Airfares for emergencies vary widely

February 09, 1997|By Christopher Reynolds | Christopher Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Most travelers don't think much about emergency airfares until a loved one falls gravely ill. But nine of the largest U.S. passenger airlines offer bereavement fares for travel within North America, and most also offer fares for those visiting critically ill members of their immediate family.

How much do those fares help? Many travelers are startled to discover that their emergency bereavement fare is likely to cost them substantially more than their last vacation flight to the same place. That's because most airlines set their emergency discount rates at about 50 percent of the costliest unrestricted -- coach fare (also known as a "full fare coach" ticket).

Travelers frequently can beat bereavement fares simply by asking for the lowest available fare without an advance-purchase requirement, or by calling smaller, no-frills airlines.

Here is an overview of bereavement and medical-emergency fares offered within North America by nine major U.S. carriers. Travelers should always check for details, including fares, which can fluctuate daily.

Alaska offers bereavement fares that vary widely, and decides medical-emergency requests on a case-by-case basis. On flights between Los Angeles International Airport and Anchorage, Alaska's prices were $1,402 for unrestricted full fare coach, $790 for the bereavement fare and $218 for the cheapest restricted ticket.

America West offers bereavement fares (but not medical-emergency fares) at discounts that differ depending on the cities involved. Between LAX and Phoenix, January fares were $438 for the costliest unrestricted walk-up ticket, $138 for a bereavement fare, or $58 for the cheapest restricted fare.

American Airlines offers bereavement and medical-emergency fares, usually set at 50 percent of the price of the costliest full fare coach ticket. For instance, on American's flights last month between Dallas-Fort Worth and LAX, the unrestricted full fare round-trip coach ticket would have been $1,332. The bereavement fare: $666. The lowest possible restricted fare was $198.

Continental offers bereavement and medical-emergency fares (labeled "compassion fares"), usually at 50 percent of its costliest full fare coach ticket price. For instance, on one of today's Continental LAX-Houston flights, the full fare coach ticket would have run $1,360. A bereavement fare: $681. The cheapest restricted fare: $268.

Delta offers both types of emergency fares (which it calls "death or imminent death" fares) at 50 percent of a full fare coach ticket's cost. For instance, most of Delta's January flights

between LAX and Atlanta ran $1,137 for a full fare round-trip coach ticket, which means $568.50 in bereavement and medical-emergency cases. The cheapest restricted fare was $302.

Northwest offers bereavement and medical-emergency fares at 30 percent of the price of a full fare coach ticket. For instance, most of Northwest's January flights from LAX to Minneapolis run $2,098 for a full fare round-trip coach ticket, or $629.40 in bereavement and medical-emergency cases. The cheapest restricted round-trip fare was $396.

Trans World Airlines offers bereavement and medical-emergency fares, and usually gives emergency travelers the fare they would have been able to get if they had met advance-purchase requirements. For instance, a recent TWA traveler between LAX and St. Louis would have faced an unrestricted full fare coach price of $1,586. The cheapest re- stricted fare was $198. The TWA bereavement fare would have been $198.

United generally offers bereavement fares at about 50 percent of the price of a full fare coach ticket, and considers medical-emergency requests on a case-by-base basis. A reservationist reported recently that on a round-trip ticket between Chicago and LAX, United's full fare coach price would be $1,700. Its bereavement fare: $971. The restricted fare: $198.

USAir offers both bereavement and medical-emergency fares (which it added last year), generally at 50 percent of full fare coach rates. For instance, most of USAir's January flights between LAX and Pittsburgh run $1,632 for an unrestricted round-trip full fare coach ticket, or $816 in bereavement and medical-emergency cases. The cheapest restricted fare: $528.

Pub Date: 2/09/97

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