In life, there are things that come along that shake us to our core. The death or life-threatening illness of a beloved family member can hit us twice. Once, full-on with grief and sadness. Second, right in the wallet as we try to rush to bedsides and funerals to be with loved ones. To help you navigate, read our detailed airline-by-airline guide to bereavement fares including what airlines offer them and what documentation you will need to prepare.
Bereavement Fares: An Airline by Airline 2019 Guide
Unfortunately, like most learning experiences, the research for this article came about the hard way. My best friend received a call that her father had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. As his only child, she needed to immediately book last minute international travel. I started pulling bereavement flight info for her.
If you are here reading this I’m going to assume you’re facing a family emergency or the death of an immediate family member and for that you have my deepest condolences. Let’s walk through what you need to know to book a bereavement fare.
- Air Canada
- American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
What do you need to book a bereavement flight?
While airline policies and procedures can vary, there are some constants in booking a bereavement fare. The biggest? You cannot book a bereavement flight online. Plan to call the airline directly. We’ve included the numbers below.
The next thing that every airline will ask for is the following documentation or information.
- Deceased person’s name and your relationship to them.
- Contact info for the hospital, hospice or funeral home, including their address.
- Doctor’s name (if it is an imminent death situation), phone number and address.
- Some airlines will ask for the date of the memorial or funeral.
International Travel Bereavement Discount- Extra Considerations
As if handling the death of an immediate family member isn’t enough, those traveling internationally have an extra hurdle to deal with. If you have your passports up to date, that is fantastic. You won’t need to deal with expediting one. Be sure to check how much longer your passport is valid for. Some countries (and airlines) may require at least 6 months of remaining validity.
If you will need a passport, you need to book your flight first so that you have proof of travel. For life or death emergencies requiring a passport within 72 hours, you can contact 1-877-487-2778/ 1-888-874-7793 (TTY/TDD) Monday- Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, except federal holidays. Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. If it is outside of those hours, call 202-647-4000. They will help you make an appointment to get the passport quickly by reporting to a local agency. The list of locations is here.
You will need to bring the following to your appointment:
- Completed Passport Application
- Applicable photo ID and proof of US citizenship
- Proof of travel (airline itinerary)
- Proof of life or death emergency (death certificate, letter from a physician or hospital). Documents must be in English or translated to English.
- Passport Fee & Expediting Fee. If it’s your first passport it will be $110 plus a $35 execution fee plus a $60 expedited service fee. If it is a renewal it will be $110 plus the $60 charge to expedite your passport.
Which Airlines Offer Bereavement Fares?
One thing to keep in mind is that a bereavement fare will not always be the lowest fare. We recommend taking a quick glance at the airline’s website or on a site like Kayak or Travelocity first to get a feel for itineraries and last-minute flight prices. Then assess your situation. Are your flight dates likely to change due to the uncertain nature of your travel? If so, try to book a bereavement fare. Most have built in flexibility to make changes and alter your itinerary while only paying fare differences and not change fees.
Air Canada 1-888-247-2262
Air Canada’s bereavement fares are discounted flexible fares to allow you to make changes with no additional change fees. Basically, they waive the 14 day advanced purchase rule, so if there are lower tier tickets available that aren’t showing up online, you have access to them when you call. The fare discount amount can vary from no discount to 50%. If the flights are close to full, there may be nothing they can do discount-wise. Be aware that travel needs to take place within 10 days of booking. If your travel plans will last more than 10 days, a one-way fare ticket will be booked. You’ll have to call to book the return within 10 days of travel.
One of the differences with Air Canada is they also offer the opportunity to submit your ticket (must have been booked directly with AC) AFTER you travel for a reduced bereavement rate on this form. While this method doesn’t promise a refund of any kind, it’s a nice option to have for travelers who may be too frantic and pressed for time when an emergency first hits. You will need a copy of the death certificate or a doctor’s letter for this method.
American Airlines 1-800-433-7300
American Airlines discontinued their bereavement and emergency fare program in 2014. They do offer discounts to military personnel in some markets, so if that applies to you, it may save a few bucks.
Alaska Airlines 1-800-252-7522
Alaska Airlines offers a flat 10% discount on their lowest fare available within 7 days. You must be a member of their free Mileage Plan rewards program, which you can join the same day. Alaska Airlines bereavement fares only cover travel if someone has passed away. They do not cover medical emergency or family emergency travel. Change and cancellation fees still apply to these fares.
Delta Airlines 1-800-221-1212
Delta Airlines bereavement policy, which covers death and imminent death, doesn’t necessarily include discounted ticket prices. Instead, the tickets purchased are refundable and dates can be changed with no fees. This way, if end of life responsibilities keep you away longer than initially expected, you can adjust your return date. Travel must start within seven days of imminent death. You can click on over to Delta.com to read more details on which immediate family members are covered. It’s worth noting that you must be a SkyMiles member to utilize bereavement fares. However, you can sign up online that day to qualify.
Note: You do not need a passport number to book an international fare on Delta. It will be needed to complete online check-in though.
Frontier Airlines 1-801-401-9000
Frontier does not offer bereavement fares. However, they offer refunds or waived change fees if travel was impacted by a qualifying event. Therefore, if you flew out to attend to a sick family member and there was a death, you could switch the date and apply for a waiver of the fee here. Follow the link on the form to learn what documentation you’ll need to present.
JetBlue has “fly under the radar” bereavement fares. Online it says they don’t offer them, but when I messaged them asking about bereavement fares on Facebook, they gave a number for my friend to call. Ultimately, she ended up booking with them.
After calling JetBlue directly myself, I can confirm that they DO offer a bereavement fare. It is a 15% discount on the published fare and includes one free checked bag. This fare is only available by calling and is limited to immediate family (brother, sister, mother, father, child), not aunts and uncles.
Lufthansa Airline’s bereavement fares are some of the hardest to find. There is zero info available online. After calling and speaking to a representative, I was told that the discount depends on available fares and the destination of the passenger. They also have one of the strictest timelines. Bookings must be made within 3 days of your loved one’s death. The representative I spoke with had to put me on hold several times to check with a supervisor so be aware that this policy may be underutilized and you may get different information.
Southwest Airlines 1-800-435-9792
Bereavement fares are not available on Southwest flights.
Spirit Airlines 1-801-401-2222
Seriously, that’s all they’ll say. If you are grieving, think long and hard before flying Spirit. Why? Read about what to expect when you fly a low cost airline.
Also, they really don’t like to talk to you on the phone. Here’s how to get through to Spirit Airlines. If you call the number press 5 on the first menu, 1 on the second menu and 6 on the third menu. This should (fingers crossed) get you through to a living breathing human being.
United Airlines 1-800-864-8331
United Airlines does not have a bereavement policy or fare.
While you may only know Westjet as the folks who did the heartwarming viral social media ad where an ATM spit out plane tickets, they do operate in some areas of the United States. Westjet has one of the most open definitions of immediate family. It includes executors of estates and wills as people who can utilize bereavement flight discounts.
Their bereavement fare waives change fees and is available on three classes of tickets- Econo, EconoFlex and Premium. Travel needs to be completed within 14 days of when the flight is booked, including your return trip.
In addition to traditional bereavement fares, Westjet offers a special fare for those traveling to the funerals of first responders (firefighters, police officers, military personnel and emergency services personnel) who have died in the line of duty.
Whether or not you’ve booked a bereavement fare, do you know what to do if your flight is delayed? We outline what you need to know and link out to the Contract of Carriage for most major airlines here.