Has this happened to you? A sudden death in the family, or maybe your teenage son suffers a nasty fall while snowboarding and your only thought is, get on a plane and go.
Naturally, you're distraught so you don't worry about airfare. And yet, the last thing you need is to add financial burdens on top of emotional ones. Remember, last-minute fares are not cheap.
In fact, they can be stratospheric. This past week, I priced roundtrip flights on Continental Airlines from Chicago to Dallas for next day travel and was quoted a hefty $611. But wait a couple of weeks and the price plummets to $257.
But you can't wait. I understand and I have seven ideas to help you save.
Readers of my column have heard this before but it's worth repeating: If you need a last-minute flight and live in a smallish community, drive to the biggest airport near you. You might save a bundle.
The simple fact of the matter is, if your airport is not a major hub, you'll pay a penalty of anywhere from $50 to $150 more than if you flew from a larger airport.
Bottom line: When purchasing last-minute airfare, check your airport plus those within two or three hours driving distance. But don't forget to factor in the cost of gas and parking along with the hassles of driving.
You have to fly, so your first thought may be to turn to your old friend United or American or wherever you have a frequent flier relationship.
But if you must fly the next day, check out the discount airlines, too. Chances are, they'll have a better price. Example: again, I checked out flights from Chicago to Dallas -- on American this time -- for next-day travel and the cheapest flight was a non-stop for $593 roundtrip. AirTran, however, had a flight for just $451, although it included one stop.
Bottom line: If you are willing to connect, you may save anywhere from $50 to $250.
Time to get on Twitter because, as Los Angeles Times travel blogger Jen Leo says, "It's the marketing tool of the day," a way for airlines and others to connect with customers.
Sometimes airlines tweet extreme last-minute deals; their PR and marketing departments monitor these accounts and may have more flexibility to offer promo code deals or other discounts. And I know one airfare shopping site that tweets deals for flights from your home airport.
Bottom line: Hire a neighborhood kid to teach you Twitter. Why should celebs like Kim Kardashian have all the fun?
An old trick that can be useful if your destination has any pretension at all to being a vacation spot. Here's why: Many last-minute airline packages offering hotel-car-flight combinations can actually cost less than an emergency flight alone.
If you don't need the extras, simply discard them and you still have a cheaper flight than you might have gotten separately (note: If you won't be using the car or hotel, don't forget to cancel them).
Bottom line: Check out offerings at sites like "Delta Vacations" before you give up on a cheaper last-minute flight.