There is this notion — mostly a hold-over from an era when “customer service” was actually a priority for some airlines — that travelers en route to a funeral can have their airfare slashed by providing the information needed to receive a bereavement discount. But as some people are finding out, it may be more of a hassle than it’s worth.
Take the story of Consumerist reader Jennifer, who needed to travel from Ohio to Washington, D.C., after the recent, unfortunate passing of her grandmother.
After a quick check on Kayak.com showed that all the airlines seemed to be charging about the same top-dollar amount for this trip, Jennifer decided to contact United since she has the airline’s MileagePlus credit card.
“I inquired about a bereavement fare, and they said that their bereavement fares were only 5% off of the ticket price, not including taxes and fees,” she tells Consumerist. “That brought the ticket price down to just below $900,
minus the fees.”
This trip — only about an hour of flying time — usually costs around $300, so Jennifer mentioned to the United rep that she wanted to talk to her family before booking the ticket.
“I was told that there was only one seat left at that price and I needed to make my decision then,” she writes. “Being pretty emotional and not being able to think very well, I agreed. What could I do? I had to get to my family.”
She says he was also told that, even though United has a online form for requesting bereavement fares, the only way to guarantee she’d get the discount (around $40) and the quoted price on the ticket was to book over the phone.
So then Jennifer went through all the information — her grandmother’s name, the funeral home’s address/phone
number, etc, — needed to qualify for the bereavement fare. (This is the same information that a Delta reservation agent says no one ever checks.)
It’s only at this point that United happens to mention that there is also a $25 fee for booking your ticket over the phone, meaning she’d gone through all the hassle of gathering all the funeral information to save $15.
“They quoted the price without the fee, asked if that was okay and then mentioned the $25 fee… just as I was getting my credit card to give them the number,” she tells Consumerist. “Maybe I should have done more research, but honestly, I was frankly distraught about everything and only thought about how I could get to my family.”
As a final insult, when Jennifer boarded the plane — a small commuter jet — she says that most of the plane was completely empty.
“Telling me that they only had the one seat for me to jump on at the time was obviously a lie,” she writes. “And I don’t know if it was because they knew I could make a decision without thinking about it fully, as I was in a very emotional state, but I think it is horribly unfair to treat a long-standing customer like this. I obviously wasn’t lying to get a cheaper fare, as I gave all of the proof that they requested, and I really feel taken advantage of.”
As we’ve written before, bereavement discounts are often very minor — and sometimes not even discounts — when compared to what you can get by shopping around or trying sites like Priceline. Even the airlines that claim their bereavement discounts are “50% off,” it’s almost always 50% off the full, refundable fare, which is usually significantly higher than the standard non-refundable airfares most people purchase.