[Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare, and columnist for Investopedia. The views expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia.]

Some of you may be old enough to remember bereavement fares, which sure were handy during family emergencies. As sad as such trips often were (and are), at least they weren’t made worse by having to pay for a horrendously expensive last-minute plane ticket. Bereavement fares always meant a generous discount.

Such discounting used to be common: There were senior fares, discounts for members of the military, and more. Today, these altruistic fares (or at least smart marketing) are harder and harder to find. For that you can blame the internet – specifically self-service, online comparison shopping sites for fliers. These have brought transparency to the ticket-purchasing process but, even more important, competitive pricing. As a result, fewer airlines feel the need to exercise this kind of altruism. As Virgin America says on its website, “We are pleased to make low fares available to everyone [and] as a result we do not offer specialty fares such as military, student, or senior citizen.” 

That doesn’t mean Virgin America and others have dropped all niche deals. You can still find some here and there, though they are much more likely to be offered by large airlines than ultra-discounters like Spirit. Tip: Airline policies on these tickets can and do change with no notice whatsoever. If you’re unsure of your airline’s rules, make it a point to call and ask. Here are details on which fares you may still be able to find somewhere.

Bereavement Fares

It's worth looking for these if you need to fly at the last minute. When you find one, don't forget to comparison-shop the deal before buying the ticket.

  • Delta: Yes, this airline does offer bereavement fares, but the airline admits it may not always be your best option. Don’t request a bereavement fare until you do a little homework because, as the airline points out, “lower promotional fares may be available on delta.com.” Sometimes a discount is not much of a discount, and it’s sporting of Delta to mention this.
  • Virgin America: If you already have a nonrefundable ticket, the airline will give you a discount; if you don’t have a ticket, you can purchase a bereavement fare. In both cases, you must phone the airline.
  • Other airlines: We could not find bereavement fares on most other airlines. United, for example, makes no mention of them. American states bluntly: “We're sorry, we don't offer emergency or bereavement fares.” Southwest is a little more gentle about it: “While we do not offer a fare adjustment for a ticket purchased at the last-minute, our sincere hope is that you will know there is no airline who LUVs their customers more than Southwest.” In case you were wondering, LUV is Southwest’s three-letter symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.

Senior Fares

If you can find these discounts, are they worth it? Not always.

  • Southwest: This airline does have senior fares but you may not want them.  For adults under 65, a roundtrip fare in September between Newark and Los Angeles cost $547 roundtrip; the senior fare was a whopping $736. The more expensive ticket has one big advantage though; it is fully refundable.
  • Other airlines: There doesn’t appear to be any mention of senior discounts in American’s contract of carriage (which includes fare rules), but senior fares are a shopping option for those who choose ‘advanced search’ on American’s homepage. We tested this to find the price differential on several routes but that was the problem: Adult fares and senior fares cost exactly the same. This was true for United, too: A basic economy fare for Newark-Los Angeles cost $380 for an ‘adult’ and a ‘senior’ paid precisely the same.

Note: Amtrak does still offer senior fares and those often are worth it, if it's a place with train service and you have the time.

Military Fares

More airlines offer  perks for members of the military, including waived bag fees.

  • United: The airline offers a discount of up to 5% for U.S. military veterans, active duty military, National Guard and Reserve members, and their families; some restrictions apply. 
  • Other airlines: Delta and Southwest both say they may offer a military discount, but you have to call the airline for details. 

The Bottom Line

Never assume such discounts are available. When they are, do not assume they’re worth it. Before you buy, always compare airfare prices so you know going in what is a deal and what is not.

 

 

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