The smart way to donate to charity for extra air miles and more!

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They say it's better to give than receive, but you can do both this holiday season by being smart about your charitable contributions. 

Yes, people should give to charity out of the goodness of their heart, but sometimes people need an incentive. Research shows that even providing a small incentive can lead to bigger, more frequent gifts. This is why NPR will give you free tote bag if you donate to them and why people bid to win dates with celebrities. 

And it’s not just tote bags and t-shirts that companies are giving away. A lot of airlines are enticing people with air miles.  For example, United Mileage Plus members looking to donate to Hurricane Sandy relief can get 250 miles for a $50 donation at

American Airlines also has an air mile incentive deal.  They are offering 10 air miles a dollar for donations to the National Foundation for Cancer research or Susan G Komen for the Cure.  The reason getting miles is a good deal is that they are generally worth at least 1.5 cents, so it's like you're getting 15 percent cash back.

Don’t like to travel or already have a massive amount of miles saved up? You could always donate the miles you earn to programs like Operation Hero, which provides travel for families of American military men and women who are being treated for injury at military hospitals.

To get even more out of your donations, make them on your credit cards. This way you will earn points AND miles -- although  you want to keep in mind that most charities have to pay credit card processing fees.  So if you give $100, they're probably getting closer to $97.50.  You may want to consider giving more to offset the fee.

If you've got a Capital One card, you can go through the Capitol One No Hassle Giving website. Through this site, Capitol One will give 100% of your donation to charity, waiving the transaction fee. The site is located at:

Also, check with your company to see if they offer matching charitable contributions.  You may be able to double your impact.

Remember, most charity contributions are tax deductible.  There's no reason you can't save a little cash while saving the world.

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