Bereavement Fares and Flying in an Emergency

By | March 5, 2010

A TWA Douglas DC-3 airplane is prepared for ta...

We’ve spoken on the issue of Bereavement Fares before. Bereavement Fares are discounts offered by the airline to those traveling in a death situation.They were usually flat-rate discounts off the unrestricted(highest) fares. In the old days, that could be a significant savings. Now, with such a wide gap between lowest and highest…not so much. You might as well pay the normal fare. suggests that‘s Name Your Own Price feature is a good option for last minute purchases. Of course, you cannot name the time of day you might arrive though.

But bereavement fares are an issue there is much interest in. Our previous posts on the subject still get traffic today. What is the solution in the long-term?

The fare you pay on a ticket is determined by two factors: Availability and Eligibility. Availability is how many seats the airline is willing to sell at that rate. Eligibility is whether or not you are allowed to purchase the fare. Eligibility requirements can include the most obvious: Advance Purchase Restrictions(in days), or more obscure things like Point of Sale. Sometimes some agents get deals that others do not. That is why some outside companies can sell a ticket on the same flight for less than the airline who is directly selling the flight. That is becoming a bit less common though, and discussions are outside the scope of emergency pricing we mentioned.

To play devil’s advocate for a moment, why should the airline give you a discount because of an emergency? Certainly few other organizations are expected to. So, what does it make sense for airlines to offer? Many airlines offer a waiving of change fees, sometimes even fare differences, in the event a passenger has to change an existing ticket. That is certainly reasonable if you already had a ticket with that airline.

We tend to agree with noted blogger, pundit, and pastrami connoisseur Steven Frischling, of the popular blog Flying with Fish(who recently mentioned us in one of his posts). He felt that it was acceptable to not offer a special fare. But if you offer such a fare, it should be something that is worth offering.

United Airlines, for example, offers compassion fares at 10% off any published fare purchased within six days of travel. That is certainly an option. Waiving certain advance purchase restrictions might be an option.

Airlines don’t have to give these special fares. The implication that they are gouging people in an emergency is an incorrect one. If everyone paid the same price on a plane the same way that they do on a local commuter train, low fares would go away. No one is saying the staggered fare system is, by itself, unfair.

The only advantage an airline has in giving passengers traveling in an emergency situation a discount is good will. Airlines could certainly use some good will. But the only reason airlines have to create good will is to encourage patronage. If an airline takes care of you, will you reward it with your business over its competitors? Maybe the solution is to only offer bereavement fares to frequent fliers? Or even a bereavement ticket paid for using frequent flier miles?

What do you think is the best system, taking into account compassion, but bearing in mind that an airline is a business and can’t go around giving everything away, much as we want them to? Thoughts?