Flightster

An Introduction to Bereavement Fares

Have you ever had to book a last minute flight to attend a funeral? What was your travel experience like?

I recently learned that a handful of airlines have special bereavement (also called “compassion”) policies for that very situation. While I have yet to go through this kind of a process (knock on wood, folks), I wondered, how does it work? Is it true that you can get a ticket for 50% off? Would I need to supply a copy of the death certificate? Do different airline companies maintain different policies? What’s the deal?

Background

A bereavement ticket is purchased when a close relative has died or is terminally ill. Booking guidelines and discounts depend on the airline (which we’ll get to in a bit), but typically, most companies have a specific policy in place. Interestingly enough, some bereavement fares are actually higher than an airline’s promotional fare. I’d like to think that the booking agent would point this out when you’re booking the ticket, but just in case, make sure to ask for the regular last-minute fare before requesting a bereavement discount.

Why would a bereavement fare be higher? Well, one of their advantages is that they often have flexible travel rules, like open return dates and the ability to make date changes if need be. Basically, you won’t have to worry upfront about deciding when to fly home. That can be a huge convenience.

Documentation will vary by airline. While some companies just need a hospital or funeral home address, others will require a copy of the death certificate or signed statements from the attending doctor or hospital. Most bereavement fares are best booked over the phone, so before you call, make sure you have as much information like this as possible.

Another thing–most bereavement fares are offered to immediate family members only. The definition of “immediate family” can vary from airline to airline.

Bereavement Policies by Airline

I read that international airlines are far more willing to offer bereavement fares than domestic U.S. carriers, so I made sure to include a couple of well-known international airlines as well. I gathered the following information from each company’s website–this information may be out-of-date. I’d use the policy information below just to get a rough idea of what to expect, as your particular situation may be different.

United Airlines
If you purchase a ticket within six days of travel, United will give you a 10% discount. These flights must either be booked at an official ticket counter, or over the phone (1-800-864-8331). The normal charge for booking over the phone, which I think is $25, is waived. Also, if your existing travel plans change due to a death or serious illness in the family, the change-fee is waived.

Here is the information you’ll need to book the fare:

  • The name of the family member who is the reason for your travel
  • The family member’s relationship to you
  • The name, address and telephone number of the hospital, hospice or funeral home
  • The name of the attending physician (if applicable)

Continental Airlines
Continental probably has the most transparent policy of any airline that I researched. They require the same information stated above for United, but instead of a flat 10% off, Continental offers a sliding discount depending on the price of the normal fare. Tickets up to $500 are discounted 5%, tickets between $500 and $1000 are discounted 10%, and tickets over $1000 are discounted 20%.

Continental has an “immediate family” list–if you’re a legal guardian, you qualify for the discount. If you’re an aunt or an uncle, you do too. First cousins are not considered “immediate family.

Continental also states that if you are unable to provide the necessary information to qualify for a bereavement fare at the time of booking, you can simply request a refund after the trip.

Air Canada
Air Canada bereavement fares are only applicable for round trip tickets with Air Canada or Jazz and are not offered for executive class seats. Bereavement travel must take place within six days of booking, and you’re allowed to stay up to thirty days before the return flight home.

Air Canada explicitly states: “In many instances, a lower-priced fare may be found by shopping online at aircanada.com. Bereavement fares are intended to provide maximum flexibility for passengers who must travel during a time of family emergency but are not necessarily the lowest fares available.”

Air Canada also outlines their definition of “immediate family” and offers an after-travel refund application for North American itineraries.

Delta Airlines
Required documentation for a Delta bereavement includes the passenger’s relationship to the deceased or terminally ill, the name and phone number of funeral home, hospital or hospice and, if applicable, the name of the doctor.

Tickets need to be purchased and used within three days of the death or imminent death of the immediate family member. For international flights, the range is bumped up to seven days.

American Airlines
American Airlines will most likely offer a special fare, but they don’t publish the information on their website. They suggest calling the Reservations line at 1-800-433-7300.

US Airways / AirTran / Southwest Airlines / JetBlue / Virgin America
At the time of this post, these airlines do not currently offer bereavement fares!

Air France
Similar to American Airlines, Air France doesn’t publish any specific discount information online. They do, however, say this:

“Air France offers reduced fares for family members who, following the death of a relative, must travel between metropolitan France and the French overseas departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion, and French Guiana).

Air France does not offer special fares for any other destination, but many insurance policies reimburse airline tickets in this case. For more information, check with your insurance company, travel insurance provider, or the insurance policy associated with your credit card.”

Have you ever purchased a bereavement fare? What was your experience like?

image from Joe_Focus

PG

Alan Perlman

Alan Perlman travels the world as an international cost-of-living surveyor. When he's not hunting for the price of female undergarments in places like Syria, Rwanda and Turkmenistan, he's hanging out in Boston, MA, staying active, meeting people and brainstorming business models. You can read more about Alan and his plans to conquer life at his blog, The 9 to 5 Alternative.

2 Comments

  1. 3 years ago
    J.T. Wenting

    Twice in the last 3 years we had our vacation interrupted by the death of a family member.
    Both times the return ticket with Transavia Airlines was a regular last minute fare, no discount of any kind applied (though one was cheap because the aircraft was almost empty, they must have been happy to get a sale at all).
    Of course both times travel insurance came through and covered everything (including special handicapped transport for my mother).

    Their service helping my wheelchair bound mother is always excellent, even if they’re prone to serious delays (6 hour delay on a 3 hour flight is far from uncommon).

    Might be because they’re a minor carrier, or because they have a monopoly on the route.

    • 3 years ago
      Alan

      Sorry to hear about your family members, J.T., but thanks for chiming in. I didn’t even consider travel insurance for something like this. Helpful knowledge for expats choosing to live abroad!

      Will keep Transavia in mind next time I’m in Europe!

      Cheers,
      ap

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