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Cost of airfare poses challenge for local Red Cross volunteers

Hawaiian Miles Charities program is restricted to Hawaii-based charities

One of the major challenges when local American Red Cross volunteers are deployed to the US following a disaster is the “cost of airfare”.

This is according to local and off-island individuals who are familiar with the situation.

“Perhaps the big challenge for the Red Cross is the cost involved in paying airfares - and coming from American Samoa to the US mainland, is very expensive,” said one individual from the mainland, who asked not be identified but was responding to Samoa News inquiries seeking background information.

Local Red Cross office manager, Val Tuilefano told Samoa News in an initial interview that they are awaiting “official word” from the national level for the deployment of local volunteers to hurricane damaged areas in Texas and Louisiana. 

And logically, deploying outside of the continental U.S. is a bit more of a challenge than  deploying a team residing in California or neighboring states, said Tuilefano, who declined to comment further on the logistical challenge.

However, Samoa News has learned from a family member of a local Red Cross volunteer that airfare expense is one of the major challenges.

Since Red Cross is a non-profit group and depends on public contributions to serve its mission, Samoa News checked with Hawaiian Airlines if the Honolulu-based carrier, under its frequent flyer miles program - would allow local residents or Samoans living overseas to donate their frequent flyer miles to help the local Red Cross with airfare not only for Hurricane Harvey but any future disaster in the US.

The airline’s frequent flyer program webpage - accessible to its members - shows that frequent flyer members can contribute their miles to a charity organization and among them is the Hawai’i Red Cross.

Samoa News asked, “Can Hawaiian frequent flyer members contribute their miles directly to the American Red Cross-American Samoa office, which comes under the San Diego/Imperial Counties District office?”

“No, unfortunately we are not set up to allow Hawaiian Airlines frequent flyers to contribute their miles to Red Cross-American Samoa,” was the reply from Hawaiian spokesperson Ann Botticelli. “Our Hawaiian Miles Charities program is restricted to Hawaii-based charities and programs.”

When asked if a Hawaiian frequent flyer member can donate frequent flyer miles directly to the local Red Cross, Botticelli said the airline’s frequent flyers cannot donate their miles directly to an organization. “They can share their miles with the person traveling as long as they have a Hawaiian Airlines credit card,” said Botticelli, who is the airline’s senior vice president of corporate communication and public affairs.

“The other option, if they don’t have a Hawaiian Airlines credit card, is that the person willing to donate the miles would have to make the reservations for the person traveling,” she continued.

When asked if Hawaiian offers special airfares for Red Cross volunteers deployed for disasters to the US from American Samoa, Botticelli replied, “We do not have an agreement with the Red Cross. We do have an agreement for travel with AirLink, but not with the Red Cross.”

Under the airline’s charity program, Hawaiian at the end of the year will match up to a half-million miles for each participating charity.