Don’t Mourn the Loss of Bereavement Airfares

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Scott Olson/Getty ImagesTravelers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.By Justin Bachman

American Airlines (AAL) has ended its bereavement fares, the discount offered to people who needed to fly immediately because of a loved one’s death. That cold, callous, corporate decision — which now aligns American’s policy with that of its heartless merger partner, US Airways — has unleashed the predictable gnashing of social media teeth.

But it’s not worth shedding a single tear for bereavement fares. Anyone shopping carefully — a group that might not include mourners — already knows that the “break” airlines offered the bereaved have been, at best, pathetic.

A bereavement fare is typically just a small discount off the cost of a last-minute purchase, which are nearly always exorbitant. United (UAL) offers a 5 percent discount off a walk-up fare and wants to see a death certificate to ensure you’re not lying. Delta’s (DAL) price break varies — which likely means it’s influenced by seat inventory — and applies only for immediate family members. (Delta, too, wants to verify the death.)

Such paltry discounts mean little, especially when you’re not debating whether to make the trip and just need a ticket procured quickly. “Five percent off a $900 fare isn’t going to make that big of a difference to someone in an emotionally chaotic state,” Rick Seaney, chief executive of, told the Los Angeles Times. Exactly.

I have a better idea: Go to the Internet. Many sites specialize in last-minute travel deals or fare bidding, such as Priceline (PCLN). If that’s too much work at a fraught time, a travel agent can quickly handle the same chore. And one-way flights may make more sense, offering additional flexibility with an expensive purchase.

A bereavement discount is, as much as anything, a meaningless marketing gesture that does little to help distraught travelers. To truly help those who just lost a loved one and are facing an enormous airfare, let’s lobby for flat funeral pricing of, say, $200 to $700, depending on distance. Maybe the discounts could be subsidized by all those $200 ticket-change fees? That would be far more comforting — for every air traveler.

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