Travel

Ask Airfare Watchdog: Bereavement Fares

Q: I live near Kansas City and my parents live near Tucson. They are both quite elderly and I know that it won't be long until I have to make a fast flight out there. My question is where would I get the best flight deal? I know that airlines do have some sort of bereavement fares, but would I be better going to Priceline or some site like that?

A: Priceline.com's "name your own price" feature is actually a great source for last-minute fares, and in most cases will be less than the airlines' bereavement fares. The only real downside to using Priceline is that you won't know exactly what time of day your flight will depart or arrive, or what airline you'll be on, until you complete your purchase. So it's not ideal for everyone, but in the scenario of attending a funeral you'd probably want to arrive the day before in any case, since you never know if your flight might be canceled or delayed and a funeral is something one should arrive on time for.

Q: I've booked a trip to Europe on Continental for next summer using frequent-flier miles, but I'm hoping to get better connections during the intervening six to seven months. Is there any particular day of the week or time of day when new frequent-flier availability might be likely to appear, or is it totally random?

A: It's really hard to predict when or if frequent flyer seats and routes will open up. You might try calling Continental's frequent flyer desk and speaking to a supervisor, and be sure to check often, since people holding the flights you want might cancel their plans. Also, even if all else fails, a kindly agent at the airport might change your flights on the day of travel to the connections you want. So it doesn't hurt to ask.

Q: While I've been busy taking early retirement due to illness, watching my 401K tank, moving from Miami to San Diego, and dealing with other stressful stuff, Delta changed its policy on frequent flyer miles.

The last paper notices I have indicate that my husband and I have roughly 70,000 miles available, due to expire in December.

But it appears that Delta decided to change mileage expiration dates from two years ending Dec. 31 to two years after the last date of activity. The upshot is that we have just 13,000 miles available.

We were never notified of the policy change. This is a mean, cheap trick. Is there any way of getting around it?

A: You could certainly ask Delta to re-instate the miles, but somehow I doubt they will. Changing the mileage expiration rules is one way airlines are trying to remove frequent flyer miles, which are a financial liability, from their books. But there is no reason why anyone should have miles expire. If you shop online, even if you buy a 99-cent iTunes from Apple.com, you should make your purchases through the airlines' shopping malls. Doing so keeps your frequent flyer account active for another year or two, depending on the airline. Delta, for example, has over 150 retail partners, such as Sears.com, Bestbuy.com, and Apple.com, and they give bonus miles for each $1 spent. But you have to make your online purchases through the airline's shopping site. The prices are exactly same. Do a browser search for "airfarewatchdog shopping" for handy links to the major airlines' online shopping malls and make all your online purchases through these sites. Airlines also have dining programs which award miles for dining out, and this activity also extends mileage expiration dates.

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