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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.

Fare Deals?

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 other airlines.

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 October 2.

Other Options

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.

Some 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 cost.

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 Need

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.

In many 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

The situation 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 David Castelveter:

"Normally passengers traveling without any information wouldn't qualify for a bereavement fare. However, they may be able to attain a medical emergency fare."

Castleveter 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.

Related Sites:
American Red Cross

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