Loyalty programs come with a lot of perks, and many users make it a mission to accrue as many points as possible. While earning free nights at hotels and upgrades on flights is the goal, many travelers never get to reap the full benefits of their frequent flyer or loyalty program. In fact, Skift, a travel insights platform, estimates that 80% of airline loyalty members are inactive. In other words, there are a lot of points just sitting around, waiting to expire.
Instead of letting your loyalty points go to waste, consider using them to give gifts. Here’s how:
Shop with points
We should note that using your points to shop isn’t always the the most cost-effective option. You often end up spending more points than you should on overpriced goods or magazine subscriptions that aren’t really worth the money. That said, shopping with miles can also be beneficial. If you have miles just sitting in an account, and you’re not a frequent traveler, chances are you’ll never earn enough points to score a free room or flight upgrade. In that case, why not get something free out of the deal? Also, if you’re strapped for cash this holiday season, using miles is a stress-free way to get gifts for friends and loved ones.
For example, American Airlines (AAL) will let you redeem miles for gift cards through its Points Loyalty Wallet. Currently, you can get a $25 gift card to retailers like Banana Republic, Bed Bath & Beyond, Bloomingdale’s and Chevron gas for 6,412 points. A $50 gift card will cost you 12,294 points.
At United Airlines (UAL), you can shop for everything from electronics to jewelry through the company’s online marketplace. Ten thousand miles isn’t enough to buy a one-way flight anywhere, but it is enough to buy an 808 Hex wireless speaker for your nephew. The same number of miles will also buy you an Adidas sports watch, a Star Wars suitcase, an Apple iPod Shuffle and a bevy of kitchen appliances from Black & Decker.
Over on the hotel side, Hilton’s (HLT) rewards program HHonors has a robust marketplace to spend points. For less than 3,000 points, loyalty members can buy a Fossil watch, fancy bathrobes and housewares by Nambe. All of which sound like perfect gifts for your dad, sister or foodie cousin.
Give the gift of points
If you’re not a fan of picking out presents, give the gift of points.
If the frequent traveler in your life always flies on a certain airline, why not beef up their account with some extra miles? On American Airlines, you can buy a whopping 1,000 miles for $29.50 (plus a processing charge of $30). It might feel like an intangible gift, but if your loved one is close to earning a free flight, this simple gesture could help her cross a trip off her bucket list.
It’s also possible to transfer your points to another person on American, but like most airlines, there might be a charge for the transaction. On Southwest Airlines, you can transfer 2,000 points to someone else’s account for $20. United Airlines charges $10.50 to transfer 1,000 miles, and adds on a $30 transaction fee for the service.
You can also help someone earn free hotel night stays by gifting points or transferring your loyalty points to their account. At Hilton, loyalty members can purchase 1,000 points for $10, 2,000 points for $20, and so on. Similarly, HHonors members with at least 5,000 points can transfer them to another member’s account. There is no limit to the number of points you can transfer, but Hilton will charge a nominal fee for the transaction.
At Marriott, loyalty members can purchase 1,000 miles for $12.50, up to 50,000 points for $625. Marriott also lets you transfer a maximum of 50,000 points per year to another Marriott Rewards member for just $10. Gold and Platinum Elite members can transfer for free.
The Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) contains properties like Holiday Inn, Kimpton and the Crowne Plaza. Rewards Club members can transfer points to another member, paying $5 for every 1,000 points transferred.
Give to charity
In the spirit of the holiday season, consider donating your points to charity. We would suggest this option if you’re no longer actively participating in a loyalty program or if your points are about to expire.
One organization that eagerly accepts frequent flyer miles is Make-A-Wish. The non-profit needs more than 2.8 billion miles a year, or 50,000 round-trip flights in order to provide travel for the wishes they grant sick children. Delta, United, American Airlines, Southwest and JetBlue all allow rewards members to donate miles to Make-A-Wish for free. For hotels, Best Western and Hilton HHonors loyalty members can also donate points to Make-A-Wish. Donations made through an airline or hotel are not considered tax deductible.
Across the board, most major airline and hotel chains have a trusted list of charities where loyalty members can donate points or miles. It’s an easy way to give back and brighten the holidays for those who need it the most.
Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance