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Bereavement fares: Little consolation for mourning travelers

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 10, 2004. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, bereavement fare, Molly Feltner, senior travel.

To assist travelers needing last-minute flights to attend the funeral or bedside of a loved one, many airlines have special bereavement fares that offer a discount off published fares and have flexible travel rules. However, while this concept is a good one, bereavement fares may not be the best choice for you, as they are often much more expensive than other, more restricted fares. Read on to learn more.

What are bereavement fares?

Most major U.S. airlines offer bereavement or "compassion" fares for travelers needing to attend a relative's funeral or be with a very sick or dying relative. Bereavement fares do offer a discount, usually around 50 percent, but only off the highest unrestricted fares, which are often exorbitantly priced. Even at half price, these fares may still be quite expensive. However, most airline seats—with the exception of some distressed inventory for last-minute weekend travel—tend to be most expensive at the last minute. Thus, you should expect to pay high prices for any fare type you purchase.

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The benefit of bereavement fares is that they usually have flexible travel rules that you cannot get with other last-minute fares. Most are refundable and allow date changes and open returns, meaning that you do not have to determine your return date at the time of booking.

While policies vary from airline to airline, most will only grant bereavement fares due to the death or sickness of an immediate family member, not friends or distant relatives. Most also require the name of the deceased or ill family member and contact information for the funeral home or attending physician in order to prove that your claim is legitimate. A copy of a death certificate may also be required. Other restrictions may apply, so be sure to check an airline's website or call the reservation line to find out its full rules. Note that many of the small budget carriers, such as Southwest and AirTran, do not have a bereavement policy because their fares are already discounted and allow for one-way travel.

Do bereavement fares offer the best price?

To gain some insight into this question, we attempted to find the best deal for a round-trip flight between Boston and Atlanta booked only three days in advance. We first searched online for regular last-minute fares from three travel-booking websites—Orbitz, LastMinuteTravel.com, and Expedia—and every airline that had available flights between the two cities—AirTran, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways. We then called the reservation lines of these seven airlines to inquire about the prices of bereavement fares (travel booking websites do not offer bereavement fares).

Overall, the bereavement fares were much more expensive than the regular last-minute fares—a full $400 more in one case. The lowest bereavement fare was $360 from Delta, which was twice as expensive as the lowest regular fares, also for Delta flights ($183 to $188). Of the seven airlines we called, only one, American, offered a bereavement fare ($398) that was lower than its cheapest regular fare ($438). However, this price was still over twice the cost of the low Delta fares, which were offered through Delta ($183), LastMinuteTravel.com ($183), Expedia ($187), and Orbitz ($188). AirTran, being a low-cost carrier, did not offer bereavement fares.

The fares we found, including all taxes and fees, are listed below. The lowest fare from each provider is marked with a star (*), and the price difference between fares is noted in the fourth column.

Air provider Bereavement fare Lowest online fare Price difference
LastMinuteTravel.com N/A $183* (Delta) N/A
Expedia N/A $187* (Delta) N/A
Orbitz N/A $188* (Delta) N/A
Delta $360 $183* $177
American $398* $438 $40
United $410 $208* $202
Northwest $416 $323* $93
US Airways $457 $435* $22
Continental $729 $329* $400
AirTran N/A $425* N/A

Fares are based on flights between May 10 and 17 and were found during a search conducted on May 7. Bereavement fares were found by calling the airlines' reservation numbers, and online fares were found on the providers' websites.

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