Bereavement Fares: Not Lowest

Article excerpt

MOST TRAVELERS don't think much about special emergency air fares until a loved one falls gravely ill. But nine of the 10 largest U.S. passenger airlines offer bereavement fares for travel within North America, and most also offer fares for those visiting critically ill members of their immediate family.

How much do those fares help? Many travelers are startled to discover that their emergency bereavement fare to Minneapolis or Pittsburgh or Atlanta is likely to cost them substantially more than their last vacation flight to the same place.

That's because when most airlines set their emergency discount rates, they don't use the low-priced restricted fares that are most familiar to leisure travelers who heed advance-purchase restrictions. Instead, most airlines say they are now setting their bereavement and medical-emergency rates at about 50 percent of the costliest unrestricted coach fare (also known as a "full fare coach" ticket). Trans World Airlines, which says it usually waves advance-purchase requirements in bereavement cases, appears to be an exception. Travelers frequently can beat bereavement fares simply by asking for the lowest available fare without an advance-purchase requirement, or by calling smaller, no-frills airlines that have relatively low walk-up fares. Among the possibilities: Pan Am, American Trans Air (ATA) and Southwest Airlines, which is the only major carrier without a bereavement policy but offers walk-up fares that undercut its competitors' bereavement fares on many routes. Another surprise that may await an emergency traveler is that the airline industry hasn't made up its mind about what to do for unmarried domestic partners. Though America West, USAir, American and United airlines have changed policies in recent years to include such partners among those who qualify for bereavement or medical-emergency discounts, other carriers have not. Most airlines extend bereavement and medical-emergency fares to immediate family, grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, also including stepparents, stepchildren and step-siblings, along with parents-in-law, children-in-law and siblings-in-law. …