You can always give them away to charity.
Miles aren’t taxed when you obtain them (except if you win a contest or buy them), and they aren’t deductible when you give them away. But you can make some needy folks much better off.
- Liz Morgan, general manager of customer loyalty at Delta, said that last year customers donated 88 million SkyMiles award miles to 26 charities, including Operation Hero Miles, the United Way and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
In one sense, that’s a lot. On the other hand, it’s a tiny fraction of the miles earned each year. Hal Brierely, an airline-marketing consultant in Dallas, said there were awards representing more than a trillion miles sitting unused in the accounts of Americans who bank them like any other asset. Unless the miles are going to expire, or the traveler has given up flying on a particular airline altogether, people are loath to give them away.
- Four years ago, the InterContinental Hotels Group joined the airlines in offering opportunities for philanthropy through its loyalty program, Priority Club Rewards. Points can be donated in minimum increments of 10,000. They are then converted to cash and given to selected beneficiaries. Though the Priority Club has 22 million members, only $85,000 has been donated since the program began in 2000.
Like airline miles, hotel points are seen as valuable currency and are, in fact, more flexible in their use. “You earn for hotel stays, airline tickets, car rentals and over 500 to 600 pieces of merchandise,” says Steve Sickel, senior vice president of loyalty marketing at InterContinental. “It’s almost the equivalent of U.S. dollars in terms of its utility.”
When hotel points are donated to charity, Mr. Sickel says, it is truly a gift from the heart. “They’re doing that instead of redeeming points for their personal use.”
Randy Petersen is the editor of the magazine Insideflyer and a million-mile frequent flier, 12 times over. His Web site, miledonor.com, offers a list of small charities and individuals who are looking for altruistic frequent fliers.