In honor of Memorial Day, The Motley Fool salutes current and former military personnel and their families with a series of articles addressing common financial issues they face. Check out all of the Fool's Memorial Day articles.
Getting a little R&R has always been one of those perks that people in the military look forward to longingly. A little downtime away from the pressures of the front line is as necessary for a service member's mental health as those yummy K-rations are for physical health. (OK -- maybe not.)
Yet when you're stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, there aren't too many places where you can get a respite from hostilities. Going home on leave has always been the preferred option, but it's especially costly from the other side of the world. But a Maryland congressman hit on a pretty simple idea: Let travelers donate their frequent flier miles to help men and women in uniform get home for free.
Miles for heroes
With nearly a dozen airlines signing up for the program, including American (NYSE: AMR ) , US Airways (NYSE: LCC ) , and United (Nasdaq: UAUA ) , Operation Hero Miles was an immediate success. As of Dec. 31, 2006, more than 8,000 airline tickets have been given to military members and their families -- the equivalent of 380 million frequent flyer miles.
However, rest and relaxation aren't the program's primary focus anymore. In early 2004, Congress and the military approved free travel for all military personnel going on R&R. As a result, the Hero Miles program evolved by helping those who have been injured as a result of their service in these hot zones. In addition to the major air carriers, a number of regional airlines also signed on, including AirTran (NYSE: AAI ) , Midwest (AMEX: MEH ) , and Frontier (Nasdaq: FRNT ) .
The program is run for the military by a non-profit organization called the Fisher House Foundation, which builds "comfort homes" at major military and VA hospital sites. They allow families to stay close to military personnel who have been injured in war.
Whether you're using Continental's (NYSE: CAL ) OnePass program, Delta's (NYSE: DAL ) SkyMiles, or any of the other frequent flyer programs the airlines offer, you can help those who've been injured in the line of duty reunite with their families. With each ticket representing a cost savings of around $1,300 over the cost of a full-fare commercial airline ticket, it's so far saved military members and their families more than $10 million since the program began.
That's not to say you shouldn't be selfish with your air miles -- after all, you earned them. But consider what those miles could mean to a soldier, airman, sailor, or Marine lying far from home in a hospital bed. Helping that service member be with family could be the best gift you've ever made.