Shriners Hospitals, Make-A-Wish Foundation and an Austin-based animal rescue. However, you won’t be able to donate your miles with a few clicks of the mouse. Instead, you’ll have to call Frontier at 801-401-9000 to make your donation.
» Learn more: Best airline and hotel loyalty programs
Hotel rewards donations
Most large hotel programs offer the option to donate points to charity. One notable hotel chain that’s missing from this list is Hyatt. While Hyatt has offered ways to support charities in the past, they don't have a regular points donation program.
Hilton Honors: Giving Back program
Hilton Honors supports donations for 30 different charities, including the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, City of Hope, Make-A-Wish Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund.
For every 10,000 Hilton Honors points you donate, the charity of your choice will receive $25. According to NerdWallet’s real-world valuations, Hilton Honors points are worth 0.5 cent each, so that means 10,000 points would equal $50 in Hilton hotel redemptions. If you choose to donate your Hilton points to charity, you’ll lose about half the value.
You won’t be able to donate your points directly on the Hilton website. Instead, you’ll need to email the designated Giving Back Honors address or call the reservations and customer care line to request that the points be donated from your account to the charity you choose.
Alternatively, you can set up a PointWorthy account online, link your Hilton Honors account and donate online through their site.
Nurture Our World: Charities that deliver aid and support to children and communities in times of need, including the American Red Cross, Hotels for Heroes, Unicef and the Yao Foundation.
Sustain Responsible Operations: Organizations that work to reduce environmental impacts and operate sustainable buildings, including Arbor Day Foundation, Clean the World and the World Wildlife Fund.
Empower Through Opportunity: Nonprofits that help overcome inequality and lack of opportunity, including International Rescue Committee, SOS Children’s Villages and Youth Career Initiative.
Welcome All and Advance Human Rights: Groups that focus on creating a safer world through promoting and valuing other cultures including: ECPAT-USA, Immigration Equality and Polaris.
You can choose to donate as few as 2,500 Marriott Bonvoy points for a $10 charity donation up to 125,000 points for a $500 donation.
It doesn’t matter if you choose to donate the smallest amount, the largest amount or anything in between — you’ll get a fixed value of 0.4 cent per Bonvoy point with each donation. NerdWallet values Marriott Bonvoy points around 1 cent each.
IHG Rewards Club
American Red Cross.
CARE International UK.
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The Prince’s Trust.
Youth Career Initiative.
You can choose set point donations of 2,500, 5,000 or 10,000. IHG doesn't disclose how many dollars the charity you choose will receive for your points donation. NerdWallet values IHG Rewards Club points at 0.8 cent each.
Choose from 14 different nonprofits to donate your Wyndham Rewards points, including Operation Homefront, Save the Children and the YMCA.
Depending on which charity you choose, you can donate as few as 500 points or as many as 10,000. Wyndham doesn't disclose how much cash the charity will receive in several cases, but it does in other instances. For example, Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation will receive a $10 donation for 3,000 points or up to $200 for 45,000. Just log into your Wyndham Rewards account and click to “redeem points” and you’ll see the option for charitable donations.
Choice Privileges Rewards
Choice Privileges members can choose from seven different nonprofits to donate points on their website, including the American Red Cross, Fisher House Foundation and Operation Homefront.
Most donation options start at 1,000 Choice Privileges Rewards points for a $5 charity donation, going up to 5,000 points for a $25 donation. That’s a value of 0.5 cent per point. However, there is one option that gives outsized value for your points as of time of writing: You can donate your points to the Polaris Project, an organization that helps fight human trafficking, for a value of 1 cent per point.
Credit card points donations
Some credit card point programs have direct ways for you to donate your miles. Even if you can’t donate your points directly, you could cash out your points, then donate that cash to the charity.
If you choose to donate the cash to charity directly, you would be eligible for a tax deduction since the cash is coming from you. Just remember that you won’t get the highest value for your points if you use this option (or any donation options).
American Express: With AmEx’s partnership with JustGiving, you can use Membership Rewards to donate to your choice of over 1.5 million U.S.-based charities. In the coronavirus crisis, American Express is matching rewards points donations made to Feeding America. Until December 1, 2020, AmEx will make a 10x match of the dollar amount you give up to $1 million in total. Just log into your Membership Rewards® and look for JustGiving.
Citi: Donate your ThankYou Points to the American Red Cross (disaster relief or international services), Smile Train, UNICEF USA, UNICEF Kid Power, No Kid Hungry or World Central Kitchen if you have any card that earns ThankYou Points, including the Citi Prestige® Card or a Citi Premier® Card. The minimum donation is 2,500 points and can be processed on their website.
Discover: You can donate a Cashback Bonus either online or via a phone call to several charities, including American Cancer Society, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the World Wildlife Fund. Discover will donate an extra $25,000 to the charity that receives the most cardmember donations each year.
Chase: With Chase's limited-time Pay Yourself Back feature for Sapphire cardholders, you can use your Ultimate Rewards to cover some charitable donations. Just charge a donation for one of these approved charities on your Sapphire card, and then click to 'pay yourself back': American Red Cross, Equal Justice Initiative, Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, International Medical Corp., Leadership Conference Education Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Urban League, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, United Negro College Fund, United Way and World Central Kitchen.
The bottom line
Charities are often the hardest hit in times of crisis and need support and donations. Even though you probably won’t get the most value for your points, donating rewards to charity can be rewarding for you — and for the organization.
If you’re so inclined to donate your points, miles or credit card rewards, it’s easy to do so online with most of your favorite partners. Be aware that once the points have been donated they’re gone forever, so make sure you’re certain before you click the donate button.
The information related to the Citi Prestige® Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card