Giving Tuesday 2019: How to donate your airline miles

Unused or nearly expired airline loyalty miles can be donated to charities this holiday season.

You can put your unused airline miles to work this holiday season and donate them to charities and nonprofits. 

Gifting your airline miles may mean that mission-driven charities can fly support volunteers to sites where there is an environmental need or send patients to treatment centers and hospitals that can better serve them. 

Macy's and Make-A-Wish celebrate Wish Wednesday each week by granting the wishes of kids battling critical illnesses. (Craig Lassig/AP Images for Macy's)

Donate to charities

Maybe your airline miles are nearing expiration or you’re feeling motivated to donate something other than cash this holiday season, there are certified nonprofits where your airline miles will be used in high-impact ways.  

Donating airline frequent flyer or reward miles might help volunteers fly to areas of need or fly patients to hospitals. 

Donate directly back to the airlines

Several of the nation’s major carriers have taken a lot of the friction out of where and how to donate your airline miles and have established programs with nonprofits focused in impact areas. Every airline operates differently, but award holders and loyalty members can sign in their accounts and elect to make their contribution.  

Reed Devlin, a blind Salvation Army volunteer, rings his bell across the street from the holiday windows and snowflake light show of Saks Fifth Avenue Monday, Dec. 13, 2004. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

How to vet nonprofits 

Bad actors and scammers come out of the woodwork during the holidays to capitalize on the sentiments of goodwill and generosity. Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter can be hotbeds for nefarious activity and con jobs, so don’t automatically assume that a plea is above board. Before you donate – even if there’s a recognizable or ubiquitous name or logo – do a bit of diligence that could mean the difference between getting cheated and making a meaningful contribution. 

Legitimate charities won’t rush or pressure you into making a donation. They also won’t ask that you pay with cash, wire transfer, or gift card. If someone promises you a prize in exchange for a contribution, that’s another red flag. 

To make informed decisions on how to donate, visit databases like BBB Wise Giving AllianceGuidestar, and Charity Navigator to ensure the charity has a 501(c)3 tax certification from the Internal Revenue Service. Once that has been established, you can research how much is donated annually to the nonprofit and how it appropriates its contributions.  

Make sure your charity of choice has a legitimate 501(c)3 certification from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

One major caveat

Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, the IRS doesn’t recognize donating airline miles as a charitable donation. So, the contribution is not tax-deductible, as a cash donation might. 

The IRS considers points and miles as gifts or awards from a corporation, not something an individual owns. So, you can’t claim a tax break for donating something that wasn’t even technically yours in the first place.

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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