Most American airlines offer special reduced fares for trips to attend the funeral of a recently-deceased relative or to visit a relative who is ailing. The discount is usually fifty percent. Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it? But unless you have a particular need to travel to that funeral or to visit that sick relative on a flight with the least restrictive travel rules and are willing to pay the high fare that goes with that, you may not actually save money by taking advantage of bereavement fares. On the other hand, if you’re flying for a reason like that, chances are you’re making the arrangements at the last minute, and that means your options are going to be limited.
You may not be able to obtain an airline’s good fares in any case on such short notice, and are likely to pay a premium no matter how you choose to fly. Even so, the cheapest last-second flights are hardly ever the airlines’ bereavement rates. If you are willing to accept some travel restrictions that could be inconvenient, you can usually save money by NOT using a bereavement fare but instead going for the cheapest fare you can find that gets you where you want to go when you need to be there.
The advantage of bereavement flight isn’t so much price, though, as flexibility. Most bereavement airfare packages have refundable fares, and allow open returns with date changes. That can be more important than money when it comes to such a wrenching personal circumstance as bereavement fares are invented to address.
Rules Governing Bereavement Airfares
While bereavement airfare offers more flexibility than most last-minute bookings in terms of flight times and return trips, there is a trade-off, as they are more restricted on the front end. Different airlines have different policies concerning bereavement fare just as they do most other things. As a general rule, though, bereavement fare is offered only for the death or sickness of an immediate relative –– parent, child, brother, sister –– not for friends or members of your extended family.
You are likely to be asked to prove the legitimacy of your claim by providing the name of your relative and of the funeral home or attending physician. Some airlines also require that you provide a copy of the death certificate. Other rules and restrictions may also apply, depending on the airline, so you will want to check with the airline first to see what hoops you have to jump through.
Bereavement fare cannot be found through on-line travel-booking sites such as Orbitz or Expedia. In order to book a bereavement-airfare flight, you must go directly to the airline. (The reason for this, obviously, has to do with the restrictions on getting this discount and the airline’s desire to ensure the claim is legitimate.) You can find out the airline’s bereavement rate on the phone, but will usually need to book the flight in person.
Bottom Line On Bereavement Airfares
Studies have found that rates that can be found last-minute by shopping around, either through on-line travel bookers or by calling various airlines, can be quite a lot lower than the lowest bereavement package. In most cases, bereavement fares are actually more expensive than the cheapest last-minute flight on the same airline, even without shopping around. They are, of course, cheaper than last-second flights booked with the exact same flexibility in terms of refund, return trip, etc. but that may not be something you need. Using a bereavement discount is probably worth it only if you really do need that flexibility, and are willing to undergo the inconvenience necessary to book the flight in the first place using the discount.