An Emergency International Flight Home — Reader Success Story

Apr 27, 2017

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: United Explorer Card

One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Recently, I posted a success story from Jeff, who used points and miles to book a honeymoon trip to New Zealand. Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Ryan, who saved his girlfriend from having to buy expensive, last-minute airfare after a skiing trip went awry. Here’s what he had to say:

Ryan’s United miles saved his girlfriend from having to buy a pricey, last-minute transatlantic flight.

My girlfriend and I are expats living in Holland. Recently we drove to Austria for some late-season skiing — it was the first time skiing in Europe for both of us. The excitement was quickly cut short when my girlfriend injured her knee on the slopes, and it was later confirmed by a doctor in Austria that she had torn her ACL and would require surgery.

Not only was this tragic news, but also we were faced with the difficult decision of where the surgery and long rehabilitation should take place. Ultimately, we decided it was better for her to fly back to the States for her surgery and several months of rehab and physical therapy.

We wanted to fly her out as soon as possible, as she was in a lot of pain and couldn’t use her knee. I was nervous about the cost of a last-minute international flight, especially knowing her medical bills in the coming months would not be cheap. Fortunately, I was able to find several affordable flight options using miles.

United had seats available in economy at the Saver level, which costs 30,000 miles one-way between Europe and the U.S. Thanks to my recent sign-up bonus from the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, I had plenty of miles to spare, so on a Wednesday I was able to book her a flight out of Amsterdam for the following Monday. I was also able to avoid the close-in booking fee by purchasing the same itinerary a month out, and then changing it to the date I wanted within the 24-hour cancellation window.

I worried that sitting in economy on a transatlantic flight would be hard on my girlfriend’s knee. so I called United’s accessibility desk to see if they could help make her more comfortable. We discussed her limitations and the assistance she would need, and they generously moved her to a bulkhead row aisle seat in Economy Plus.

If we had paid cash, that flight would have cost us a whopping $3,045. We’re very thankful everything worked out, and her airfare is one less thing we’ll have to worry about!

I think most award travelers get into the hobby looking for ways to fund vacations and experiences that would otherwise be out of reach, like a long-haul flight in first class or a year-long trip around the world. However, points and miles can also serve as a safety net when you need to travel on short notice. You’ll often find that the cash price of airfare skyrockets at the last minute, but the award rate remains steady. If your flight is canceled or you have a family emergency, your travel rewards can save you from breaking the bank.

When your travel plans do take a turn for the worse, keep in mind that many credit cards offer accident and trip cancellation/interruption insurance. These benefits come with a lot of fine print, but it’s worth checking to see if your card can help cover any nonrefundable expenses you incur. It’s also good to have a contingency plan in place for when something goes wrong during your travels. Whether you have a skiing accident or lose your passport, knowing your options in advance will help make the ordeal less stressful.

Active female fell down on snow during ski training
Credit card perks may help if an emergency cuts your travel plans short. Image courtesy of shironosov via Getty Images.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Ryan for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured image courtesy of Wicki58 via Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.