Do any airlines still have bereavement fares? Yes, indeed, although sometimes the discounts are all but meaningless. Face it, 10 percent off a next-day $1,000 fare is still a hefty fare in anybody's book.
Of the "Big Five" airlines, only US Airways does not have bereavement or "compassion" fares. Here's what you get from those that do:
American Airlines: The Web site says they "may" offer emergency or bereavement fares but you have to call their reservation departments to find out.
Continental Airlines: Discounts are available in the event of a family member's death or serious illness but you must provide documentation (such as a death certificate); discounts are 5 percent on fares up to $499, 10 percent for fares up to $999 and so on.
Delta Air Lines: Discounts are available in the event of a death or imminent death, but you have to call reservations for details.
United Airlines: This may be the most generous policy, in terms of what is covered (death of a family member, attending a seriously ill or injured family member, or to obtain medical treatment). The discount is 10 percent off of "any published fare for tickets purchased within six days of travel."
Bottom line: Most discount airlines, including AirTran, JetBlue and Southwest, do not offer bereavement fares. As JetBlue says on its site, that's "because our fares are already discounted to all customers."
If you can't find a cheap fare, now's the time to use your frequent flier miles. Call your elite hotline or try out the much-improved online, reward-redemption tools.
Bottom line: Using miles for expensive flights always makes sense, and if you don't have enough miles, buy more or barter with friends or family with miles to redeem a ticket for you.
This falls under the category, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." Not long ago, an employee of mine called an airline and asked about their bereavement policy. The nice man on the phone told her they don't offer any but added, "Tell me about your situation, I'll bet we can work with you." That's the way to do business.
Bottom line: The worst they can do is say no.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.