How Bereavement Flights Work on Most Major Airlines

Updated

Losing a loved one is hard. Nobody wants to think about the planning and organization needed after the death of a loved one. When someone you love passes away, you often need to fly to attend the wake or the funeral. Since these are unexpected flights, you’re not able to plan your travel in advance. Last-minute flights are costly, but luckily you have options. 

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Several airlines offer discounts for bereavement flights. These flight fares make this time a little less expensive. If you’re trying to get a bereavement flight, you need to know what airlines offer these discounts. And, there are specific policies to know before searching for a bereavement flight. 

What Are Bereavement Fares?

A bereavement fare is a special discount offered specifically for someone who’s experienced a recent loss. Because you can’t predict when you’ll lose someone, these flights are often purchased last minute. This means they’re more expensive than airfare you can plan in advance. 

To ease this burden, many airlines offer bereavement fares. This can be in the form of a flat-rate discount, coupon, lower price, and so on. Each airline has its own bereavement policies. In most cases, the airline waves fees like last-minute cancellation, changing your flight destination, and so on. 

It’s understood that traveling for a funeral, to visit a dying loved one, or to support a grieving family member is challenging enough. A bereavement flight makes this difficult time a little bit easier. 

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How Do Bereavement Flights Work?

Because most people only have experience booking travel the “traditional” way (online, in advance), it’s not always clear how bereavement flights work. Though most US-based airlines have ended their bereavement fares in 2014, you can still find low-cost deals and flights with a bit of know-how. 

How do these flights work? They’re typically policies the company has specifically for those who experienced a recent loss or need to travel last minute for a family emergency. However, you won’t find these discounts online through typical travel websites. Instead, you will need to call the airline directly. 

If you’re looking to purchase a bereavement flight, follow these steps:

  • Decide which airline offers the best discount/deal for your travel route.
  • Contact the airline’s customer service department by phone.
  • Inform them you wish to purchase a bereavement flight, and ask what options are available. 
  • Have information on hand like the name of your loved one’s doctor or funeral home as well as the date(s) of any memorial service. 
  • Know your travel dates and budget. 
  • Book your flight and plan your travel. 

If possible, it’s best to shop around and have a plan in place before you need a bereavement fare. That’s why this guide is so useful, even if you’re not currently planning any last-minute travel. Each airline has its own policy and procedure for deciding how these flights work, what they cost, and what you need to show to purchase a flight. 

Are Bereavement Fares Typically the Best Price?

Before we explain the different bereavement flights offered by major airlines, let’s talk about price. In general, bereavement fares might not actually be the best price. While you should certainly check into bereavement flight offerings, it’s still likely that you’ll find a better deal on a travel website. 

Travel platforms that find last-minute deals and discounts might offer more savings compared to purchasing your ticket through a major airline directly. In most cases, it’s a good idea to shop around if you can. It’s important to note that the price listed online might not be the lowest-cost option. You might have additional flexibility if you call the airline. 

Ultimately, the only way to find the best deal is to check multiple options before making arrangements. If you’re a member of any rewards program or have existing airline miles, this is likely the best route. 

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Major Airlines That Offer Bereavement Flights & Their Policies

Unfortunately, not all airlines offer bereavement flights. Even those who do often have strict policies to secure these fares. Bereavement flights are last-minute or even walk-up bookings. Thankfully, some airlines assist mourning passengers with low-cost or discounted tickets. Let’s review the major airlines that offer bereavement flights as well as their policies. 

  • Air Canada: Air Canada offers bereavement fares for any death or imminent death in the family. These discounts are open to all Air Canada-operated flights except the North America Basic fare. There is a 10-day booking window, though you can also apply the discount after the trip.
  • Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines offers a 10 percent discount on their lowest fare for bereavement flights. You can purchase within seven days of the flight. To qualify, you need to be a member of their Mileage Plan rewards program, which is free to join — and you can join the same day. This program isn’t available for medical emergencies or family emergencies. It’s only for those who have family who have passed away. 
  • American Airlines: While American Airlines ended its bereavement fares in 2014, they often waive fees for changing existing flight plans in the case of a loved one passing. Contact their reservations department directly for the most updated information. 
  • Delta: Delta’s bereavement flights are subject to availability. These are only available for SkyMiles members, though it’s free to join this program. They offer bereavement flights for “immediate family members” in the event of a loved one passing or imminent passing. 
  • Frontier: Like other airlines, Frontier does not offer bereavement fares. They will refund or waive fees if your travel is impacted by a qualifying event, such as a death in the family. To apply for this fee waiver, you’ll need to submit an application on their website. 
  • Hawaiian: Hawaiian Airlines does offer a special bereavement fare, but it is only for travel between the Hawaiian Islands. For urgent travel outside of the Hawaiian Islands, there are no discounts. If you contact their ticketing department by phone, they can waive any ticketing fees if you need to purchase a ticket within 48 hours of your flight. 
  • JetBlue: JetBlue does not offer any bereavement discounts. However, you still have options. Your best choice is likely to purchase a JetBlue refundable fare, so you have the freedom to shift plans if needed. 
  • Lufthansa: Lufthansa occasionally has flights that take off from the U.S. and Canada. They do offer special fares for the passing of a loved one, but you’ll need to contact their U.S. reservation department directly to see what is available. 
  • Southwest: Southwest Airlines does not currently offer bereavement flights. However, if you already have an existing flight, they might waive any fees for last-minute changes due to a family emergency. 
  • Spirit: As a low-cost airline, there isn’t much wiggle room in price or policy with Spirit. They do not currently offer any bereavement discounts or fee waivers. However, since the cost is so low regularly, you might find an inexpensive anytime fare.
  • United: While United previously offered a discount for bereavement flights, this policy ended in 2014. Today, they will refund any last-minute flight change fees if you are experiencing a family emergency. To do this, you’ll need to submit a formal refund request with United’s refund department. Be prepared with evidence of your family emergency. 

Airline policies change frequently. When in doubt, contact the airline directly for their latest policy information as well as any evidence needed. 

How to Get Bereavement Flight Discounts

Now that you’re familiar with the policies, it’s time to book a flight. Again, each airline has its own policy and qualifications. The more prepared you are, the better equipped you’ll be to handle this booking process. Booking travel is stressful under the best of circumstances. It’s especially tricky if you’re also dealing with a death in the family. 

Who qualifies for bereavement flights?

Under airlines that offer bereavement flights, not everyone qualifies. For the most part, these airlines only offer discounted fares to “immediate family.” Each airline has its own definition of immediate family, but it generally includes:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Parents
  • Sibling
  • Grandparents
  • Children
  • Stepchildren
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Niece and nephew
  • Family-in-law

Check with the individual airline to determine what they consider immediate family. Some are more flexible than others. 

Can bereavement flights be international?

Some bereavement flight fares are for international flights. This is up to the discretion of the airline. In general, it’s much easier to get approved for a low-cost ticket for a domestic flight than an international flight. The same is true for flights within the same continent, such as the U.S. and Canada. For more remote areas, such as Alaska or the Hawaiian Islands, options are limited. 

How do I book a bereavement flight?

Your first step is to contact the airline. Most airlines require these fairs to be secured through a phone representative. It isn’t usually possible to purchase a bereavement flight through an online portal. Don’t use a third-party travel website for your bookings. 

When talking to a representative, ask what options are available for those traveling for family emergencies. They’ll be able to walk you through your next steps. Most airlines will ask you to submit some form of evidence, especially if you’ll need to apply for a waiver. 

What evidence do airlines accept?

If your airline is requesting some form of evidence to qualify for a waiver or reduced-cost fare, you might be wondering what qualifies. The airline itself should suggest acceptable forms of evidence, but it’s common to include:

  • Evidence of bereavement leave from your employer
  • Proof of kinship 
  • Hospital address and telephone number
  • Hospice or funeral home contact information
  • Physician letter

These policies vary widely depending on the airline. As always, contact your airline to determine your eligibility for your fare. 

Tips for Booking Bereavement Flights

Finally, it’s important to note that bereavement flights are tricky. With so many different policies offered by airlines, how do you know you’re getting a good deal? Knowing what to expect at a funeral is stressful enough. Adding travel details into the planning process makes the situation more stressful. Try these tips below when booking bereavement flights. 

Price check multiple carriers

Don’t choose the first flight you find. Making a phone call to a few different airlines is the best way to land a better discount. If you don’t even have time for that, visit the airport directly and check multiple counters.

Book a non-stop flight

Airlines are quick to encourage those looking for low-cost deals to book multi-stop flights. While a layover might be fine on a regular vacation, this isn’t the place to gamble with bookings. A non-stop service is the best way to ensure you make it to any funeral or family member on time. When time is of the essence, don’t risk booking a trip with layovers. 

Find third-party deals

For the carriers that do offer a discount for emergencies, these discounts are usually limited. If you shop through a third-party booking service such as Expedia or Orbitz, you might actually find a better deal. These services often include last-minute discounts for flights purchased only a few days out (or less). 

Just because you can get a bereavement discount doesn’t mean you should. Low-cost carriers or third-party travel booking platforms usually have better discounts overall, though these flights will be less flexible. 

Use frequent flier miles

It’s a good idea to join frequent flier programs for airlines you use often. Not only will this give you more sway with airlines during emergencies, but you also might be able to use them to book free or low-cost flights. Some airlines even allow you to book any open seat on any flight with flier miles alone. 

Consider alternative forms of travel

Finally, if you’re unable to find a cost that works for you, look for other types of travel. Renting a car, booking a train ticket, or carpooling with other family members cuts down on the overall cost. While this might take longer, the added time could be worth the savings. 

It pays to be creative when it comes to travel. Since time is often over the essence, don’t waste moments going back and forth with airlines. Driving, though more time consuming, allows much greater freedom. 

The Reality of Bereavement Flights

While bereavement flights sound great in theory, they’re not always effective in practice. More and more airlines are doing away with these discounts altogether. Today, the main focus on bereavement costs is to allow you flexibility when making travel plans. They don’t always get you the best rate. 

Last-minute travel is always stressful. If possible, look towards alternatives to taking a bereavement flight. The push and pull from airlines is a challenge in itself. This isn’t something you want to deal with at a time of crisis. While some airlines do offer discounts for those facing an emergency, it isn’t always worth it. Looking for other discounts and deals outside of bereavement might be your best option.


Sources:
  1. “Bereavement Fares.” Delta: Special Circumstances. Delta.com
  2. Hoeller, Sophie-Claire. “Here’s the difference between a nonstop and direct flight.” Business Insider. 15 September 2015. BusinessInsider.com
  3. Trainer, Paul. “Everything You Need to Know About Bereavement Flights with Skyscanner.” Skyscanner. 18 April 2019. SkyScanner.com.
  4. Quirk, Mary Beth. “What Happens to Your Plane Ticket When There’s a Death In the Family?” Consumer Reports. ConsumerReports.org.

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