Miles for charity

Many people accumulate a lot of frequent flyer miles they will never use. Some of the airlines allow you to donate miles to a very limited set of charities. I can see why they limit it -- they would much rather have you not use the miles than have the charity use them. Though it's possible that while the donor does not get any tax credit for donated miles, the airline does.

However, it should be possible for a clever web philanthropist to set up a system to allow people to donate miles to any charity they wish. This is not a violation of the terms of service on flyer miles, which only forbid trading them for some valuable consideration, in particular money.

The site would allow charities to register and donors to promise miles to the charities. A charity could then look at its balance, and go to the airline's web site before they book travel to see if the flight they want can be purchased with miles. If so, they would enter the exact itinerary into the web site, and a suitable donor would be mailed the itinerary and passenger's name. They would make the booking, and send the details back to the charity. (Several donors could be mailed, the first to claim would do the booking.) In a few situations, the available seats would vanish before the donor could do the booking, in which case the charity would need to try another airline or paid seat.

Donors could specify what they would donate, whether they are willing to buy upgrades or business class tickets (probably not) and so on.

Now it turns out that while the donor can't accept money for the miles, the charity might be able to. Oftentimes non-profit representatives travel for things like speaking engagements where the host has a travel budget. Some hosts would probably be happy to cover something other than airfare, such as other travel expenses, or a speaking honorarium with the money. In this case, the charity would actually gain real money for the donation, a win for all -- except the airline. But in the case of the airline, we are talking about revenue it would have lost if the donor had used the miles for a flight for themselves or an associate. So the real question is whether the airline can be indignant about having miles that would have gone unused suddenly find a useful home.

Now it's true the booking interfaces on the airline sites are not great, but they are improving. And some employee of the non-profit would need to have an account, possibly even one with enough miles, just to test what flights are available. But this will be true in many cases.

Would the airlines try to stop it? I doubt it, because this would never be that big, and they would be seen as pretty nasty going after something that benefits charities.

Miles could also be used for hotel stays and other travel items.


One problem....airline tickets are non-transferable, they can only be used by the person named. Some airlines may allow you to pay to name change on a 'revenue' ticket, but as far as I'm aware never for redemption bookings using airmiles.
I work for Air New Zealand and a coupla years ago we changed the rules for airmiles. on our scheme you can use miles like cash to pay for any flight anytime, there are still airmile specials at lower rates, but these are strictly limited. This reduced the balance of airmiles held by Air NZ by millions, and gave a lot more people the chance to use up some points. As for the future, maybe some of our customers will be able to use airmiles to redeem for other gifts, but legally it's a bit problematic....
Same for charities, the idea came up here, but NZ's tax laws apparantly made it a nogo unfortunately.

Most of the airlines here allow you to book a miles-based ticket in the name of another passenger, as long as you promise you are not doing it for compensation. You can use miles to do things like bring a friend to come visit you, for example.

We have been trying for a couple of years to find out how we can receive donated miles to bring a child needing extensive surgery in the US for severe burns to his face. he has had some surgery in Peru, thanks to Rotaplast, which provided their services free. But, they want to reconstruct a nose for him, and say he needs to be in the USA for a few months for the process. If anyone finds out how we can get miles collected to bring him here, we'd love to hear from you. so far, we have only found out about airline-sponsored charities, which we are not. We are actively seeking a solution right now because the surgery is coming soon, and we cannot afford to fly him and someone to accompany him to the US at this point. Read the complete story at If you hear of ANYTHING let us know. You can contact us thru the charity website, ty

Interesting thought and as a matter fact I recently discovered that American Airlines allows their customers to share airline miles and even give them as a gift. I see no reason why this could not be used to pass on miles to charities for their employees and volunteers who need to travel. I have not done it myself but I have shared miles with friends and it is a pretty simple system. I might look into giving it a try myself.

I have not checked AA, but on other airlines I have checked, sadly you pay a "tranfer fee" which is as high as the internal cost of buying the miles, so there is no real gifting.

Well, that stinks. I thought I was on to something too.

Add new comment