It’s the end of the year and whether it’s the holiday spirit or the thought of tax season coming up, you’re likely thinking about making a charitable donation and getting the most miles for your buck. While I’m personally not a fan of NPO’s (the Three cups of Tea debacle is just one of the reasons) and prefer to give directly, I realize not everyone has a relative in a third world country that can act as a liaison for them. If you’re one of those people who chooses to support a nonprofit organization, you’ve got the added benefit of being able to earn miles on your donations. Aside from using a mile-earning credit card, there are a few other ways to earn extra miles while supporting a worthy cause:
American Airlines AAdvantage. American Airlines offers a very generous 10 miles per $1 on donations made to the Susan G. Komen foundation, the National Foundation for Cancer Research, and the USO. Factor in the extra 1 – 5 points per $1 earned from a point-earning credit card, and this ads up to quite a haul. If you’ve recently picked up a new credit card or five, there’s nothing better than earning a minimum of 11 points per $1 for meeting spending requirements – especially if you get some of it back in April.
E-miles. Back in the day (i.e. 2011) I wasted a lot of time on e-miles.com, filling out surveys and watching ads for miles. While I’ve since directed my efforts towards more lucrative mile earning activities, e-miles remains a good source for earning miles on charitable donations. Participating organizations vary at any given time, but the current lineup includes the following:
- Childfund: Earn 2,000 e-miles for sponsoring a child, plus 250 miles per month for the first six months.
- No Kid Hungry: Earn 250 e-miles for donating $20 or more.
- Food for the Poor: Earn 100 e-miles for a single donation of $15 or more. Earn an additional 1,000 miles plus 100 per month for recurring monthly donations, up to six months.
- St. Joseph’s Indian School: Earn 200 e-miles for a one-time donation of $20 or more. Earn another 1,000 miles plus 100 per month for donating $20 per month for six months.
E-miles can be redeemed for actual frequent flyer miles in 500 mile increments at a 1:1 ratio (i.e. 500 e-miles = 500 frequent flyer miles). Frequent flyer partners include Alaska Mileage Plan, Frontier EarlyReturns, Southwest Rapid Rewards, United Mileage Plus, and US Airways Dividend Miles. Hotel point redemptions vary, with 500 e-miles equaling 1000 Hilton HHonors points or 750 IHG Rewards Club points. It can take 8-10 weeks for the points to be transferred to your rewards program of choice.
Kiva. If you share my weariness of NPO’s, Kiva is a great alternative. While Kiva loans aren’t tax deductible, Kiva boasts a 98.79% repayment rate, so chances are you’ll get your money back. I would still regard this as a charitable donation, with no expectation of repayment, since you’re lending money to people in dire circumstances who have it bad enough without the burden of having to repay a loan. If you do get repaid, consider reinvesting the money back into Kiva to help another aspiring businessperson get established and thrive.
Kiva also offers gift cards, which make great holiday gifts ( especially for those last minute shoppers). Kiva gift cards can be sent via e-mail or printed out and the recipient will get to choose which borrower to support with the funds.
Donate miles. Every major frequent flyer program offers members the option to donate miles to select nonprofit organizations. United MileagePlus members can choose from 48 organizations, many of them very reputable. Donations start at 1,000 miles, making this is a good way to dispose of spare miles you may have leftover after a redemption. It’s also a good way to keep your frequent flyer account active and additional miles from expiring (other than actually earning miles, of course).
If you’re concerned about paying with a credit card because of the transaction fees imposed on merchants, I’ve read that Paypal and other credit card processors discount these fees for NPO’s. So the cost of accepting donations made with credit cards will have less of an impact on their bottom line.
Before donating money to any organization, I highly recommend you check them out on Charity Navigator first. Not that it’s a guarantee of their virtue, but at least you can rest easy knowing you’ve at least done your due diligence.