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Money Fix: Don't let emergency travel take a toll

Many airlines offer deals if you need to

Many airlines offer deals if you need to travel at the last minute for a medical emergency. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Stuff happens. A loved one dies and you must travel to get to the funeral. Your child, who is away at college, gets in a car accident and you want to be by his side. For any number of reasons you may need to take an unplanned trip. As an absolute last resort you might tap your credit card, but what are some other options?

Tap your emergency fund

In the best-case scenario, you have an emergency fund, a stash to pay at least three months of expenses should you have a loss of income. Borrow from yourself to meet the current crisis. Vow to replenish the money as soon as you can.

Search for travel deals

“It’s a myth that short notice flights are automatically going to cost more than booking in advance. Advanced booking definitely can save you money sometimes, because you’ll have more flexibility to compare options and search for the best deals,” says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre.

He says many airlines and hotels will slash their prices at the last minute. Hotels would rather you pay a lower rate than have the room sitting empty for zero dollars. There are several websites and apps that you can use to help you find the best prices on last minute travel. He likes Google Flights and the app Secret Flying, for a potential airfare pricing mistake or “crazy good deal.”

Request an emergency fare

Most major airlines offer deals if you need to travel at the last minute for a medical emergency in your immediate family, Zimmelman says. For example, they might offer you flexibility on the best published fare for your itinerary and waive service fees for your return trip. Similarly, they usually offer bereavement rates as well in the event of a death (or imminent death) in your immediate family.

Look into your membership perks

See what points and miles you might have on your credit cards and frequent flyer programs. If you’re a member of AAA, you’re already eligible for many travel discounts but they may also be able to help you if you need additional assistance for a medical travel emergency. Similarly, your credit card, health insurance, or auto insurance may include benefits that could help you.

Apply for travel or housing assistance

If you need to travel for medical treatment (or need to accompany someone who does), there are assistance options for families with financial need for both air travel and accommodation.  Much depends on what is the cause of the emergency and what your needs are, and there are rules regarding eligibility for example, income requirements. Zimmelman points to a few organizations that may be of help, the Air Charity Network: free air travel for people who need medical care, organ transplant candidates, abuse victims, and others; Angel Flights: free air travel for people who need to travel to distant research and treatment centers, Angel Wheels to Healing: free long-distance ground transportation to patients traveling for treatment and First Hand Foundation: funding for individual children’s health-related needs (e.g., equipment, lodging, gas, parking, transportation)

Apply for financial assistance. If you’re a U.S. citizen abroad who finds yourself in need, you can apply for emergency assistance. Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to see if you are eligible for a limited emergency medical assistance loan.

Less is best

Keep in mind that this is not a vacation. Spend as little as possible. “You can save a ton of cash by picking the smaller room at a lower grade hotel chain, choosing the economy rental car, or sitting further back on the plane,” says Mike Kurz, CEO of OverShare Advice and Planning in Frisco, Texas.

Consider alternative airports, suggests Molly Fergus, vice president and general manager of TripSavvy.com. For example, you may find a cheaper fare at LaGuardia or Newark airports than at JFK.

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