Must Do: Setting Points Aside for Emergencies

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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

To Chaos


To Aftermath



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?

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  1. I agree, fortunately I used points to attend my uncle’s funeral. A momentous occasion since he had no children, only his nieces and nephews. He was clown at our birthday parties growing up.

  2. I’m fortunate enough not having to spend any cash or points in a situation right that, but I try to conserve a healthy balance of points across a couple programs just in case. Those type of last minute redemption usually return the best value per mile compared to revenue tickets/nights, so can even swallow any devaluation in time as and insurance premium.

  3. I got in touch with a family member yesterday to offer plane tickets to deal with an unexpected crisis situation. Though, in this case, I will probably pay cash because the ticket cost doesn’t justify using points. But yes, that is what family is for. My family is blessed and if I can take stress off of my extended family dealing with a crisis situtation by offering plane tickets (or anything else), I will.

  4. Really nice post. I have a nice stash of miles and points, but also an emergency fund set aside. Sometime cash is the best to have on hand.

  5. The single reason I started collecting points/miles was due to the unexpected death of an uncle that lived across the country. Last minute airfare was very expensive, and I had no points available to make an award reservation. I wasn’t able to make it to his funeral, which I regret to this day.

    Within weeks of that event, I signed up two AA credit cards and earned 150,000 miles. I signed up for a few more cards to diversify my points/miles accounts. I use points for leisure travel, but always make sure to have enough points available to offset any emergency travel situations that may come up in my own life or the lives of others that are close to me.

  6. Yes, must keep points for emergency use. There are also an easy way to get out of Dodge, so to speak. Was in Williamsburg Virginia on business last year and Hurrican Irene headed that direction. Airline was not allowing for changes in flight schedule yet. Used 12.5K miles for me to fly home before Irene hit. That same day the airline opened up reservations for re-booking, but there were no seats left on my flight or the two later flights that day, so it would have been too late if I had waited on the airline. Offered up points to my co-worker, but they opted to rent car and drive out.

  7. Great post! I faced a similar situation this past summer when my grandmother passed away. Last minute tickets were $900+ each and we needed 3 tickets. Avios with no last minute booking fees and fantastic availability on American saved us a significant amount of money.

  8. How can we help? Where could we mail tangibles to your cousin’s family? What sizes do they wear? Or, better yet, shall we mail them gift cards? There are so many followers of your blog, that if even a few of us sent gc’s in whatever denomination is individually affordable, surely it could help them.

  9. While I agree with the sentiment, given how easy it is for airlines and hotels to devalue points and change rules, keeping a “points reserve” just doesn’t make sense. It makes much more sense to keep a cash reserve, or extra credit for unseen events.

  10. So sad, but great story on how miles can help others in need. I also find Southwest Airlines free tickets to sometimes come in candy. It is surprising that a $250 one way ticket can some times be available last minute for the free ticket awards.

  11. It’s a good idea to keep a large point balance across different programs in case of an emergency. When my great uncle suddenly passed away, I was able to fly my dad to the funeral in London on a comfortable Business/First class flight for points and under $100 in taxes, as opposed to buying a last-minute coach ticket for $1,800. My parents recently had to visit a sick relative in LA and Avios were a huge money/point saver. Two tickets cost just 18,000 + $10 as opposed to 50k AA miles or $250/person for a last minute flight.

  12. We are just building our points balance (refinancing or mortgage before we do any churns) and I can already see how important it wil be to have a cushion of points to use for last minute stuff. Both my parents and sister have recently bought expensive last minute tickets, and I wish I could’ve helped out. Luckily they had the cash to do it, but I think it hurts a lot less to dip into a points balance than a bank balance at times like those. Not to mention that when your house burns down, there are a lot of other things you’re going to need that bank balance for.
    Also,I’m with Jo, I’d pop a gift card in the mail today to chip in.

  13. Thanks for sharing this personal story. Some of the “bottom tier” plans (Wyndham, choice) are the only options in the rural midwest and I keep some of those (or AMEX UR that can transfer to choice) for such situations. I used a free choice night to attend a funeral last year.

  14. So sorry to hear that others have had to use points for unfortunate family emergencies, but they certainly do happen to all of us from time to time. I agree that points and miles can never replace the cold hard cash that is needed for emergencies, but they can be just as big a lifesaver. Many of us don’t need a huge reserve for emergencies, but at least having some can make a world of difference.

    Also, I’m so touched that some of you would be interested in helping my cousin’s family. I think they have enough clothes and needs like that now covered for right now (most of their stuff I think is getting “treated” for smoke damage). I certainly did not intend/expect anyone to offer to help, but if anyone truly is interested in getting a gift card or similar to them I’m not going to stand in the way. Just shoot me an email mommypoints at and I’ll play middleman. Again, thanks to anyone who even just sends them a warm thought.

  15. I have used my points once in an emergency – but a positive one. Brother-in-law announces he is getting married in 10 days, in Florida. This is back when there was a real difference 14 days out. I got my husband to the wedding!

  16. Glad to hear everyone is physically ok. Destruction like this can leave a lasting imprint on people.

    I do have a stock and went as far recently to transfer 50K to United’s program. I NEVER fly united, usually electing for AA, but I had Wyndham points I needed to liquidate and I have plenty of AA miles especially if all of my Grand Slam miles get consolidated in soon. I figured having a few domestic tickets in a backup program would be good, “Just in Case”.

    Great topic!

  17. I too make sure I have an emergency stash. So far have used miles to fly half way across the world for 1 medical emergency for mother-in-law and 2 sudden funerals. 🙁
    I also make some of my miles available to family members who need them for last minutes travel needs so they dont have to pay an arm and a leg for tickets. So all in all, my collected miles have served me well even tho I am just small timer. Thanks for sharing and I am very glad to hear that everyone is safe!

  18. Although I understand your point and your post is a good idea, isn’t that why you have house insurance? Can you claim for reimbursement for points used for out of pocket expenses ie: hotels after such a tragedy?

  19. Stephan, I’m not insurance expert, but kinda doubt my property insurance is going to cover flying grandma in to help. Plus my experience with being around a few impacted by fire is that often the insurance you do have begins to get maxed out as you are having your belongings treated, need temporary housing, new housing, etc. It isn’t a bottomless pit, but also don’t think it would cover bringing in family members for support. 😉

  20. A stash of PC points saved the day when that Icelandic ash cloud grounded air travel all over Europe.

    Without notice, my planned trip was ruined & I was forced to stay put for what was at the time was the unknown future. The ability to remain at the IC Paris Grand on points was one of the upsides of that anxiety filled time.

  21. I’d add to say that one should have emergency points on more than one alliance. At super last minute, it may be hard to find seats if you’re restricted to a handle of airlines.

    just back in Nov 2012 i had to use emergency points to go from NYC to Taipei to visit an uncle who had to operate on stomach cancer. they definitely come in handy at a time of stress.

  22. I’ve had family emergencies come up where I had to fly immediately, but I’ve always used sophisticated tools like to find affordable, last minute flights to nearby airports. If you just need to get around the continental USA, I would think that doing such a search is going to be better than redeeming points 9 times out of 10. Especially because last minute point redemptions usually involve nasty extra fees and very limited (if any) availability. Of course, there’s that 10th time, but I really wouldn’t recommend anyone save points for an emergency. Of course, if you have them, it certainly pays to look into using them if the flights are particularly expensive.

    International travel can be quite different, and I think I would feel differently about having some points in reserve if I had family abroad.

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