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Bereavement Fares: The Best Airlines For Compassion Fares

Update: This continues to be a very popular post so I thought I’d update the information since airline policies for bereavement fares tend to change. But first I’d like to thank all of the travelers who wrote about their experiences in the comments section of this post. I know that losing a loved one is hard and booking a compassion fare is very stressful. Your advice is wonderful and you’re helping other people navigate this challenging period.

General Info: Bereavement or compassion fares aren’t always the best option for those traveling at the last minute. Let’s weigh the pros and cons.

Pros: A bereavement, compassion, or emergency fare is a heavily discounted fare–typically 50% off the highest unrestricted fare. These fares offer travelers lots of flexibility from being fully refundable to allowing date and schedule changes at no additional cost–but the rules vary by airline. If you’re not sure when you want to arrive or return, this might be the best choice for you.

Cons: 50% off an unrestricted fare sounds pretty good–until you do the math. In today’s competitive travel marketplace, virtually no one buys full-price fares and even half off an unrestricted fare can be hundreds more than the lowest online fare. You’ll probably be able to find a much cheaper flight through a quick Internet search and don’t forget to check Flight + Hotel prices too. Vacation packages tend to be your best value at the last minute and everybody can’t stay at Aunt Judy’s house!

Plus, most airlines only offer compassion fares to immediate family members and they’re limited to death or medical emergencies. And they typically require the name of the deceased or ill family member and the contact information for the funeral home or doctor. You may also have to mail in a copy of the death certificate, which could be a painful and annoying errand.

Policies by Airline: Here are the bereavement fare policies for some major North American airlines. Please note US Airways, AirTran, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and Virgin America do not offer bereavement, compassion, or emergency fares.

Air Canada: No bereavement fares are offered for travel within Canada, to or from the U.S., and to an assortment of other destinations.

Delta/Northwest Airlines: You must call 800-221-1212 to book. Changes and refunds are permitted. Please see the comments below about working with them.

United: My friend got a great compassion fare from United. They offer 10% off the lowest available fare.

American Airlines: The website just says to call, so I went for it. I priced out a ticket from SFO to ATL leaving the next morning. Their program works like this. Each route has a fixed, reduced price and customers are allowed to change their flight as much as needed.

The customer service representative was very kind and priced out my ticket. Normally to leave the following day on that route, it would be $1,006 round-trip. But the bereavement fare was $623.80. And the bereavement fare does not fluctuate in price–nor are you charged change fees. This means you can stay as long as you need and change your ticket many times without coughing up more dough. This might be a good option if your plans are uncertain.

Continental Airlines: Continental offers a sliding scale of discounts on bereavement fares. You can save 5% on round-trip tickets up to $499, 10% on round-trip tickets up to $999, and 20% on round-trip tickets $1,000 and over.

Alison

My name: Alison Presley

Nickname: Presbo, because I'm good police.

How I earn my keep: I'm the manager of Travelocity's Travel for Good program. Visit Travel for Good to learn more about our green travel and voluntourism initiatives!

What kind of traveler am I: I'm an intrepid food explorer. I usually starve myself on the plane (not that that's too hard to do) so that the moment my toes touch foreign soil I'm ready to sample new and exciting cuisine. I like to dine everywhere from hole-in-the-wall local secrets to Michelin Guide gems. Cannelés, poi, boiled peanuts, oxtail soup, poutine--there's no stopping this adventurous palate.

Greatest travel lesson I've learned: It doesn't cost a lot of money to do good. Offsetting your carbon impact only adds a few bucks to your trip, green hotels are very affordable, and volunteering locally during your vacation is a great way to give back and learn about the culture.

Comments

John
Reply

Very informative. Definitely useful details to consider. Thank You very much.

J. F. Kadlec
Reply

Wait a minute. Be careful of the Northwest Airlines bereavement fare.

Two days ago I booked a bereavement fare for my wife from Seattle to Detroit. Her brother had died. At the time of booking, we were told the only restriction was that it the trip had to be completed in 60 days. The fare was 575.20.

I wasn’t sure how long she would have to be there, but the man selling the ticket told me, “You don’t need to worry about that. The return fare can be changed without a penalty.” I thought that was great.

When she arrived in Detroit, she found that it would not be necessary for her to stay as long as she thought, so she called Northwest, and asked to make the return flight for the day after the funeral. The agent told her that there would be a $760 charge to make the change.

We were incredulous. Now we were told that although there is no reservation change penalty if the fare is available on the particular return flight you want, if the few which were allotted, are full, even though the flight may be half empty, they can turn the screws on you. It is like their one page advertisements about getting cheap fares they only make a tiny few seats available.

They looked at what was available, and while she wanted any Sunday flight, the first one available out of Detroit was on Thursday. This may give you an idea about how many seats they allocate, unless people are dropping like flies in Seattle and Detroit.

My wife then called me and told me the situation. Initially, I didn’t believe her, so I called Northwest Airlines since I had made the reservation and recall the ticketing conversation. It was true.

I didn’t get angry, although I think I would have be justified, and I believe the person with whom I was speaking was sympathetic, but he was unable to do anything. He then put me through to customer relations.

I got the same story from the woman in customer relations. She put me on hold, and when she came back on the line she told me that she found a flight on Wednesday to which she could change the ticket. This meant that in order to save the rebooking charge to an earlier flight my wife would have to stay an additional three days.

I told that woman that was not reasonable, but again, I felt that we were not being treated well by Northwest Airlines. I told her that if we had been told the seats are rare like hen’s teeth, we would have paid the 835 dollars in the first place and paid a 50 dollar rebooking fee. At least this would have been less than 900 dollars, rather than the 1,335 dollars it is now going to cost us. She was understanding of my being upset, and said she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do. She said that the best that she could do would be to give us a 75 dollar electronic voucher from Northwest Airlines, which I guess they give to distressed customers. I took the voucher number.

Now after what I would consider an ethically challenged situation caused by Northwest Airlines, I went to their web site. I sucked it up, and decided that we really didn’t have any choice, but at least I would apply the 75 dollar voucher. However……………..the web site didn’t give me any way to apply it; only allowing me to put in the VISA card number, so I again got on the phone to Northwest Airlines, and asked for help with there web site.

When I explained the situation, the man at Northwest Airlines said…….”Vouchers are only good on new reservations. Not rebooking. That is why it won’t give you the opportunity.” I guess that Northwest Airlines wanted to rub a little salt in the wound.

I think we have really been taken advantage of, at a time when we were looking for a little support. If you have read this far, you will know to be a little skeptical at the benevolence of the airline, while you might get a good deal if you happen to hit the right flight with enough seats for a bereavement fare, you want to remember this caveat, that you can’t make the changes which they imply are so easy for you.

Katie
Reply

Northwest only offers a discounted airfare if an immediate relative has passed away. To confirm they request the funeral home information. They no longer offer a discount for a medical emergency.

Does anyone know who does? I am trying desparately to get to Tampa, Fl from Detroit. My newborn nephew (only 1 week old) is very ill and in Children’s Hospital. Any information would be appreciated.

Thank you.

Jessica
Reply

To J.F. Kadelec –

Submit your problem to The Fixer at the Chicago Sun Times. Her name is Stephanie Zimmerman and she puts out a few columns a week. She is great at contacting companies and has helped many people receive money back for different situations.

szimmermann@suntimes.com

Good luck!

Suzanne
Reply

I just got off the phone with NOrthwest. I called because I just didn’t have the energy to wade through an online reservation, I could leave from either of two airports, and arrive at either of two. I am going from the East Coast to the midwest because my mother is very ill and I am leaving in three days, which I mentioned only because I was assuming that I would be charged the going rate plus the 20.00 per ticket for NOT going online, and I was just blathering on a bit about that being OK because I just wanted someone to figure it all out for me. The customer service rep (her name was Frankie” offered a medical emergency fare (all she requested was my mother’s name and the hospital and phone number). She accomodated my special seat request (toward the front, a little claustrophobic and that helps). Also connected me to a reservationist for a car, at a discount as well. Return trip booked, but date can be changed. She was so pleasant to deal with, and helpful.

I’ve only flown Northwest one other time, it was fine (though the first leg was cancelled but I got on another flight so it worked out OK). Travelling is tough now, and people seem to really take it out on the airline staff, which is unfortunate. I’m sure most of them would rather be pleasant, but demanding passengers must take a toll.

ddudgeon
Reply

Here is a link to Air Canada’s policy.

http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/before/bereavement.html

Leese
Reply

I found out last night (thursday) that my Aunt died suddenly. The funeral is coming up this Sunday, I live in Seatle, the funeral is in Chicago. Cheapest flight to get there was 733.20, with no bereavement rate available. I tried 4 airlines (AA, Continental, Jetblue, & Southwest) all with similar results. I threw my hands up in the air in frustration.

People this is a funeral, something that comes up unexpected and the screws are being turned into those who are grieving. I don’t have the money, my husband has been unemployed for over a year, my son laidoff for 4 months now, our savings is drained to nothing and I can’t even get to my aunt’s funeral to say goodbye and console and be consoled by my family members.

This is some world we live in nowadays…..

Airline Phone Numbers
Reply

What is the cheapest fare from new york to manila philippines at present?
my brother has to attend the funeral of his mother in-law with travel period between monday to sunday next week.
how easy is it to avail of bereavement fares?

5530 price india
Reply

All airlines differ in their prices for bereavement fares, and usually you are to pay full price up front and then submit the “evidence” of the death in the family (because a lot of people take advantage of the lower fare) to get a refund.

When you call the airlines, inform them that there is an imminent death in the family and you would like the bereavement fare.

To get this discounted fare most airlines will ask for:
* The name of the deceased (or soon to be)
* Your relationship to that person
* The name, address and phone number funeral home (when you are submitting for a refund after completing air travel)
* Date of the service (when you are submitting for a refund after completing air travel)
* A copy of the death certificate (when you are submitting for a refund after completing air travel)

Please note that with most airlines you are only eligible for this fare if you are a parent, grandparent (including step-parent and in-laws), spouse, child, aunt/uncle, sibling (including step-siblings/in-laws), and niece/nephew. Most airlines (but not all) also include same sex domestic partners and legal guardians as eligible family members.

Most airlines that offer bereavement fares will waive last minute restrictions and allow you to book using your frequent flyer miles as long as there is frequent flyer space available for the flights, and provided you give the airline the information outlined above.

Sometimes you may not be able to get all of the above details before you travel. Hold onto receipts, boarding passes, and obtain a copy of the death certificate and provide the details mentioned above. Submit these items to the airline as soon as possible after you have completed travel (many airlines have time limits for obtaining refunds). Keep a photocopy of the items that you have given to the airline. This is essential in obtaining your refund for the value of the discount after completion of travel.

Not all airlines provide bereavement fares. Again, bereavement fares are not always the least expensive option out there, but quite often they are. If you are applying for a refund after completing your travel, do make sure that the airline you are using does offer a bereavement fare prior to travel. Bereavement fares exist to offer you travel options for when you need to travel at the last minute because of imminent death or a death in the family.

Eva Higginson
Reply

My husband and I were on vacation in the Bahamas when a family member suddenly passed away. I called Continental Airlines on the telephone and made reservations with them to get back to the states. They made my reservation, informed me about the “bereavement refund” and took my credit card. When we got to the airport, we found that we were put on a Delta flight. After the funeral, I got the proper paperwork (death cert., funeral home info., etc) and presented it to Continental for my refund. Well, to make a long story short, 8 months later and at least 30 telephone calls and 30 e-mails, we were informed that we do not qualify, since we DID NOT FLY on Continental Air! We did not ask to be put on Delta and funny how Continental took our money! I vow never to fly Continental or Delta, since they seem to work together!

April
Reply

When my grandmother passed away, I used my rewards points through American Express to book the flight. It was easy and relatively simple-all completed online, no need to prove anything to anyone and a decent selection of flights. We try to keep a certain number of points reserved for just this purpose. The only time I ever tried to get a bereavement fare through an airline, I spent three hours on the phone with several different airlines (we no longer fly Northwest because of the treatment I received), and it would have cost almost 900 dollars to get from DC to Memphis. I went online and booked a flight for $540 instead. My advice would be to use rewards points, frequent flier miles, or online sites (especially Kayak.com, Travelocity, Orbitz,Priceline, etc.) to find the best possible price.

Wisconsin Dells Hotels
Reply

When my mom passed away I didn’t know that I can travel from Boston to Chicago on a bereavement fare structure. I paid the full cost of the ticket, which by my standards, was at least twice over what I would pay if searching the Internet a few weeks prior to the flight. What’s done is done, but a few months after her passing I found out about this special discount. It’s always good to know. I recently told my friend about this when her dad died. Whatever airline it was, they did ask for the certificate of death.

Turning winds
Reply

It is my first time to know this regarding bereavement fare structure. You’ve given a great insights regarding it. Thanks for sharing this and it is a big help to us.

Jaelson
Reply

Most airlines have last mntuie specials right on their own sites, and/or they will email you every week with their special fares for the upcoming weekend. Check the links below. I’ve been able to get some real good deals in the past, like Washington to Ottawa or Toronto for less than $200.But, the YWG MSP route is basically served by only two airlines (AC and NW any other airline is just a partner of one of these two and they don’t compete with their partners), so it might not be easy to get a cheap flight.

Alpaderm
Reply

What is the cheapest fare from new york to london at present?

Staycation
Reply

This is a great article I never though much about bereavement fares

Meredith
Reply

I flew through Delta/NWA in January for a medical emergency, and the first woman I spoke to was pretty rude when I explained my situation. Told me she wouldn’t help me until I got signed up for SkyMiles. FINE, went online, signed up, which took like 3 minutes. Called back to make the reservation, and the 2nd woman I spoke to was so incredibly nice…I didn’t have problems changing my flights around at all, which I did a few times both ways. They will only book a flight 3 days or sooner in advance, and I needed to wait another day, so I made the reservation and then I changed it…even changed the route from 1 stop to direct flight, which was cheaper, and now I was left with a credit. However, in a few days, I checked my credit card and they had refunded me the money! Now as far as luggage goes, I was traveling with my toddler son for the first time, and alone, and I didn’t know what I should bring or even how long I was going to be at my destination, so I definitely overpacked, and it COST ME BIG MONEY! I can’t believe how much Delta charges for luggage!!! That alone is enough for me to not recommend them or ever fly with them again, until they reduce the price. People who have to fly with them – check in online, and pay for your luggage in advance to save a few dollars, and keep your baggage at 2 – it was $55 both ways for 2 bags, but to take on another, the 3rd bag costs $125!!!!! You’re better off shipping it to your destination! That’s just outrageous.

Flipping Houses
Reply

Great information. I have not used them in years and hope I do not have to use them in the future. It is good to know they are available though.

Charley Hubbs
Reply

I purchased a ticket in advance, knowing that my grandmother was not going to be with us much longer… My flight is scheduled to leave on Wed. evening but I need to leave a day early. Haven’t been able to reach Delta by phone..
Can I just show up at the airport the day I want to leave and go on stand by?

Buckeye
Reply

United is no longer a good deal. They supposedly offer a 5% discount, but good luck getting it from them. I had already purchased a flight for this weekend (to go home), but it ended up that both of my grandparents passed away over the previous weekend. I tried to switch the flight a few days earlier with United and they wanted an extra $700 or so (after applying the original fare of $177). To top it off, United’s outsourced customer service was very rude about the whole situation. I called American Airlines and they gave me an honest deal and were very understanding. I will never again fly United Airlines.

Kimbery
Reply

I called every single airline that flies out of Atlanta to Houston (2 major cities) to try and get help on a medical emergency flight as my daughter is going into the hospital and not one single airline could give me anything more than 5% off and trying to get a round trip ticket 3 days before I need to leave is around $600-$1,000+ (and 5% does not make it much of a difference). I’ve been unemployed for 2-1/2 yrs now, my unemployment has stopped, I lost my apartment, I’m in a homeless place, my credit cards are maxed out, I have over $30K medical bills due etc etc. I read several articles on the internet where it stated some airlines would help with medical emergencies – well, I called them ALL and it is not true.

nina
Reply

My aunt just passed away today, and Air Canada helped me the most of any airline that I called get a flight from Toronto to near CT (NY on the way in, CT on the way out). Normally a flight to and from CT is about 500-700 dollars anyway, and they got me a flight about 50% off the “normal” price that it would be this weekend, and through a combo I am paying 592 to get there, which sounds like a lot but cross the border at the last minute is actually a steal. Especially since the best fair Delta could quote me (rudely) was a little over 1000. Also, they said that if I need to change my return date at the last minute that should be ok and not affect the fare more than 30 bucks (with no change fee or pre-booking requirement). Also, they were super nice on the phone (it was a 2 hour wait but I opted for the “call back” feature when I called reservations and that worked well). I know a lot of people don’t like Air Canada, but I love Air Canada, even if the flights are delayed sometimes and their little planes don’t have flight attendants or an entertainment system!

Alaskan
Reply

I called Delta and Alaska Airlines. My experience with Alaskan Airlines when my grandmother died: I was already traveling and she died while I was visiting Seattle. I called them and they allowed me to change my return back to Anchorage (postponed by 1 week) at no additional charge. They were very friendly. I purchased a RT to SLC from SEA to go to the funeral.
Today, I called Alaskan Airlines to purchase a ticket for my husband, his grandmother died on Wednesday. I checked with Orbitz and tickets were about $600 on Wed, but we did not know when the funeral was. We held off to buy the ticket until we were sure, on account that he could not miss much work. I checked flight prices on Thur. morning, and they had gone up $100. By noon on Thursday, when we finally knew the funeral date was on Monday, I tried to buy a ticket and prices had jumped to over $1000k! Alaska would give 15% bereavement, but as stated, off the “Full-Flex” fare. This made the ticket cost $1100K, when I could get a regular ticket off Delta for $950. The airlines do not support bereavement travels. It just frustrates you and makes you even more angry. We bought the Delta ticket.

Peter Smith
Reply

As the electronic world continues to dominate how we live and work in the world – I am finding it more and more difficult to get through to an airline that will assist with the needs of people needing financial assistance with a bereavement fare. After several calls, I was able to finally get through to someone who could assist me at American Airlines and was able to get a 15% discount. It seems at times that it might be easier to pack your car and hit the road and drive to the destination. When you add all of the time involved and as flights get tighter and tighter on seating – the availability of a bereavement fare/flight seems less likely. That’s my http://www.americathebeautiful.com take on it. God Bless America.

Texan5099
Reply

My father, a WWII-Korean Conflict-Vietnam veteran, died suddenly. I had to travel from Washington, D.C. to Texas and back. I called American Airlines at 1-800-433-7300. The representative offered me a Bereavement fare at a significantly reduced rate. I had no problems getting to Texas. I was seated on the plane for the return flight–holding my American flag. They had overbooked the flight and asked for volunteers to disembark in return for a voucher. Nobody volunteered. They had a list showing the amount each person paid for their ticket. I had paid the least so the head flight attendant told me to get off the plane. I was too exhausted to argue so I stood up and started to leave. At this point, several other passengers noticed my flag and asked why I was holding it. I told them and 20+ people interceded on my part. It turns out the list didn’t say why my fare was so low. The flight attendant then seated me in First Class. Unfortunately, a couple using their frequent flyer mileage was then asked to leave the plane. American put them in a hotel overnight so they weren’t too upset.

willingtoread
Reply

Bereavement rate is not very cost effective. The best bereavement rate I could get was $600 plus per person with AA and $1200 per (no connections); So I just went online to Kayak.com and found a ticket from Delta for $408 (1connection).

I pressed the button to compare prices with Hotwire.com and got a special rate for $289 per person. This rate shows up without showing you which airline or the time of day that the flight leaves until you actually purchase; but given that the regular cost was over $1000, I booked it and then it showed the airline and times which was a normal flight leaving at approx 12noon and with 1 connector of approx an hour. GREAT DEAL for 289 per person. Thank God!

In short, bereavement rates are a joke, you can get better rates at Kayak.com or Hotwire.com the only downside is that there is no flex scheduling once you purchase, the sales are final.

Julie
Reply

I just called all three airlines suggested in the above article and the only one which gave me any reasonable discount was American Airlines. They gave me about 50% off with no penalties for changing and lots of selection on flights. Delta and United were worthless. Hotwire now has last minute specials which were even half of what I got from United. What a ripoff. You’d think they’d be happy to fill those empty seats and get some good PR from helping people.

Rebecca Kennedy
Reply

This from the Delta website:

“In the event of a death or imminent death in your immediate family, you may have to travel at the last minute. Since you may not have time to qualify for an advance-purchase fares, we’d like to help.”

Don’t you believe it for a moment. Their help, after I spent 15 minutes on hold, was a discount of about $10 on a ticket that was going to run $979. Then the rep told me if we could stay over a Saturday, they could get us a better fare. Unfortunately, that better fare was also about $10 less than what we could have booked online anyway.

Missy
Reply

United only offers a 5% discount, and that was still not as cheap as using a travel website (about a $200 difference). Also please update this page since Continental no longer exists.

Jazzie
Reply

Delta’s “bereavement” fare is absolute BS as Rebecca Kennedy recently noted. I called today to check since they say to call them directly. Basically the regular rate minus $50 – $850 ticket from ATL to OMA. That is insane. And it didn’t matter if I left tomorrow or 5 days from now. They should stop advertising that they have fares for bereavement when they really do not.

American Airlines has come through for me in the past and I may be using them this time around as well. Their rate? $450.

MKW
Reply

The info for United listed above is incorrect. They only offered me 5% off the normal price, no discount if it is already the “lowest available rate.” They were horrible over the phone, actually lied to me several times (I had the rates already up on my computer) and were totally incompetent. Only after being transferred to a supervisor did I get offered the 5% off, and that was still about $60 more than Jet Blue with no discount. I’ll be taking Jet Blue at the regular price. This whole berevement rate thing seems like a giant scam to me.

Ellen
Reply

I think American is the only company with a policy worth even considering an advantage.

My stepdad died suddenly yesterday morning and I had to book a flight immediately and start driving to the closest major airport 2 hours away to make it from Wisconsin to Texas in time for the funeral today. I didn’t have the information to provide to qualify for a bereavement fare before booking the flight because funeral plans had no been figured out and I knew I didn’t have time to wait for that before traveling… but it does sound like AA is going to refund me the difference (about $300) based on me sending in the death certificate as proof.

The fact that my flight will run less than $500 for one I had to book for same day travel is impressive. I just hope it all turns out fine and the refund me as they say they should. It’s at the discretion of their customer relations department.

Kendel
Reply

United’s current bereavement discount is only 5% per their website: http://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/specialneeds/compassion/default.aspx

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