Travel Insider: Booking an emergency flight

Last updated 05:10 30/03/2014

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Death stops families in their tracks, forcing them to drop everything and cross oceans to grieve together. "Being there" really is everything and some pay a high price for it.

Traditionally airlines offered discounted bereavement or compassionate fares to counter the higher fares for the last seats. However, with the rise and rise of low-cost carriers (LCCs) globally, bereavement fares are themselves close to death, or at least an endangered species.

Only a real cynic would suggest airlines realise many people will pay whatever the fare to get home. But judging from a perhaps unscientific experiment of shopping for a last-minute bereavement fare from Auckland to Melbourne, no airlines offered a discount.

Airfares are subject to the laws of supply and demand, but it seems strange that an industry obsessed with customer loyalty doesn't have even a blanket 5 per cent discount policy for grieving families.

For now the cheaper options are best found by an airfare aggregator, which will likely point you to a no-frills airline. You are hardly going to be worried about inflight movies or food when you're grief stricken and heading to a funeral - although the same can't be said for the bar service.

Air New Zealand The airline's policy for bereavement or compassionate airfares is "under review". As it stands, Air New Zealand offers discounts on only "very high" (its words, not mine) airfares for departures in the next 72 hours.

There is no set discount policy, as it is made case-by-case by sales management. Special fares weren't available online, but the $70 per person, per flight phone booking fee is not automatically waived, so unless it's long-haul, the exercise is a waste of time.

Qantas Qantas said it did offer compassionate discounts for last-minute travel. "We offer the best available fare and discounts are offered where possible." In reality, this means that if a last-minute fare was on sale in the previous two weeks, you qualify for it as a bereaved passenger for urgent travel. In my experiment, they offered to scrap the phone booking fees of $35, but that was it.

Virgin Australia The carrier transformed from a low-cost carrier to a full-service airline, but its lack of compassionate fares is perhaps a hangover from its discount days.

The airline said it refunds fares for deceased passengers (that's good of them) and if passengers need to change a pre-booked airfare because of a terminal illness or death in the family, the change fees are waived.

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Jetstar This LCC offers no bereavement fares, but no change fees if you have already booked tickets. The airline said it instead focuses on offering the lowest fares all of the time. However, in my not-so-scientific experiment Jetstar was beaten by its owner, Qantas.

Emirates The Qantas partner also does not offer any discounts for last-minute bereavement fares for funeral travel or to visit terminally ill relatives.

Fiji Airways Don't expect Fiji's flag carrier airline to be as generous as the kava servings at the resorts. The airline does not offer bereavement or family illness discounts, so consider comprehensive travel insurance for Pacific holidays.

- Sunday Star Times


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