Family & Medical Emergency Flights: What to Know


Nobody wants to find themselves in a situation where they suddenly need to travel a long distance for a loved one’s death or medical emergency. This is the worst possible scenario, and nobody wants to receive a call like this. But, life is unexpected. We can’t control what happens to the ones we love, but we have the opportunity to take charge of everything that comes next. 

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If you need to get to family who’s far away in an emergency, what do you do? Some airlines offer bereavement or medical emergency flights, but you should know a few things before you book. This guide breaks down everything you need to know about family and medical emergency flights to help you be with your family in no time. 

Who Offers Discounted Fare for Family or Medical Emergencies?

The first option is to search for discounted fares specifically for family or medical emergencies. These are known as bereavement flights, and they’re offered by a number of airlines. For a flight like this, you’ll have a discounted rate as long as you’re able to show proof of a family emergency. 

Unfortunately, fewer airlines than ever offer this type of discount to those who need to travel quickly. It’s still worth considering if you need a flight quickly. However, don’t rule out other low-cost travel options and discount websites. Below are the bereavement flight policies of major North American airlines:

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How to Get Cheap Fare for a Family or Medical Emergency

If you’re experiencing a family or medical emergency, try your best to stay calm. Planning travel is difficult under the best of circumstances. When you add the stress of a sudden death or family medical emergency, this is even more of a challenge. 

Even though there is only a limited list of airlines that offer bereavement flights, you still have options. Talking to the airlines directly and explaining your situation is the best way to determine what’s available to you.

Follow the steps below to get cheap fare for a family or medical emergency. 

  • Make accommodations at home: Before you leave, ensure you have things taken care of at home. This might mean securing your home, talking to your employer about bereavement leave, and planning care for pets or young children. 
  • Research flight options: Begin researching flights available from airports near you to your destination. Be as flexible as possible under the circumstances. It might be worth traveling to another airport to get the best deal. Take note of all the routes and airlines offered. 
  • Contact the airline: Once you know which airlines offer flights that fit your needs, it’s time to start calling. Talking to a representative of the airline is the best way to learn your options. Explain that you’re traveling for a last-minute emergency. They might have a hidden discount, or they might waive any fees. It never hurts to ask. 
  • Avoid layovers: While it might be tempting to book a low-cost flight schedule with a layover, this is a risky move. Layovers increase the odds you’ll miss a flight. When time is of the essence, a direct flight is always the best choice. 
  • Shop around: If you don’t have results with the first airline, call another. In general, lost-cost and budget airlines offer the least assistance when it comes to family or medical emergencies. It’s worth speaking to a few if you have the time. 
  • Book the flight: Finally, book the best flight for your budget and situation. Be sure to take note of any forms or processes you’ll need to complete for your discount or fee waiver. 

Other Ways You Can Save on Last-Minute Emergency Travel

Even if you secure a low-cost emergency flight, there are still other things to consider. Luckily, we’re in a golden age of travel. There have never been so many options when it comes to saving big on rental cars, hotels, and more. Review these tips below to avoid spending more than you need to on your last-minute emergency travel. 

1. Look into vacation packages

While you’re not going on a vacation, there are a lot of perks of these all-inclusive deals. Bundling of the flight, hotel, and rental car sometimes results in impressive savings. 

Look on travel websites and vacation platforms to see if there’s something available for where you need to go. Even if you don’t end up using the rental car, hotel, or other add-ons, it still might be worth the savings.  

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2. Upgrade to business class

If your goal is to save money, why upgrade your flight? Believe it or not, last-minute flights often are cheaper for business class or even first class.

That’s because these seats aren’t nearly as popular, making them more likely to be discounted if you’re searching for last-minute flight deals. 

3. Consider alternative transportation

Flying isn’t always the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B. Even if it is, the cost might not be worth the trouble. Other options are taking a train or driving.

For driving, you can rent a car, buy a bus ticket, or carpool with other friends and family. Either way, it’s bound to be less expensive than a flight. Ultimately, when you add up all the time wasted with airline travel (security, waiting, baggage, delayed flights), it might just be quicker to hit the road instead. 

4. Book a vacation rental

Hotels are often expensive and don't offer bereavement rates, especially in large cities or during busy times of the year. Using a vacation rental service or platform is typically a more affordable, flexible option. 

However, did you know you can bargain with your host? While you shouldn’t be pushy, it’s okay to ask the property owner if the rate or fees are flexible. Many are sympathetic to emergencies, and they might waive the cleaning fee or other expenses. 

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5. Pack smart

One of the least thought about ways to save money is with your packing. Bringing several suitcases isn’t just an annoyance, but it could also cost you more. This is especially true if you’re flying since many airlines today charge big fees for carry on and checked bags. 

If you’re flying, always check the baggage fees before heading to the airport. You could save money by paying for luggage in advance. Also, if you’re traveling with friends or family, combine luggage to cut down on fees. Checking a single bag is much less expensive than checking multiple, and you’re less likely to lose your bags. 

6. Be flexible

The best possible tip for booking last-minute family and emergency travel is to be flexible. You’ll need to keep an open mind.

You might need to leave from an airport that’s a bit out of the way. You might need to travel at an off time or mid-week. If you’re serious about saving money, consider a variety of flights. 

7. Share with friends and family

While nobody wants to deal with a family emergency or sudden death, leaning on those you love for support goes a long way. Not only does this help you feel less alone during this difficult time, but it also helps your wallet. 

If possible, share the cost of accommodations, rentals, and other travel plans with friends and family. In addition, talk to friends and family at your destination to see if they have room for you to stay with them. This is especially true for shorter visits. You might be surprised by just how many loved ones wish to offer help during your time of need. 

Take the Stress Out of Last-Minute Travel

If you’ve received that dreaded call, stay calm. Booking last-minute travel for a medical or family emergency doesn’t have to be difficult. Pay close attention to these tips above, and keep an eye out for the best deals. At the end of the day, you can’t put a price on being with your family. No matter what you decide, know that you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances. 

It’s important to be kind to yourself while planning last-minute travel. These decisions are often difficult. There is no “best” option, so don’t worry if things don’t go according to plan. All of these arrangements shine a light on why you should start end-of-life planning for yourself. The more decisions you make while you can, the easier you make things for your loved ones. 

If you're looking for more ways to stay prepared, read our guides on how to create an emergency contact list and what to put on your medical ID bracelet.

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