Bereavement airfares still exist, but policies vary widely by airline

When a family member or loved one is seriously ill, possibly near death or has already passed, airlines used to have very generous bereavement airfares back in the 1980s and 1990s. They have generally disappeared and I believe when I worked for United Airlines in the 1990s such airfares no longer existed. During a recent scan under each of the header tabs on United’s homepage I did find a category for “Compassion Fares.” It reads:

They are only bookable by calling United directly, but the normal fee for making a reservation via phone of $25 is waived in these instances. Flights have to be solely on United or United Express and other requirements apply, including that ticketing must be completed within six days of travel.

United considers a family member, whether biological, adoptive, step, in-law, foster or ward/legal guardian, to be a:

  • Spouse
  • Domestic partner (nice to see)
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Sister
  • Brother
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Aunt
  • Uncle
  • Niece
  • Nephew

Further information is required when making the reservation and requires that you provide:

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

I certainly hope no one would ever take advantage of wanting a discount by claiming bereavement, so I understand why the above info is required. If United actually follows through with calling or other attempts at confirmation is another story.

What is definitely nice to see is that United will refund 10% of your fare if you purchased a ticket for this purpose and didn’t think to ask about it in advance. Once completing travel, you can submit a refund request with the same information about the loved one as outlined above.

As you know, last minute fares can usually be incredibly pricey and a 10% discount might not seem very friendly. Nonetheless, I was happy to see United publish an actual policy online for this type of travel. I also checked with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways. I called each carrier last night asking to travel tomorrow from Los Angeles to Chicago returning October 11th and was given the following quotes:

American: I first checked their website and after searching for “bereavement fares,” the result simply mentioned to call reservations. I called and the least expensive roundtrip fare was $612.40 and carried the same requirements needing the funeral home info, phone number, etc. I asked what the normal fare would be and she quoted $732.40, nearly 20% more than the compassion fare, however the $25 phone-booking fee would still apply. Not too bad, considering. Kudos to American.

Delta: The cheapest fare here was $566.30 and this agent claimed there was no special discount for bereavement. Their website, however, has a page dedicated to such instances and states, “Since you may not have time to qualify for an advance-purchase discount, we’d like to help.” I think I got an unknowing agent, so thanked her and hung up. Typical of airline call centers, actually. If more people knew the frequent flyer standard to hang up and call again, it would make a world of difference.

US Airways: Since they don’t fly nonstop from LAX to Chicago, she actually first offered a United flight even before I mentioned my urgent need to travel due to a bereavement. Eventually, she found flights on US Airways for $587.80 plus the $25 phone-booking fee and added that they don’t have any special discounts for compassion reasons.

I believe all airlines should have a fully detailed published policy on their websites for these distressful occasions and was happy United and Delta had a complete description, though the agent at Delta seemed unaware. When I had to travel last minute last year and first priced out tickets and saw the exorbitant fare, I simply burned miles for a standard award. Have you ever needed a bereavement fare? What was your experience?

Comments

  1. In 1998 I needed a bereavement fare. Back then it was 20% off full coach on AA (my carrier of choice then). Discount fare available to all was less.

  2. I just took a friend to the airport – he is flying home for his grandfather’s funeral. He called several airlines, and all of them said that they no longer offer bereavement fares – except Delta, whose agent suggested he not purchase the bereavement fare, because there was another fare that was more than $100 cheaper.

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