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Why Bereavement Fares Are Hardly Worth the Cost


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When I used to live on the other side of the world, I always dreaded about getting ‘the call.’ Simply, all it meant to me was that even if I got on the next flight, I would never make it in time.

I can’t say I remained completely unscathed; it just happened a lot later when I happened to live a lot closer to my grandmother. Then there’s the question: what do you do? If you’re within driving distance, you probably have a fighting chance. But if you have to fly… then things get more messy and considerably cost-prohibitive.

Ever look up prices for the very next flight out? Don’t. It’s crazy expensive. But sometimes, when someone’s life is on the line, you have to do it. Years ago, airlines used to be sympathetic to these kind of travelers, but bereavement fares have been considerably scaled back since then.

The terms of most bereavement fares remain vague, especially as policies change and fluctuate. What kind of deal you can get will depend on the airline’s inventory, its current price and the ticket’s rules. Usually, the best benefit of booking a bereavement fare is that these tickets often have very little restrictions, which we all know, is really important when you don’t know what is going on. In pretty much all cases, you have to fly almost as soon as you book it.

United is one of the few airlines that give you a straight out answer on the website. They offer a 5% discount if you’re flying under such a dire situation, and the proof requirements can seem like insult to injury. Just to keep flyers from using and abusing, you’ll have to let most airlines know the name of the doctor or hospital, hospice or funeral home’s details.

Assuming you’re flying last-minute, let’s assume a one-way ticket from LaGuardia to Houston Intercontinental is $500. (That’s a pretty realistic price if you need to get on the next flight out.) That means the most that you would be saving is $25, or if you’re lucky, $50 roundtrip. That’s pretty much nothing.

By some reports, American Airlines has consistently offered better deals than United. Their website shows no inclination on what kind of discount is available; I would assume this is variable depending on what they have in inventory. Similarly, Delta offers bereavement fares, but they can be cheaper or more expensive than what you find online.

US Airways, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America do not offer any compassion fares. Which means I would get hard to work hitting up Skyscanner or Google’s ITA software pretty much as soon as you hit the end of this sentence if time is of the essence.

It’s very possible that what the airline offers you in actuality costs more than what you can book yourself online — but it’s still worth it to check. Two one-ways, priced at $350 apiece, is still cheaper than a roundtrip that costs $800, even if they’re on different airlines.

At best, this is when an emergency stash of frequent flier points usually come in really handy, and why I always have some lying around. I know the average person doesn’t have enough to usually consider such an option, but if you happen to be lucky enough to have a good friend or family member that works for an airline, it’d be worth asking them what they can do.

Airline employees are often granted discounted flight passes that they can pass on to others. This is clearly up to their discretion and how close you are to them, but when my last grandparent passed away five years ago, I flew on such a pass. It’s a gesture, that to this day, that would be hard forgotten.

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3 Comments


The best way to save on a last-minute trip is by trying to use a “hidden city” airfare, In the example above, your price for a one-way from NYC to Houston is cut to about $225 by booking all the way to Southern California with a connection in Houston (then just leave the terminal). AirFareIQ.com maintains a database of hidden city airfare routes between major cities.

This comment was posted by someone who works for AirFareIQ.com.

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Great idea in theory, but this won’t work for roundtrip flights. If you miss the last leg of your connecting flight, you run the risk of canceling all the remaining parts of your ticket.

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Of course- instead, book two one-way tickets. And in many cases, this is even more attractive, if your return is +3 or +7 days from now, then you can simply buy a “normal” discounted fare from the airlines. Round trip fares on short-notice trips are rarely discounted anymore.

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