Travel Essentials: Bereavement Fares

A little over a month ago, we had a death in the family. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, although it didn’t happen quite on the schedule that we had anticipated. To get my wife home, I needed to book a cross-country flight, and I needed it to leave within 18 hours. As I steeled myself to look at the ticket prices between Atlanta and a small regional airport, I had a stray thought tickle my mind. When investigating flight change policies in the past year, I had noticed that the fees that are normally assessed in such situations can be waived in the case of a family death. I wondered if there might be such a thing as discounted fares for those who had lost a family member.

The answer, it turns out, is yes. Most of the major airlines offer what are collectively known as “bereavement fares.” (Continental calls them “compassion fares.”) While most of us purchase airline tickets online these days, bereavement fares are only available over the phone. An agent will get your travel information and look to see what fares are available on the days that you want to travel. If you decide to purchase the ticket, you will need to provide the name of the person who died, his or her relation to the person traveling, and the phone number and address for a funeral home or hospice facility. Combining the hell of contacting a major corporation on the phone and providing such details when already emotional might make you shy away from wanting to pursue such a fare—especially when I tell you that the fares are not necessarily cheaper than what you could find by buying the ticket online.

So why would you even think about pursuing a bereavement fare? There are two major advantages to such tickets. First, they can be canceled without penalty. If your plans change, then, you are out the nominal normal $150 fee. Second, the return flight can be changed without penalty. If you decide to stay a few extra days for one reason or another, a bereavement fare offers you flexibility.

Each airline has their own system for calculating the cost of such fares, and by contacting all of the major airlines, I was able to find a ticket that cost significantly less than one would have online. But it was not from the airline that has several hundred flights a day out of Atlanta. It’s also worth mentioning that discount airlines such as Frontier, Southwest, or AirTran do not offer bereavement fares.

What tips can you share for last-minute travel, whether in connection with a death or the vagaries of modern post-industrial life? Let us know in the comments!

[Lead image by Flickr user Freakland - フリークランド / Creative Commons licensed]

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