George Hobica is founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, an airfare alert and listings website.
Scammers are offering to help people donate unused frequent-flier miles or hotel rewards points to charity. The scammer’s e-mail or website asks for a fee and/or asks you to cash in your miles or points for an airline ticket or hotel voucher in the name of someone the scammer pretends is associated with a real or phony charity. That person, who may have paid the scammer for the ticket or voucher, then uses it.
The right way to donate frequent-flier miles or hotel rewards points: Most major airlines and some hotel chains partner directly with charities and provide donation options on their websites.
Examples: American Airlines allows donations of a minimum of 500 miles to Operation Hero Miles, which flies families of wounded vets to military or VA hospitals. Alaska Airlines works with a few “green” charities such as the Nature Conservancy and the National Forest Foundation. United Airlines has one of the largest and oldest donation programs. United MileagePlus members can donate miles to about 50 different nonprofit organizations including the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the Special Olympics and Mercy Medical Airlifts, which provides medical flights on United for patients suffering from disabilities and rare disorders that require treatment at distant medical facilities. Since the program’s 1996 inception, MileagePlus members have donated more than 2.8 billion miles.
Among major hotel chains, Best Western lets you donate loyalty reward points to charities including Kiva, which makes small loans to borrowers in developing nations, and the Best Friends Animal Society, which is dedicated to ending the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters. Hilton Hotels & Resorts lets you donate your reward points among a network of thousands of charitable organizations around the world.
Some large charities, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of seriously ill children, take airline-mile donations directly. More than three-quarters of the wishes include travel.
Caveat: The IRS does not allow you to take tax deductions for the value of miles or reward points you donate to charities and nonprofits.