American Airlines Ends Bereavement Fares – Why Miles Are Still A Good Insurance Policy

Feb 27, 2014

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American Airlines issued a stealthy announcement (just a line of text on this web page, really) that as of February 18, 2014, it would be ending its policy of offering bereavement fares to passengers who must book last-minute tickets as a result of the death of a relative. While this move seemed to come out of nowhere, it’s actually a step to align the ticketing policies of American and its merger partner US Airways, which dropped bereavement fares back in 2006.

As part of its merger with US Airways, American has dropped bereavement fares.
As part of its merger with US Airways, American has dropped bereavement fares.

While this might seem drastic, the fact of the matter is, bereavement fares aren’t actually such a good deal for the most part. Though airlines are not always open about how their bereavement policies work, often times it seems they have set prices for a specific route that are sometimes higher and sometimes lower than ticket fares you’d find otherwise – as this ABC 15 article from over the summer priced out – though many bereavement policies do waive change fees and fare differences if you need to change your ticket.

Instead, the airline suggests buying changeable or refundable tickets that, while higher in price than non-refundable discounted tickets, can be changed without incurring the $200 change fee, though obviously passengers have to pay fare differences. One good option is American’s Choice Fares where you can bundle in extras like waiving change fees (and a checked bag and priority boarding) for as little as $34 each way; and waived same-day confirmed flight changes – normally $75 – plus bonus miles and premium beverages for as little as $44 each way.

While this is certainly not a positive move, I wouldn’t call this terrible news either. Many consumer advocates have noted in the past that bereavement fares tend not to be the best deals anyway and that flyers can often find lower-priced fares themselves just by shopping online – and they can book those without having to provide proof of a family member’s death.

This does, however, just go to show why airline miles are still a good insurance policy in the case of an emergency. Airfare tends to skyrocket on last-minute fares, adding a layer of financial stress to an already emotionally fraught time. On the other hand, airlines also tend to open up unsold seats into the saver award inventory, so a lot of times it becomes easier to book an award flight at low mileage levels at the last minute even though ticket prices are astronomical – making those miles even more valuable.

This is also why I am always talking about how transferable points like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest are the most valuable because they allow you to top up various frequent flyer and hotel accounts on a moment’s notice (in most cases) and use the miles from the best program for your needs at that time.

Not only that, but if you do end up changing your award ticket, often the fees are $150, and  many airlines also have last-minute award booking fees in the $75 range, which can end up costing you – though still much less than revenue ticket change fees, and many airlines also waive award ticketing fees for elites. However, it’s still something to consider, and keep in mind that Delta doesn’t charge close-in booking fees, and one of the reasons I find British Airways Avios so valuable is that BA doesn’t charge last-minute fees on award tickets either. Here’s a quick rundown of the fees by airline:

Air Canada: $0
Alaska: $0
American: $75 for tickets booked within 21 days of departure: waived for all AA elites
British Airways: $0 (BA is partners with American, so it may make sense to use Avios for last minute AA awards – especially for short and mid-haul flights which may require less miles).
Delta: $0
JetBlue: $0
Southwest: $0
United: $75 for non-elites, $50 for Silver, $25 for Gold, $0 for 1k, Global Services, Platinum
US Airways: $75, waived for Gold, Platinum and Chairman’s Preferred members.
Virgin America: $0

For more information, check out these posts:

Saving Money by Using Miles in an Emergency
Using Points and Miles For Last-Minute Travel and Emergencies
The Best Travel Insurance Policy: Miles and Elite Status
Why Transferable Points Are Best
The Ultimate Guide To Starwood Preferred Guest Airline Transfer Partners
The Ultimate Guide To American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Partners
The Ultimate Guide to Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

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