Editorial Policy

Rewards Points Building Up? Donate Them

Eva Norlyk Smith Ph.D.

July 30, 2012

QHi Eva,

If I get a rewards card, but don’t use the points or miles myself, are there any options for donating them to a charity? If I don’t have enough to redeem for a reward, I’d rather give my points to a worthy cause than have them sit there until I can get a one-way ticket just for the sake of getting one. Which cards let me donate? And what will they let me donate? — Dana

ADear Dana,

As they say, great (and generous) minds think alike. You are not the first cardholder with a desire to donate part or all of your rewards card earnings to charity. Indeed, many major credit card issuers, including American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and Discover, offer programs to let cardholders do exactly this.Ask Eva

Most make it very easy to donate by having dedicated websites where cardholders can select their favorite charity and donate the desired number of miles or points. You have the option to pay for the donation with cash (through your credit card), with rewards earnings or a combination of both.

The only complicated aspect is figuring out which charity to choose. At Capital One’s No Hassle Giving Site, for example, cardholders can choose among 1.2 million charities when donating cash or Capital One No Hassle Rewards points. You can search by keyword or by category. Capital One absorbs the transaction costs associated with making online donations, meaning the full amount you donate will go to the charity.

Similarly, American Express’s Members Give site lets members donate cash or American Express rewards earnings to a million charities. A nice feature about this website is that you search first by keyword and then drill down by location (first by state and then by town). This is particularly useful if you’d like your donation to stay local. A search for my little hometown in Iowa with less than 10,000 people, for example, produced no fewer than 97 results for education and 12 results for health-related organizations, including the local animal shelter.

Citibank’s Thank You network also features a section where you can redeem Thank You rewards earnings for charitable gifts, and if you so desire, use your card to buy additional points to donate. The site lets you search by the number of points you wish to give and then narrow choices alphabetically. The Thank You network is currently featuring a promotion to raise money for donations to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sport programs, and you can donate to support a specific athlete of your choice. You will find similar services for the Chase Ultimate Rewards program and Discover Card.

If you have an airline credit card affiliated with a major airline that lets you earn frequent flier miles, there are also many organizations that accept airline mile donations directly. This may be more meaningful, since it gives you a more direct connection with the charity.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, for example, specializes in granting wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. It just so happens that a lot of those wishes involve travel, so this organization needs a lot of miles! The charity says it could use as much as 2.5 billion miles a year, enough for 50,000 round-trip tickets, to help kids and their families travel to the destinations of their dreams. While the foundation relies on cash donations as well, mile donations make children’s travel wishes more affordable.

The Make-A-Wish program accepts miles donations from Delta, United and US Airways, so your credit card program would have to be affiliated with one of those airlines. American Airlines offers a similar program, Miles for Kids, which lets members of the AAdvantage frequent flier program as well as Citi AAdvantage cardholders donate miles to help kids in need. The Miles for Kids program has a slightly broader focus, targeting children who need transportation for medical, education and social services.

A similar program for adults is the Hero Miles program, sponsored by the nonprofit Fisher House Foundation. Hero Miles provides free airline tickets to wounded or ill military men and women undergoing treatment at a military or VA medical center. The tickets are used to either allow service men and women to travel home for a visit or for their families to come visit them at the hospital. The foundation so far has provided more than 30,000 tickets to service members and their families.

Last but not least, there are credit card programs that allow you to earn cash rewards on your credit card charges, while donating to a charity as well. The leading bank in this arena is Bank of America, which sponsors a series of charitable cash rewards cards in conjunction with nonprofit organizations like the World Wildlife Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. For each dollar spent, cardholders earn a cash-back reward of around 1 percent, and BofA donates an additional 0.25 percent to the nonprofit organization you’ve chosen. While a $0.25 donation for each dollar spent may not seem like much, with cardholders charging millions of dollars each year, that small amount can quickly add up. And of course, if you’d like, you can donate your cash-back earnings as well down the road.

There are many other wonderful and interesting programs to choose among, and this is just a sampling of the possibilities out there. Donating credit card rewards is a wonderfully easy (and painless) way to support a charity. Thank you for bringing attention to this important topic.

Got a question for Eva? Send her an email.