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How to negotiate bereavement fares

Sunday, March 03, 2002

By Elissa Leibowitz, The Washington Post

No traveler wants the cost of a last-minute airline ticket or a hotel room to preclude a visit to an ill relative or attendance at a funeral. Reviewing your options for discounted rates in advance can help make this already difficult last-minute travel easier. While compassionate/bereavement fares and hotel deals are widely offered, here's a rundown on some things you should know.

Airlines

While bereavement fares are readily available, sometimes the amounts are less than sympathetic. Also ask what the lowest available fare is and, if you have time, check discount Web sites for better deals.

Cost: Tickets are generally 50 percent to 70 percent off the regular full-coach fare. A Northwest agent quoted a last-minute flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle as $2,382; the bereavement fare would be $1,050. At Continental, a bereavement fare was 55 percent cheaper than the full-coach fare.

Eligibility: Discounted fares are available for immediate family -- generally, a spouse, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, in-laws, aunt, uncle, niece and nephew (but not always cousins). American, United and US Airways also offer these fares to domestic or life partners.

Restrictions: US Airways, American and United require you to use the tickets within seven days of purchase. Northwest gives you 72 hours. Delta's tickets must be used immediately; while reservations can be made over the phone, the actual purchase is not made until you check in at the ticket counter. The return date on most tickets can be changed without penalty.

Proof: At the time of reservation, most agents will ask for the name of the deceased or ill, your relationship to him or her, and contact information for the funeral home or hospital. Some airlines, such as Continental, ask for this information at any time before your return flight; American requires it before you board the plane.

Frequent fliers: Some airlines may waive restrictions such as blackout dates if you're using miles in the United States to get to the funeral of a close relative.

Amtrak

Unlike Greyhound, Amtrak offers bereavement fares: a 25 percent discount off the full, non-discounted adult fare. For example, a round-trip ticket from D.C. to Philly, normally $84, would be $63. This discount, though, does not apply to weekday Metroliners or the Acela Express. In addition, up to two children between 2 and 15 may accompany an adult for half the adult bereavement fare (so, $31.50 round trip for D.C. to Philly). Reservations are required and can be made no more than a week before traveling. You'll need to provide the names of the deceased, funeral home and funeral director. Information: 800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com.

Hotels

Because the properties of large hotel chains are individually owned, rates vary. Rather than calling an 800-number, call the hotel directly; you'll be more likely to get a reduced rate.

Travel agencies

Checking with a travel agent is a good idea, especially when last-minute specials might be cheaper than bereavement fares. There are also several agencies that specialize in bereavement travel:

American Express Travel outside Los Angeles offers a bereavement and medical emergency travel service for securing U.S. and international flights. There are no restrictions on the flights, and the privately owned agency does not require any documentation of the death or emergency. (Agents rely on clients' good faith.) Fares also are available for extended family and friends. Information: 800-999-2599; www.bereavementair.com.

Bereavement Hospitality Services is a Riverside, Calif., agency that helps people plan travel if their "expected loss will occur at least 60 days" from the date they call. Some might label such advanced planning as unpleasant or morbid. But for the families of a loved one whose death appears imminent, this service, which locks in prices for lodging and transportation, might help ease their minds. Information: 1-877-246-2437; www.bereavetravel.com.

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