When a loved one passes away or falls gravely ill, a bereavement fare may be a feasible option. Bereavement fares (also called compassion fares) are offered by some airlines to help their passengers afford flights in these difficult times. This guide provides everything you need to know about bereavement fares in the face of tragedy.
Which Airlines Offer Bereavement Fares?
Although bereavement fares used to be popular among many airline carriers, very few companies still offer them. As of 2019, Delta is the only legacy carrier offering bereavement fares for passengers who need to travel for a death in the family. However, you must be a SkyMiles member to get those fares.
WestJet, Alaska Airlines, and Air Canada also offer bereavement fares. While Lufthansa does offer bereavement fares for round-trip flights, the flights must take off from either the United States or Canada.
American and United, the other two legacy carriers, haven't offered bereavement fares since 2014. Meanwhile, popular low-cost carriers such as JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit Airlines don't offer bereavement fares at all, at least not formally. Large international airlines such as British Airways, Air France, KLM, and Emirates also don't offer bereavement fares for last-minute international travel.
Even though many air carriers have discontinued the practice of offering bereavement fares, many still waive fees if you need to make changes to your travel itinerary because of unexpected circumstances. Since change fees are typically at least $50 or more one way (depending on the airline), this does help keep flight costs down.
When Hurricane Dorian hit the eastern coast of the United States, the following airlines waived change/cancellation fees for affected passengers: JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, Spirit Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. When push comes to shove, it doesn't hurt to inquire about accommodations for passengers when the unexpected happens or tragedy strikes.
How Much Are Bereavement Fares?
The cost of bereavement fares isn't by any means uniform across the board. Alaska Airlines offers 10% off the lowest available airfare, but this isn't the norm. Other carriers don't publish a percentage discount amount.
Often, you won't be able to discover the exact cost of your flight until you get a quote. In the past, bereavement fares were typically discounted off a full-priced coach ticket, often making them far pricier than last-minute deals.
Alas, when you need to travel due to extenuating circumstances, you may need to rely on last-minute fares. Unfortunately, many airlines will only offer so many tickets at a particular discount. So, last-minute tickets are generally the most expensive fares on the market.
That said, many of the airlines that have never offered bereavement fares, especially budget carriers like Southwest and JetBlue, maintain that their fares are consistently lower than the discounts offered by other airlines for full-price tickets.
Who Is Eligible for Bereavement Fares?
Eligibility for a bereavement fare can vary among airlines, but immediate family members are generally included. Delta defines "immediate family" as a spouse/domestic partner, children/step-children, siblings/step-siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents/step-parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, and sons-in-law are also considered immediate family members.
WestJet's policy is similar. However, its eligibility guidelines are a little more inclusive. The airline includes great-grandparents, great-grandchildren, as well as a legal representative for the estate of the deceased (such as an executor) on the list of immediate family members.
Air Canada's and Alaska Airlines' bereavement policies are almost identical to WestJet's. However, these carriers exclude executors from the "immediate family members" list.
How Do I Book a Bereavement Fare?
Many airlines that offer bereavement fares don't publish the fact online. If you'd like to book a bereavement fare, you should first check your chosen airline's lowest available fares to your destination. You should also research which airlines offering bereavement fares currently serve your destination.
Once you have an idea of what's available, you'll need to contact the customer service line for each airline. Let the customer representative know you need to travel because of a death in your family, and you'll be quoted the bereavement rates for your route. After speaking with customer service, you'll need to provide information to the airline when booking your flight.
In most cases, this includes the name of the deceased, your relationship to the deceased, the name and phone number of the funeral home/hospital/hospice, and the name of the attending physician, if applicable. The airline will verify this information before you can purchase a ticket under its bereavement policy.
What Are Some Alternatives to Bereavement Fares?
In some cases, you'll find bereavement fares more expensive than other alternatives. In addition to checking regular everyday fares on airlines, which may include a cheap flight to your destination, you can try one of the many online, last-minute flight booking sites.
Other options include taking an indirect route or booking a flight that has stopovers. Also, consider using frequent flyer miles if you have them or asking a family member to transfer miles to you. If you have a credit card that collects airline miles, you'll have even more options for a reasonably-priced last-minute ticket.