Comprehensive Guide to Airline Bereavement Fares
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It’s a phone call that you never want to get and one that you’ll probably remember forever. When you’ve been informed that a loved one has died, it can feel like million thoughts are entering your head all at once — many emotional and perhaps some practical. Among your immediate logistical considerations may be finding a ticket to fly to a funeral with little advanced notice. Often, this task falls on friends or family members of those grieving a loss.
Complicating this endeavor is the fact that airlines usually have very high fares for last-minute purchases for a number of reasons. Flights are likely quite full within a week of departure, and last-minute business travelers tend to be less price-sensitive than others. While many carriers have traditionally offered discounted bereavement fares to those traveling to a funeral, those fares are largely a thing of the past. American and United have discontinued bereavement fares, and newer carriers like Southwest never even offered them.
Yet there are still some airlines that offer a discount when traveling to a funeral, so today we’ll go through the list of airlines that offer formal, published policies for bereavement fares. We’ll then follow this list up with some tips to help you save money on a last-minute trip for a funeral, a family emergency or any other reason.
Airlines With Bereavement Fares
Our neighbors to the north offer bereavement fares for either a death or an imminent death in the family. It applies to Air Canada-operated flights in all economy fare classes excluding North America Basic. It also applies to flights that depart within 10 days, giving you a decent window in which to book. In fact, the carrier will even apply the discount retroactively after you’ve booked as long as it was purchased within the last 90 days.
However, you will need to provide details about the relative, and the discount is only offered if the deceased or dying is an immediate family member. To book, call 1-888-247-2262.
You can read Air Canada’s full bereavement policy here.
The Seattle-based carrier will match and take an additional 10% off of on the lowest fare available within seven days of travel. This can be very useful if you need to depart within 24 or 48 hours, since the fares a week after your date of travel could be much less, and the lowest fare available could be a late-night, early morning or red-eye flight that you don’t want to take. Like Air Canada, the discount is available to immediate family members, though Alaska uses a slightly broader definition (to include aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews).
Tickets must be booked by calling 1-800-252-7522, and it only applies to Alaska-operated flights. Interestingly enough, travelers over the age of 18 must be a Mileage Plan member, though younger passengers don’t. These fares also can’t be combined with the carrier’s fantastic Companion Fare benefit from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card.
You can read Alaska’s full policy here.
Delta Air Lines
As one of the three legacy US carriers, Delta is the largest carrier to offer bereavement fares in the event of the death or imminent death of an immediate family member (using the same, broader definition as Alaska noted above). You can only book these fares by calling Delta Reservations at 1-800-221-1212 for domestic flights or at 1-800-241-4141 for international flights. You also must be a SkyMiles member and be prepared to provide the following information:
- Deceased person’s name
- Customer’s relationship to the deceased
- Name and phone number of funeral home, hospital, or hospice
- Name of doctor (if applicable)
The policy also indicates that these fares are subject to availability and even points out that lower promotional fares may be available on Delta.com for certain markets, so be sure to compare regularly-priced tickets before jumping on a bereavement fare.
You can read Delta’s entire policy at this page.
The main carrier in the Aloha State doesn’t specifically offer bereavement fares, but it will waive telephone service charges for flights departing within 48 hours of booking. You can contact Hawaiian’s reservations line at 1-800-367-5320.
Need to get to Europe for a relative’s passing? Germany’s flag carrier offers bereavement fares for travelers from the US and Canada, but it doesn’t specify any details online. If you have to travel overseas for a funeral, it can be worth contacting them at 1-800-645-3880.
The final airline on the list is another Canadian discount carrier. WestJet offers bereavement fares but only by calling 1-888-937-8538. It also extends its offer to immediate family and includes aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews. Even more interesting, the carrier also offers civic funeral fares that are available to anyone traveling to a funeral for firefighters, police officers, military personnel and emergency services personnel who have died in the line of duty.
Like most of the above carriers, these fares on only available on WestJet-operated flights, though they do apply to Econo, EconoFlex and Premium fares. You also have to complete your travel within a 14-day period, so you can’t turn them into an extended time at home with your family.
You can read WestJet’s entire bereavement fare policy at this link.
Important Advice for Last-Minute Travel
Of course, there are many other considerations when it comes to booking a last-minute ticket, be it for a funeral, family emergency or another pressing need. Here’s my advice if you find yourself in need of a plane ticket with limited notice:
1. Look beyond bereavement fares.
With the exception of Alaska, airlines really don’t share much information about how they price their bereavement fares, and they might not be much of a discount. For example, United Airline’s now discontinued bereavement policy offered a mere 5% discount, and these tickets were often more expensive than those from low-cost carriers that didn’t offer any discount.
The best way to find the lowest fare is to set a base price for your trip. Start by finding the best non-bereavement fare on the applicable date(s) of travel, including discount carriers such as Southwest, Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier. Note that these carriers typically won’t appear in all online travel agencies, so you might have to go directly to their respective websites. Once you know the best standard fares available, call an airline listed above that offers bereavement fares and see how they compete. That way, you can make your decision while you’re on the phone by quickly comparing the lowest fare you found with the bereavement fare being offered.
2. Focus on nonstop flights.
When we take a vacation, we’re always willing to consider making an extra stop in order to save money or miles. But I would never think of doing so when traveling to a funeral, as I wouldn’t want to miss it due to irregular operations by the airline. To quickly find which airlines offer nonstop service on your route, I like to consult the Wikipedia page for the departure and arrival airports. Each airport Wikipedia page has a section for airlines and destinations that lists all of the non-stop services offered.
You could also leverage Google Flights for a quick comparison of routes, and don’t forget to consider alternate airports for both arrival and departure.
3. Strongly consider using your frequent flyer miles.
Generally speaking, there are two times that your frequent flyer miles can have the most value: when booking international flights in business or first class, and when you need to purchase an expensive, last-minute flight. That’s why many people try to keep a cache of frequent flyer miles available for last-minute travel needs like attending a funeral. In fact, it can even be worth it to redeem you miles for the “standard” awards that cost double or even triple a “saver” award rather than pay over $1,000 for a relatively short domestic flight.
That being said, you should also be aware that some airlines will impose fees for bookings made without advance notice. American and United are both guilty here, as award tickets booked less than 21 days before departure are subject to a $75 fee per passengers (though these are discounted or waived for certain AAdvantage elite and United Premier travelers). Fortunately, there are partner carriers that might allow you to book the same ticket without those fees, and you might even save some miles.
For more information, read TPG Points & Miles Editor Nick Ewen’s post on The Best Points and Miles for Last-Minute Awards.
4. Leverage flexible travel rewards programs.
When you have credit card rewards that can be transferred to frequent flyer miles with multiple airlines, you’ll have the maximum flexibility when you need to book a last-minute flight. Currencies like this include American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and the Marriott Bonvoy program. Just be sure to check the transfer times for the airline partner that will receive the points, as some will take too long to be of any use for a last-minute reservation.
For more information read our posts on:
- How Long Do American Express Membership Rewards Take to Transfer?
- How Long Do Capital One Miles Take to Transfer?
- How Long Do Chase Ultimate Rewards Take to Transfer?
- How Long Do Citi ThankYou Points Take to Transfer?
- How Long Do Marriott Bonvoy Points Take to Transfer?
5. Ask for fee waivers.
Airlines still permit their staff to exercise some amount of discretion over the phone, and this may be extended to passengers who are traveling for a funeral. For example, you could ask to have telephone booking fees or last-minute award booking fees waived. And if you’re calling to change or cancel an existing ticket due to a last-minute death in the family, you could try asking for any applicable change or cancellation fees to be waived.
And when you arrive at the airport, you might try to standby for an earlier flight. If you politely request to be added to the standby list and offer some documentation, such as a copy of a death certificate, sympathetic airline staff may be wiling bend the rules for you. For example, United once allowed one of my family members to standby for an international flight for no fee. And it was only because the traveler made the earlier flight that he was able to arrive in-time to attend a funeral.
6. Don’t forget trip cancellation/interruption coverage.
Finally, if a last-minute family emergency or funeral requires you to cancel or interrupt a previously-booked trip, remember that you may be covered by your travel rewards credit card. Top cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Citi Premier Card include trip cancellation and interruption insurance, and the death of an immediate family member is usually a covered reason. If this happens, the credit card issuer should reimburse you for any prepaid travel expenses that you need to forfeit and might even cover change or cancellation fees. Just be sure to document everything to make sure your claim is processed quickly after the fact.
Learning about a death in the family isn’t an easy thing, and when you add in an expensive, last-minute plane ticket, the stress and anxiety can be overwhelming. There are still a handful of airlines that offer discounted bereavement fares when you need to travel for a funeral, but these may not be the best option. Be sure to carefully consider alternatives that’ll get you to your destination with minimal stress and out-of-pocket expenditures, as there’s no need for travel to contribute to the pain of a loved one’s passing.
Featured photo by kieferpix / Getty Images.
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