Plane Talk on Bereavement Fares
(September 13, 2001)
Bereavement fares—sad as the subject may be—need to
be addressed in light of the current situation. Many travelers are
unaware that airlines offer discounted bereavement or compassion
fares for families who need to travel to funerals or to medical
emergencies. Airlines are also working with the American Red Cross
to provide other options.
With families in turmoil who are
trying to reunite, negotiating a good airfare is the least of their
worries. Yet with a little information, many can save a great deal
of worry and money should the need arise.
With the exception of Southwest, all major U.S.
airlines offer bereavement fares, which are discounted tickets for
family members traveling to a funeral or medical emergency. These
fares range anywhere from 15 percent to 70 percent off the walk-up
full fare. These percentages vary by market and seat availability.
Northwest Airlines has the most liberal bereavement policies
by offering discounts up to 70 percent off a full or unrestricted
fare. American, Delta, Continental, and US Airways offer savings
around 50 percent off a full fare. Low-fare carrier Southwest feels
its regular fares are low enough to fall below bereavement fares on
JetBlue has made special compassionate fares
available for travelers to reach loved ones in New York. These fares
will be available for travel by September 19 and completed by
Instead of offering a
bereavement fare, some airlines will waive the advance-purchase
requirement. Rather than paying the full fare, customers pay only
the lower 14- or 21-day advance-purchase fare. United offers a
seven-day advance fare, which can save about 15 percent.
airlines' bereavement fares allow for an "open-jaw return," meaning
that you do not have to indicate your return flight in advance.
Instead, you can come back when you want, at no additional
What if you are already traveling when you hear the bad
news? Typically, you can use your return ticket to fly standby.
Because of the circumstances, some airlines will waive any
ticket-changing fee or change in fare at the airport. Those that
don't will advise you to submit a copy of the death certificate,
along with a request for a refund.
Even with the discounts,
these fares can still be very expensive. So, what are your best
options for bereavement or compassion travel? Check fares at online
discount travel sites like Hotwire, Priceline, Lowestfare, Cheap
Tickets, Expedia, and Travelocity. You can also contact the low-cost
carriers such as Southwest, Air Tran, American Trans Air, JetBlue,
Sun Country, Spirit, and Vanguard.
If you are age 62 or over,
you can buy senior coupon booklets on many carriers. Most airlines
allow you to fly standby on those coupons.
Finally, if you
have abundant frequent flier mileage, you can try to use it for an
unrestricted coach ticket. Most airlines require 40,000 miles for an
unrestricted coach ticket, which will not be subject to blackout
dates and capacity controls.
Who Qualifies and What You'll
Airlines have varying definitions of "immediate
family," which generally include spouses, children, parents,
siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, and
nephews. In-laws can also get reduced fares, but on a more
restricted basis. A few airlines such as American, United, and US
Airways offer bereavement fares to domestic partners. If you are
unsure, simply ask the airline. Many airlines also offer compassion
fares to people responding to medical emergencies or imminent death,
and to family members traveling with human remains.
cases, an airline reservations agent can grant you a bereavement or
emergency fare over the phone. However, when you show up at the
airport, you must provide proof of death or critical illness
(usually a death certificate, the name and number of the funeral
home, or a doctor's note and the hospital phone number). If you have
no information at the time of travel, you'll probably be charged
full fare; however, if the family member passes away, you can later
submit a copy of the death certificate for a refund.
Options for the Current Disaster
in New York remains a gray area, as many families simply do not know
the condition of missing loved ones. Although many of these people
will not qualify for bereavement fares, some airlines are trying to
help out as much as possible. According to US Airways spokesman
"Normally passengers traveling without any
information wouldn't qualify for a bereavement fare. However, they
may be able to attain a medical emergency fare."
adds that US Airways is working with the Red Cross on flying people
to the New York area. He urges families to contact the Red Cross if
they have missing family members as the organization is working with
the airlines to help transport individuals.
American Red Cross
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