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What’s the Deal with Bereavement Fares? (Ask Cranky)

Here’s an Ask Cranky question from a time long ago. Bereavement fares. Everyone knows about them, but are they any good?

I’d love to see you do a post on how bereavement fares have evolved (or not evolved) over the year. Back when I was skinny and had hair, and there were really only four classes of fares: F, FN, Y and YN, the bereavement fares gave a pretty dependable discount on the Y and YN fares. Now, with fares being an absolute alphabet soup, how to the majors and LCCs handle bereavement fares? I know when I did a short stint as an Alaska Airlines res clerk, I could usually beat the heck out of the bereavement fare – but that too, was a long time ago.

Frank V

There’s no question that times have changed. Back in the day, bereavement fares provided a tangible discount over the prevailing rate. The reason for this was simply compassion. People didn’t ever want to take those trips, but they had to and the airlines did what they could to make it a little easier.

As the industry’s fare Ask Crankystructure changed and low cost carriers brought lower last minute fares, bereavement fares started to become irrelevant. Oh, they still gave a discount off the full fare. It’s just that nobody paid the full fare anymore.

For low cost carriers, bereavement fares don’t exist for the most part. Southwest, for example, doesn’t offer bereavement fares. Other airlines have varying policies.

American – The website offers a very terse suggestion that bereavement fares may be offered and you need to call them for info. They tend to use an older school approach with flat rates that are very flexible. It tends not to be very helpful.

Continental – They realized that the old model wasn’t helping anyone, so they switched to something new. Now, tickets up to $500 get a 5% discount, tickets between $500 and $1000 get a 10% discount, and tickets over $1000 get a 20% discount.

Delta – They offer a lot more information on bereavement fares on their website but it’s the same end result as American.

United – Like Continental, United has gone with a discount structure, but they’ve opted for simplicity. You can get 10% off any ticket.

As you can see, some of these are good and some bad, but they’re all a pain in the butt. You’re only allowed to take advantage of this for close family members, and each airline has a list of what that includes. You need to provide documentation as well. If someone is sick, you need to give medical contact information so the airline can confirm that this is real. In case of death, you’ll often be asked for the death certificate. It’s not a fun experience. In fact, it’s unpleasant enough to have been a subject of a Seinfeld episode.

But the fares are still out there. They’re just not easy to take advantage of.

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