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Bereavement fares: Little consolation for mourning travelers

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.

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,, 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), ($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 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.

During our search, we also found a fare for $181 round-trip on Hotwire. However, because Hotwire uses an “opaque” booking system, you won’t know the exact airline or flight schedule until after you pay. Since you will likely be pressed for time, it may not be a good idea to use this or any other opaque-booking site under these circumstances.

Based on price alone, we would not recommend using bereavement fares in this case. While bereavement fares did poorly in our test, you may find different results for flights between other cities and for different dates.

What should I do in this situation?

Should you be in the unfortunate situation of needing to find last-minute flights to attend a relative’s funeral or bedside, we’d recommend checking several options before booking. First, search online for regular fares. You can quickly search for fares from multiple providers by using SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool.

Once you find a low fare that fits your schedule, try calling the airline directly to see if a lower bereavement fare is possible. In our experience, most agents will tell you if lower regular fares are available. Keep in mind that some airlines may permit open-ended returns with bereavement fares, which might be a benefit worth paying for in some instances. If you are unable to do this research on your own, enlist the help of a friend or call a travel agent.

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