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We have all heard about how important it is to have money set aside for emergencies. That is certainly true, but it is just as true for those of us in the miles and points world to have miles and points set aside for the same purpose. They are just as good as cash for some types of emergencies. This may not be as exciting a topic as planning a first class trip or a five star hotel redemption, but I would argue it is more important.
If you are brand new to collecting points it can be hard to think about saving some points for a “rainy day” when all you want to do is get enough to redeem for the trip of your dreams…and you should get some redemptions under your belt at first. However, I think that in “Phase 2″ during your points journey it does make sense to start building a stash of “emergency points”. This is even more true when you have a family that you are connected to around the country/world, because it is much more of a “when” than an “if” in terms of whether there will be some sort of family emergency that requires travel.
There are endless examples of why this is true, but here is one that happened recently to my family. I have a cousin (who we took a joint trip with to the Outer Banks last summer) who lives in the Northeast with her husband and their two young children. Within an hour or so last week the scene at their house went from:
Christmas Card Picturesque
Again, all within roughly an hour. Sometimes things change very quickly and unexpectedly. They were very lucky that they got out physically unharmed, but their house wasn’t as lucky. It is still standing, but will be months and months before they can live there again due to the damage and needed repairs. They got out with only one shoe, one bottle, one vehicle, and completely frayed nerves. If you have ever been around someone with fire damage, you know there are many decisions to be made – and quickly. You need to meet immediate needs, and also start making some longer term decisions fast. In their case, you also have to be there for your children who don’t have their beds, their routine, their toys, etc. and you also have to be their to help them through the trauma they experienced that day. Put two and two together and you realize how incredibly drained the parents will be in a hurry – especially because they are dealing with stress, chaos, trauma, and loss of their own.
I was lucky enough to be hearing about my cousin’s story safe and sound over a thousand miles away. My very first question after confirming with their mom that everyone was okay, was when are you flying up there to help…and can I help get you there on miles? I put myself in my cousin’s shoes (well, shoe as the case was since she only made it out into the snow with one), and knew that I would want/need my mom there to help keep order for my daughter while I focused on making hard decisions, and getting our family back on track.
They had some family support in the area, so waited a few days before flying in reinforcements, but by yesterday the adrenaline had worn off and they needed “Grandma” there ASAP to lend a shoulder for support and a helping hand with the kids. I got a “SOS” text at about 10PM one night this week, and had their Grandma booked for a flight 36 hours later by about 10:30PM. It only cost me some Avios that I didn’t have any immediate plans for, but it will (hopefully) make a big difference for them. This is what families do for each other.
British Airways Avios can be the perfect type of point for unexpected emergency situations like this within the US because using them to fly on American Airlines often results in pretty good last minute availability, and there are no close-in booking fees that are common with some other programs. They are also relatively easy points to collect, so you can amass an emergency stash in a pretty short period of time. How many and what type of miles you need for emergencies totally depends on the distance between you and your family members, the number of people in your family, and where you are located. For example, if all of your family lives just a couple of states away it is different than if your family lives halfway around the world.
Having some emergency airline miles to use to be able to afford to fly at a moments notice to help family members in need is almost priceless. Last minute fares can be absolutely outrageous, but with some programs, you won’t pay any more miles to book a flight for tomorrow as you would one 11 months from now (based on availability of course). Miles enable you to be there in person and actually help with an emergency rather than just lending support from afar while wishing you were able to be there and do more.
Just like you need a stash of emergency airline miles, you also need a stash of hotel points. This may be to have a place to stay when you go to help a family member in need (or to use for the family member in need when they have nowhere to stay), but it may also be to have somewhere to live when you can’t stay in your own house. For example, during Hurricane Sandy I know some families that were able to use hotel points to have a safe and dry place to stay with working electricity when their home did not. Again, even if rates go up, the points rate for most programs stays the same.
Bottom line is for those of us with family responsibilities, miles and points aren’t just for play. They can be used to actually be there for family members when they need you most. They can also be used to help other family members get where they need to be. My cousin didn’t need me to come up there and help. She needed her mom – and thanks to Avios that is exactly what she got…well and a couple nights at a nearby Category 1 Hyatt Place so her and her husband can breathe for a few minutes and catch-up on sleep. 5,000 points is a drop in the bucket to many of us, but it is an entire night of uninterrupted sleep in your “own space” for someone else. Points enable you to make a difference and be there to support your family (and friends), so if you don’t already have some points set aside for emergencies, I highly recommend that you add that do your “must do” list.
Do you have a threshold of points that you keep available for emergencies? Have you ever had to use them for yourself or someone else in your family?