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Having a global dispersed circle of friend and family, it happened already twice that I needed to travel urgently because of serious personal circumstances. When I had to travel to the deathbed and subsequent funeral of a relative, I even paid twice the price of normal first class ticket for an economy ticket.

When you are confronted with an urgent situation in your family (death or serious illness) how can you find a more economical airfare? I don't mind paying more then normal, but the fares airlines charge you for very short and urgent trips are often outrageous.

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a little trick I found once is to book 2 round-trip flights: 1 for your departure with a return long after, and another for your return flight, with a return long after. It seems this is a little bit cheaper: both round-trips have "regular" prices, but it is still more expensive than just the only one that you need. –  Vince Jan 9 '13 at 14:45
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Do you have a stash of airmiles available? If there's availability (depends on the route), airmiles are normally great value for last minute redemptions because the walk-on tickets are so expensive –  Gagravarr Jan 9 '13 at 15:17

2 Answers 2

As Karlson mentions, Bereavement fares exist at some airlines, and you might be able to take advantage of them. If you know in advance which friends and family might need a sudden visit, and you know that certain airlines are likely the ones you will have to use, research their bereavement policies in advance.

As gagravarr suggests, frequent flier miles might get you a flight on short notice with no higher expenditure of miles than a flight planned long in advance might cost. The drawbacks with frequent flier miles are that a) you might not have enough miles on hand, and b) the airline might not have a seat available for miles travel on the flight you need.

Consider travel sites that specialise in last-minute travel. Hotwire and Priceline specialise in discount tickets with little lead time required. Regular travel sites like Kayak and Travelocity make it easy to search multiple carriers for whatever fares they offer. Maybe they'll have something, maybe they won't; but it's worth a try.

Similarly, consider airlines that specialise in everyday low fares. Southwest Airlines in the USA, and WestJet in Canada, have sometimes provided me with reasonable rates even when I didn't plan ahead.

Finally, there are "ticket-hacking" approaches like Vince suggests: combine two round-trip tickets, one from your origin to your destination with a return in the far future, and one from your destination to your origin with another return in the far future. Then travel only the outbound leg of each ticket, and throw out the other. The airline may notices this and try to stop you, but apparently some people have done this successfully.

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Most airlines provide what's called Bereavement Fares which allows according to the site from 10 to 75% discount off the full fare. You can take a look at different airlines for the definitions. Some of them:

EDIT

I've tried looking at possible similar fares for the European Airlines (major ones) and I've not been able to find any except this sheet on Lufthansa, which seem to suggest that these fares are available for those who know they exist. Which is very strange....

Additional Edit

In addition. I've actually had to use the fare once myself but I actually was suggested an even better fare by the agent on an airline, which was actually a regular discounted fare.

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Air Canada: aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/before/bereavement.html I have used this twice and the savings (Canada-UK) were significant. –  Kate Gregory Jan 9 '13 at 14:48
    
I looked at the BankRate's List and tried finding it for some major European airlines and have not been able to find any. :( –  Karlson Jan 9 '13 at 15:00
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Air France offers such service only for travels between continental France and overseas departments: Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion and Guyane. One can book it in any Air France agency. faq.airfrance.fr/b2c/… –  Vince Jan 9 '13 at 15:09
    
@Vince This link doesn't seem to be available to me. And generally this stinks if true given that I may be in some other country and need to travel back to France. –  Karlson Jan 9 '13 at 15:27
    
@Karlson indeed the link does not work for me either. To find the answer, I typed keyword "mort" in Air France faq. But yeah, honestly this service will benefit few readers of this site. –  Vince Jan 9 '13 at 16:39

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