When you’ve lost a loved one, the last thing you want to do is search for flights. Travel can be stressful under the best circumstances, but the added mental and financial stress of unexpected travel while grieving can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, several airlines offer bereavement fares to help make this difficult time easier to manage.
What to Know Before You Book
What are bereavement flights?
Though most airlines will try to accommodate the needs of grieving passengers, only a select few offer special fares to those dealing with a sudden loss. These bereavement flights, also known as bereavement fares, are discounted flexible fares offered by an airline to passengers who need to travel in the event of the imminent death or sudden recent death of a loved one (typically an immediate family member). Bereavement fares usually provide travelers with a set discount on available flights operated by the airline. Some bereavement policies also provide additional flexibility to ensure customers can accommodate any other unexpected needs in their time of grief. Flights booked at the bereavement fare are typically discounted by a set percentage, though the extent of the bereavement fare discount can vary by airline and season.
Bereavement flights used to be quite abundant, and were offered by many different airlines, but in recent years airlines have gotten rid of their bereavement fare options. Currently, there are only a few airlines that allow you to book bereavement fares: Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines and WestJet.
How do I qualify?
You can qualify for a bereavement flight if you meet the requirements set out by the airline. To start, these fares are only available to immediate family members of the deceased. This includes spouses, parents, siblings, children and more. What qualifies as immediate family varies by airline, so check each airline’s policy to ensure you qualify. Travel on bereavement flights is also subject to time restrictions. Each airline has a window of time in which the bereavement fare is valid. This can be anywhere from 48 hours to 60 days. Finally, most bereavement flights must be booked by phone directly with the airline. The discounted fares are typically only eligible for flights on the primary airline and select partner airlines, and they cannot be combined with other discounts or offers.
It’s also important to note that qualifying for a bereavement fare at the outset is not always the only step to receiving the discounted fare. In order to avoid a regular price fare, you may need to email the airline official documents proving the loss of a loved one. This can include a copy of the death certificate, a coroner’s statement or a letter from the treating physician on official letterhead. If you do not provide this documentation, the airline will charge you the remaining portion of the regular fare price, regardless of whether you met the earlier requirements.
Should I book a bereavement flight?
The short answer? It depends.
Bereavement flights can be a great asset during a time of grief, but they aren’t always the cheapest option. In the past, these fares often provided grieving passengers with a good discount on available flights. Today, bereavement fares could get you anywhere from 5% to 25% off a flight, which might seem great at first glance. However, everyday discounted fares, as well as special flight deals offered by airlines or third-party sites, may end up being cheaper than the discount available with bereavement fares. Even the airlines that offer bereavement flights recommend checking current offerings for cheaper rates before booking.
So, why pay the (potentially) higher price? As many travelers know, cheaper flights often come with the caveat that they are not flexible. Bereavement flights have the upper hand in this case. These rates often come with greater flexibility providing you travel within the window set by the airline. They can also be changed without incurring additional fees, a particularly useful asset if you are handling your loved one’s estate or if another family emergency comes up. Balancing grief and logistics can be difficult, but bereavement flights can help take some of the stress out of travel.
What are my other options?
Last-minute travelers can encounter a whole host of complications when trying to reach their destination, but the biggest hurdles are typically cost and availability. Airlines offering bereavement fares may not offer flights to your destination, or all the available flights may be completely booked. Assuming you can find a ticket to your destination at the last minute, you are likely to encounter high costs for available tickets. This is because tickets typically purchased at the last minute are often bought by business travelers who are less restricted by cost, so airlines can charge higher prices for their standard fares. Bereavement fares will provide a reduction on this charge, but many do not allow you to use other discounts or your miles.
If you are a frequent traveler, consider using your frequent flyer miles. You can redeem points or miles for a flight and will only have to pay the related taxes and fees. If you don’t have frequent flyer miles, you may still qualify for other discounts that could be cheaper than the bereavement fare. Be sure to check all available flights for promotions or special discounts – like military or government discounts – and scour discount travel sites like Skyscanner or Kayak for deals. Keep in mind that discount sites often require sacrificing flexibility and convenience for significantly lower tickets. If you book through these sites, it is likely you won’t have the flexibility of a bereavement fare and your options may be limited to late-night, multistop or nonrefundable flights. Travel insurance can help mitigate extra costs should you need to change your discount flight. Even a cheap policy can give you some peace of mind and keep you within a tighter budget than bereavement fares accommodate.
In the end, the option you choose should be based on your needs. If price is a concern, you may be better off using frequent flyer miles or booking through a third-party site. If you need a quick flight, your best option is to find the most direct flight available, which may not be offered by one of the airlines with bereavement fares. But if you’re looking for a flexible flight at a discounted rate, a bereavement flight might just be the ticket.
Airlines That Offer Bereavement Flights
The following airlines currently offer bereavement flights:
Keep in mind, policies on bereavement flights vary by airline, including the requirements to qualify for the fare, the flights a bereavement fare can be applied to and the benefits of said fare.
Alaska Airlines offers a bereavement flight option for grieving customers hoping to travel within seven days of the death of a loved one. If you’re eligible, you receive a 10% discount off the lowest available fare for your desired trip. Keep in mind that all flights must happen within this seven-day period, so the airline won’t match a cheaper rate found outside of this timeframe. Additionally, bereavement discounts cannot be combined with other rate reductions, such as miles or military discounts, so be sure to look at the base cost of a flight when searching for the lowest fares.
Alaska Airlines’ discounted bereavement fares are available on Alaska Airlines flights and flights operated on behalf of Alaska by Horizon or SkyWest, but the discount is only available to customers who have lost a member of their immediate family. The company classifies immediate family members as any of the following: spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, siblings or half-siblings, grandparents, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew. Stepfamily members and in-laws that fall into these categories are also recognized as immediate family, but cousins and other in-law relatives do not qualify for the discounted rate. Travelers older than 18 must also be Mileage Plan members to qualify for the discount.
To secure a bereavement fare, call the Alaska Airlines reservations and customer service line at 1-800-252-7522. The discounted rate can only be applied to new tickets purchased when calling this number, so don’t try to book through the website first. If you have already begun your travel, you will not be eligible for a bereavement flight. All fees and rules associated with the fare will apply to your bereavement flight.
Air Canada offers a bereavement discount for any Economy Class fare (excluding Economy Basic) on flights marketed and operated by Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge or Air Canada Express. Like other airlines, the bereavement policy only applies to immediate family members. You are considered immediate family if you are a spouse, child, parent, sibling, legal guardian or spouse of the legal guardian of the deceased. This includes step, half, in-law and common in-law as well as grand and great-grand relatives. Air Canada’s policy is also inclusive of same-sex relationships as well as ex-spouses.
Bereavement flights can be booked by calling the Flight Info and Reservations customer support line for Air Canada at 1-888-247-2262. When you request a bereavement fare, you will be required to disclose the name of the family member and your relationship to them. You will be asked to disclose the name of the hospital or residence and the attending physician’s name, address and phone number; or the date of the memorial or funeral and the name, address and phone number of the memorial or funeral home.
If you’re hoping to secure a bereavement fare from Air Canada, you will also need to provide supporting documentation as evidence of your loss. This can be any of the following: a copy of the death certificate, the funeral director’s statement, the coroner’s statement, registration issued by a provincial government, or a letter from the treating physician on official letterhead or a prescription pad. If you go with the last option, make sure the physician knows that the letter will need to clearly define the situation as one of imminent death of your immediate family member. The supporting document should be emailed to [email protected] within seven days of your return flight. If you do not provide this documentation, you may be charged the regular fare price difference for your flight.
At first glance, this may seem like more work than it’s worth, but Air Canada’s bereavement flights come with a far more generous timeframe than most other bereavement flights. To qualify for the reduced fare, your travel must begin within 10 days of booking, a slightly longer timeframe than other bereavement flight options. However, your bereavement travel can extend as long as 60 days, a much larger window than other airlines offer. This makes Air Canada’s bereavement flights a particularly beneficial option if you will be handling your loved one’s estate.
Delta offers grieving customers domestic and international bereavement flights. Like other bereavement policies, the bereavement fare can only be secured via phone and is not available to those booking on the website. To secure a bereavement fare, call Delta Reservations at 1-800-221-1212 for domestic flights or 1-800-241-4141 for international flights. You will be required to reserve your ticket on the phone, and you must travel within seven days of the death or imminent death of an immediate family member. Under Delta’s policy, immediate family members include: spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, sister, brother, stepparent, stepchild, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, stepbrother, stepsister, mother-in-law, father-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law. Domestic partnerships are provided the same relations as spouses under this policy.
Delta’s bereavement policy offers additional flexibility on the best published fare for your itinerary. Tickets are still subject to availability and no additional discount is provided, but the flexibility provided by the policy can be helpful if you anticipate changes in your travel plans. In order to accommodate changes, the company waives service fees on all outbound and return bereavement flights. Fare differences when changing a flight may still apply. Bereavement flights are available on Delta-marketed and -operated flights as well as Delta Connection flights. Frequent Delta flyers can also utilize their Medallion Complimentary Upgrades and Complimentary Companion Upgrades to upgrade their flight, both domestic and international. Under Delta’s policy, international bereavement flights may be subject to further restrictions and are not eligible for Mileage Upgrade Awards and Upgrade Certificates which can be used on domestic flights.
Another important restriction to note is that bereavement flights are only available to SkyMiles members. If you are not a SkyMiles member, don’t fret. There is no waiting period for enrollment, so you can become a member right before calling Delta Reservations. In addition to being a SkyMiles member, you will need to provide the following to receive a bereavement fare for your flight: the deceased person’s name, your relationship to the deceased, the name and phone number of the funeral home, hospital, or hospice, and the name of the doctor (if applicable).
Hawaiian Airlines does offer bereavement fares, but they are some of the more restrictive options available. Namely, this is because a bereavement flight can only be booked for neighbor island travel between Hawaiian islands. The official bereavement policy is referred to as “Neighbor Island Emergency Travel.” Urgent travel to or from North America or along international routes is not covered under Hawaiian Airlines’ bereavement policy, but the airline will waive ticketing fees for phone reservations booked within 48 hours due to the death of a family member. If you are traveling within the state of Hawaii, you may be eligible for one-way, all-inclusive, emergency fare. Single segment emergency fares are available for $83 in the main cabin and $133 in first class. Emergency fares with a connection are listed as $110 for main cabin tickets and $160 for first class tickets.
To qualify for an emergency fare, you must be traveling within 48 hours of ticketing and be a traveling companion or immediate family member to the hospitalized or deceased. Hawaiian Airlines classifies a traveling companion as someone booked under the same six-letter confirmation code as you, so you may not be eligible for emergency airfare if your travel companion booked separately. The company classifies immediate family as spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents or grandchildren. Stepfamily members and in-laws are included in the policy, as are adopted children. To secure the emergency fare rate, you will need to book your trip at the normal rate and then submit the required documents – a copy of your ticket, proof of relation, and a death certificate (bereavement) or signed medical waiver form (hospitalization) – online, by fax or by mail. Your documents will be reviewed within seven days following receipt and, if approved, Hawaiian Airlines will refund you the fare difference between the fare you paid and the emergency fare.
Unlike other airlines, Hawaiian Airlines does offer a bereavement waiver request should you need to change or cancel an existing booking. If you were unable to travel due to the loss of an immediate family member or traveling companion, you may be eligible for a change fee waiver or ticket refund. In order to submit your request, you will need to fill out a form at HawaiianAirlines.com/CAO and attach the following documents: a copy of the death certificate, proof of your relationship to the deceased (such as a birth certificate or marriage certificate) and a copy of your ticket. Bereavement waiver requests must be submitted after you have changed or canceled your flight online or by phone. Since this is a request, you will pay the full price for a change or cancellation upfront but will receive a refund of the appropriate amount if your request is approved. Keep in mind that this can take up to 30 days.
WestJet offers bereavement fares to travelers experiencing an imminent or recent death in their family. The company defines family as: parent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, child, nephew, niece, spouse, executor, and legal guardian or spouse of legal guardian. The policy is inclusive of same-sex couples as well as grand, step, common law and in-law versions of the listed relatives. Bereavement fares can be applied to WestJet’s Econo, EconoFlex and Premium fares, but are not available on the company’s partner airlines. Bereavement fares are not available on WestJet Vacations flights either.
To qualify for the bereavement fare, your travel must be completed within 14 days of when your first flight is booked. This includes your return trip. WestJet’s bereavement fares are flexible and do not incur change fees. Like most airlines, the company advises that cheaper rates may be available elsewhere on the website, but regular fares are subject to change fees. To book a bereavement fare, you will need to call the company’s general inquiries line at 1-888-937-8538. The customer service agent may require some general information at the time of booking, or you may receive a call back if they need to know a little more.
WestJet also offers civic funeral fares, a unique type of bereavement fare for guests traveling to the funeral of firefighters, police officers, military personnel or emergency services personnel who have died in the line of duty. These tickets can also be booked by calling the general inquiries line and are subject to the same restrictions as the bereavement fares offered by WestJet.
Airlines That Don’t Offer Bereavement Flights
Though bereavement fares can be a great option when dealing with unexpected loss, they aren’t always worth the extra work. If you know you won’t need the added flexibility of a bereavement fare, check these major U.S.-based airlines for cheap rates before booking.
- Allegiant Air
- American Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- United Airlines
You might also be interested in: