With cost-cutting CEO Douglas Parker at the helm, American Airlines has deep-sixed bereavement fares. Considering bereavement fares rarely make sense to the cost-conscious consumer, this is not a big deal. Still, there was a better way to bury these special fares than by a formal announcement.
Essentially, American accurately claimed that times have changed and conventional bereavement fares are dead:
“We remain committed to doing all we can to relieve the burden of travel for our customers in times of need. With the advent of more choices, lower cost carriers and larger networks, the industry has started to move away from bereavement fares because walk-up fares are generally lower than in the past, and customers now have more opportunities to find affordable fares at the last minute,” American spokesman Matt Miller said in a statement.
“American is moving toward that industry trend and the airline offers customers changeable and refundable options with the ability to apply future reservations to bereavement travel without change fees. We believe this policy is a cost-effective solution for customers in need of bereavement travel.”
It’s true–rarely is a bereavement fare the best deal and a quick online search for a last-minute airfare will almost always result in a better price than a special bereavement fare. The draw of a bereavement fare had been that it allowed free changes or at least one or two changes without paying a change fee.
But the thing is, nearly every fare is already a bereavement fare.
Examine your fare rules next time and with nearly every airline no matter what the fare class, you will see the following rule or something similar–
Sure, not quite as convenient as having a fully flexible ticket, but even with the cheapest restricted ticket, with a little documentation you can recoup any change fee due to bereavement or even sickness or other “emergency”.
That gives airlines a lot of discretion, but in running an award booking business I deal with cancellations all the time and I can tell you that airlines usually come through in a family’s time of need. In fact, a good sob story often obviates the need for documentation.
But AA is getting a lot of negative press for this decision to axe these special bereavement fares, which leads me to say that AA was just foolish to announce a formal end to these fares.
I would have instead priced bereavement fares the same as an unrestricted ticket and still called it a bereavement fare. That way, families can still buy a “bereavement” fare and feel like the airline cares about more than their pocketbook in their time of need. False and misleading advertising? Not at all.
But be warned: Delta and United still offer bereavement fares and you need to do your homework before you buy one. I am willing to say with a high degree of confidence that it will not be your best deal.