Frequent flyer Nancy Mina built up over 800,000 airline miles from years of jetting around the globe. As the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. and the world hard, she realized the miles sitting in her account could do a lot of good.
Mina, who lives in Sarasota, Fla., and works in commercial real estate, was inspired when she learned about a nurse in her area who flew to New York City to help care for an influx of COVID-19 patients in the overwhelmed city.
She views health care volunteers like that nurse as “generous souls” who shouldn’t have to pay for their own plane tickets or hotel rooms, she said. While some volunteers may be able to receive travel and hotel stipends, Mina opted to donate 100,000 United miles in May to help provide flights for first responders during the pandemic. “It’s so important to give back right now,” she added.
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No donation too small
If you also have points or miles sitting in a credit card or loyalty program and are looking for a way to help, consider donating them to people struggling with the fallout from the outbreak.
There are plenty of opportunities to do so. More than 23 million Americans are out of work as of April, and at least 43% of U.S. adults say someone in their household has lost a job or had a pay cut due to the pandemic. A recent survey of food banks found the need for emergency food assistance has doubled in some areas.
You can donate even if you’re not sitting on a big stash of miles, says 39-year-old Kristyn Marano from Howell, N.J. She had only 2,000 miles, which she donated in April after she spotted a Facebook post about the United Airlines Miles on a Mission program. The airline is matching donations to aid nonprofits helping medical volunteers, veterans and others during the crisis.
“No donation is too small to help make a difference,” Marano said.
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How to donate your points to charity
Many credit card issuers have made it quick and easy to donate your extra points and miles to coronavirus relief efforts. Some will even convert your gift to cash and match the donation. Here are six ways to donate your points and miles to help out during the coronavirus crisis:
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1. Donate through a credit card portal
This is an easy way to donate points that are sitting in a credit card account. Many credit cards offer an option to redeem your points by donating to a nonprofit organization through the credit card portal. The process may be a little different for each issuer, but start out by visiting the issuer’s main website or by logging into your account. You can usually get a link to donation options by clicking on a “redeem rewards” button.
But what if you log into your account and find you don’t have as many points as you’d like to donate? Now may be the time to apply for a new card that will help you leverage your spending as you stock up on food and household supplies.
Check out top credit card offers here. And since many of us are spending much more on groceries than in pre-pandemic days, now may be a great time to apply for a grocery credit card that will give you extra points for all that food spending.
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2. Give with a loyalty program
You can also donate through an airline or hotel loyalty program. In fact, some co-branded credit cards will automatically deposit your points or miles directly into your airline or hotel loyalty account.
Hotel points: Some hotel chains are offering the opportunity to donate points to COVID-19 relief efforts. For example, Marriott Bonvoy launched the Rooms for Responders program to give 100,000 room nights to doctors and nurses who need to isolate from their families or who travel to help out in an area overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.
To get started, log into your hotel loyalty program account and look for information on how to redeem points. Then look for a “donate points” option. For example, Marriott has a page that allows you to click on an organization and choose an amount to easily turn points into a cash donation of $10 to $500. Other programs may require you to call or email to donate.
Airline miles: Many airlines also provide ways for frequent flyers to donate their miles to charity and some will turbocharge your donation. For example, United is matching coronavirus relief donations up to 500,000 miles per organization through June 30, 2020. Other major airlines, including American and Delta, also allow you to donate miles to charity.
Get started by logging into the airline frequent flyer button and looking for information on how to use miles. Look for “donate miles” and click on that option. With United, that takes you to a page showing active campaigns and how much that nonprofit has raised. You can click on a campaign to donate.
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3. Redeem for gift cards to donate
Another option: Redeem your points or miles for a gift card. This may be a good choice if you want to support small local charities or even help out neighbors in need.
There are a variety of ways to turn your points or miles into a gift card for Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target or another retailer where the recipient can get essential items. One option is to sign up for the loyalty reward wallet at Points.com and then cash in points or miles from various airlines, hotels or credit card companies for gift cards. Another option is to go directly through the credit card portal or loyalty program site. For example, Hawaiian Airlines allows you to “turn your miles into groceries” with a Foodland gift card. You can redeem miles this way through chat or by phone.
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4. Shop local
Support your local restaurants and businesses when you can. You can earn some points while supporting businesses that may be struggling to stay afloat while keeping employees and their communities safe. Some credit card issuers are offering extra points for restaurant and grocery purchases during the pandemic (above and beyond the standard 1 point or 1% cashback per dollar model), so it’s a win-win.
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5. Donate through JustGiving
An online social giving platform, JustGiving.com allows you to choose from over 1.5 million U.S. nonprofits and donate using AmEx Membership Rewards points. To get started, simply visit JustGiving.com/amexpaywithpoints. The advantage is that you can choose from a wider range of charities than when you donate directly through a credit card portal or loyalty program, but the downside is that the platform charges fees.
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6. Collaborate directly with a charity
If you have a very large number of points or miles to donate and you want more control over your donation, you may be able to give an award ticket or miles directly to a charity of your choice. Check out COVID-19 relief charities on Charity Navigator, a site that evaluates and rates nonprofits. Going this route is a little more complicated and may mean you have to jump through hoops. Many airlines give you the option to “gift” or “transfer” miles, and you can always buy an award ticket for someone else. This could be a good option if you know a first responder who needs to travel.
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A few key points on donating rewards
Donating your rewards is a simple way to help others during the pandemic, but there are a few things you should know. Here are some caveats and tips on donating your points or miles:
- You probably won’t get a tax break: One small downside to donating your rewards is that, unlike monetary donations, they generally aren’t tax-deductible. That’s because the IRS considers points and miles a gift from the company to you. The upside is that it’s a good way to donate when money is tight.
- Reward value and redemption rate may vary: In good times, rewards experts usually recommend cashing in your points or miles for travel because that’s a good way to get maximum value. For example, some points or miles can be worth as much as 5 cents each (or more) when redeemed for travel or as little as one cent each (or less) when redeemed for cash or as a donation. If the program you’re considering converts your points or miles into a cash donation, do the math to see how much value your recipient will get.
- Don’t take on debt just to donate: If you’re strapped for cash right now, you may want to redeem your points and miles for a cash deposit to your bank account. Getting a new card with a sign-up bonus can be a great way to build up points quickly, but probably isn’t a good idea if you can’t easily meet minimum spend or if it would cause you to rack up debt. If you have more time than money, you may want to consider volunteering instead.
- Donating can stop your miles from expiring: During the pandemic, many of us aren’t using our frequent flyer accounts. That could mean your miles may be in danger of expiring. Donating 1,000 miles or more to charity can be a good way to reset the clock and keep the rest of your miles from expiring.
Considering that most of us are at home and not doing any domestic or international travel right now, donating the points or miles you have sitting in your account can be a painless way to help others impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.org.