A bereavement flight is an airline ticket purchased when a close relative has died or is dying. Bereavement fares are offered by many airlines. While a bereavement flight may have flexible rules, it may be at either a reduced or a higher cost to the consumer, depending on the airline. While airlines often charge much more for a flight that is booked less than 7 days beforehand than one that is booked farther in advance, customers may be able to obtain a bereavement fare in such last-minute flights that is comparable to that of a regular fare purchased far in advance.
In recent years, many airlines have been cutting back on bereavement fares or changing fare structures to accommodate them in other ways.
In 2004, U.S. Congress approved language that required airlines to offer bereavement fares.
Policies of various airlines
Airlines have varying policies pertaining to bereavement flights. This may include the relatives for which one is eligible to obtain such a ticket, the proof that is required, and the price that is charged in comparison with other fares. The most common discount is 50% off the original fare.
- United Airlines offers bereavement fares of 10% off the ticket price in the event of the death or grave illness of a family member or for individuals seeking medical treatment for tickets sold within six days of travel.
- Continental Airlines offers varying percentages off fares of different prices, and allows such bookings to be made on its website.
- Delta Airlines allows discounts for death or imminent death for those who call in advance for reservations.
- Air Canada offers bereavement fares within 7 days of a funeral and for stays of up to 30 days with a copy of a death certificate, a letter from a funeral director, or a certificate from an attending physician. The airline will also refund the difference between the regular and the bereavement fare if one is these is presented after travel.
- AirTran, JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America do not offer bereavement fares, but have more flexible options for changing and canceling tickets.
Various other issues have been applied to bereavement flights.
One concerns which family members to whom the fare can be applied. Some airlines offer the fares only for immediate family members. Others offer it to a longer list, including foster relatives, half relatives, and step relatives. Other airlines have taken up the issue over whether those involved in domestic partnerships that are not legal marriages, and those involved in gay and lesbian relationships can be included.
It has also been questioned as to whether the bereavement fares are really the best on the market.
Other ways around bereavement fares
For frequent travelers anticipating a potential family emergency, it may be wise to accumulate a certain balance of frequent flyer miles with an airline. For example, if a person in the US is aware of a potential death in the family in Shanghai, the traveler can save up some miles to redeem a last minute trip with their miles instead of paying bereavement fares. Most carriers offer mileage award tickets with last seat availability (usually at 2x the usual cost), which can still be a great value financially.
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