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I’ve said before that it’s important to have some sort of a plan when it comes to flying last-minute due to emergency situations. It’s crucial to find the right balance and save the points without being a hoarder. Everyone has to determine what the ideal amount is for their particular situation.
I would encourage those who have relatives in other states and who don’t live within driving distance, to think seriously about crafting some sort of a plan. I’ve mentioned Amex EveryDay Preferred as a great choice to consider, especially if you have a substantial amount of non-bonus spending.
Sometimes, though, using miles won’t be the right option even if you have a huge pile to dip into. Let me show you an example. Few months ago my cousin-in-law and her husband got awful news: His dad had a massive stroke (he is doing OK now). They live in Florida and his parents are in Arkansas. The only way to get there was to fly. Last-minute ticket was $500 and they had no choice but to pay it. Well, except they could have talked to me first!
I only found out about it after he left for Arkansas. I told my cousin-in-law that she should have mentioned it to me before making that purchase. After all, I have a substantial amount of miles in US Airways Dividend Miles account, AAdvantage and Rapid Rewards. She said she didn’t want to bother me.
Well, I started looking into using my miles for her ticket, and quickly discovered that there were no good options for that particular route. Also, through my research, I found out that I really couldn’t have helped them in the first place. For one thing, her husband had to leave during a major holiday.
The odds of me finding a saver award through traditional programs would have been zilch. That means I would have had to pay at least 50,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket. Not to mention, AAdvantage and US Airways programs charge a $75 close-in ticketing fee on top of that when booking within 21 day window. Southwest is prohibitively expensive when you purchase last-minute. I looked and flights were $320 one-way.
Also, all of those airlines didn’t have non-stop flights to XNA (Arkansas Regional airport) from Florida. Even airports 2 hours away weren’t a good fit. In fact, American wanted to route through Chicago (with a 5 hour layover), which is not ideal, to say the least.
Map is provided courtesy of gcmap.com
I’ve said before that when disaster strikes, convenience takes precedent. You don’t want to be hopping all over the country when your father is at the hospital due to stroke. That’s why even if they contacted me at the time, my advice would have been to just fly Allegiant which is what he ended up doing anyway.
It’s a niche carrier based in Las Vegas that serves many smaller airports in the country including XNA. I’ve never flown it, but many of my friends have and had a positive experience. In fact, it flies non-stop from Florida to Arkansas. Allegiant doesn’t have frequent flyer program, but seems to be doing just fine without it.
When booking tickets a few weeks off, fares can be as low as $80 one-way. I have absolutely no problem helping family with miles, but sometimes the math just doesn’t stack up, as was the case here.
Similarly, when looking up prices for another friend, I saw that Allegiant was charging $243 for roundtrip non-stop service from Grand Rapids, MI to Clearwater, Fl., while other airlines wanted $530 for the same route.
Niche carriers like Spirit and Allegiant are often ignored in this hobby, but they can be extremely valuable in emergency situations. If you are new to my blog, make sure to read the post on Spirit Airlines MasterCard and one-way tickets that cost only 2,500 miles during off-peak dates on certain routes.
What’s my point? Well, I still recommend you have an emergency stash when it comes to miles and points. However, don’t rely on it completely. You may end up having to fly during holidays because emergencies don’t plan themselves around saver availability.
In the beginning of the post I mentioned Amex Everyday Preferred. While it’s a very good card, Membership Rewards points it earns may not come through when you need them.They do transfer instantly 1:1 to Avios (can be redeemed for AA, Alaska and US Airways flights), Air Canada Aeroplan (redeemable on United flights) and Air France (good on Delta).
However, there is one major caveat: They are only redeemable for saver awards on partner airlines, which may not be there when you have to fly last minute. Reports suggest that Delta has eliminated saver availability for flights booked within 3 weeks of departure.
So make sure you have a real emergency fund that consists of real money. Usually, experts advise to have at least 6 months worth of expenses put away in a liquid account. However, for one-income families (and we are, since this blog makes very little at the moment), the amount should be closer to 12 months.
You don’t have to necessarily keep it all in a savings account as I mentioned in this post. It could be a good idea to set up a Roth IRA for this purpose, and you may even qualify for Saver’s credit in the process. A double win.
While I don’t believe in foregoing travel in its entirety if you don’t have an emergency fund, it’s probably wise to stick to cheap road trips or visiting relatives. Going to Maldives or Tahiti IMO should not even be on the radar. Sure, you can collect the miles, points etc. to offset airfare and lodging expenses, but your trip will still cost a fortune, I guarantee it.
Imagine your trip as sort of a human. Miles and points can be likened to a skeletal system. The rest represents out-of-pocket expenses. A trip within lower 48 states would be a skinny supermodel. A visit to Hawaii or Caribbean is a normal size individual. Europe=plus size person. Maldives, well, let’s just say bigger than “plus size.”
This is only for illustration purposes and not meant to offend, I promise! I’m sure it would be more politically correct to use animals as an example. But this blog has never been politically correct, has it? For all of you visual learners, here is a representation of our trips to Jamaica and Europe.
Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
So often in this hobby we get obsessed with collecting miles and points. There is nothing wrong with pursuing those types of rewards. However, it’s so easy to get completely caught up in this crazy world and neglect the financial side like your savings and investments accounts. Miles and points can be likened to one side of the coin. Don’t neglect the other side.
Readers, did you ever have to buy tickets last-minute? How much did you pay?
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Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.