The Continental Airlines Bereavement Fare Scam

It’s Thanksgiving and I spent the morning helping Janna get on a Continental Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey to Council Bluffs, Iowa via Omaha, Nebraska, so she can bury her father.

Her father died over the weekend — and in the mad scramble to cremate and bury — we were forced to learn a lot about what we consider “The Bereavement Fare Scam” on Continental Airlines.

We like flying Continental out of Newark to Omaha because the flight is non-stop and in less than three hours you’re back on the ground.

When we checked Continental for their regular fares online, we discovered — to our total shock and dismay — the price of a round trip ticket was an astonishing $1,258.00 USD!

If, however, Janna flew today, on Thanksgiving, the round trip price dropped to $295.81 USD!

We were fortunate Janna’s father was cremated and the formal farewell ceremony could be scheduled for tomorrow so we could take advantage of the lesser fare. If he were in the midst of dying, we likely would’ve had to pony up the nearly thousand dollar difference a day makes.

Then we remembered Bereavement fares from our childhoods and we decided to find out from Continental much more we could save by booking that flight as Bereavement instead of a regular fare.

That’s how we discovered how the Continental Bereavement scam is set up.

You naturally go online to check the special Bereavement fare. When I was younger, a Bereavement Fare was half the price of the regular fare. Here’s how the complicated Continental Bereavement Fare breaks out.

Notice the part where it says “Compassion fares cannot be booked online.”

You have to call them to get the Bereavement price.

Continental’s rigidity doesn’t end with pricing out a fare. There are only certain people you can use to get the special fare — and I found it interesting “friend” was not an option:

Next is the Documentation step that, I guess, is required to prevent fraud against Continental by unsavory people who try to get a cheaper fare on Bereavement by faking grief:

When I did as I was instructed by the website and I called Continental to check the Bereavement fare, I was told the price for Janna’s ticket was $358.00 USD round trip.

That was strange. I told the Continental customer service representative I could book the same fare online for $295.81 USD.

I was met with silence.

After a long and uncomfortable moment, the rep said, “you’re seeing the online price.”

I confirmed to her that, yes, I was looking at the fare online.

“You aren’t supposed to do that,” she scolded. “You’re supposed to call us for the Bereavement fare and we book it for you over the phone.”

“But your Bereavement fare is more than the online fare!”

“I can lower the fare to $313.00 with the Bereavement discount.”

“But,” I was sort of shouting, “That’s $18.00 more than if I hung up the phone and just booked a straight fare online.”

“Yes,” she coldly replied, “You could do that.”

“Why,” I countered, “do you even offer Bereavement fares if they’re more expensive than the online fare?”

She went silent again.

I could hear her clearing her throat and shuffling through papers. “Not everyone has internet access. Online fares are different than when you call us, sir,” — she was scolding me again — “you have to call us to get the special Bereavement fare.”

“The only reason I called you,” I offered, “was because your website told me I have to get offline and call you to get a Bereavement fare.”

“That’s right.”

“So I call you to get a more expensive fare that you sell as a Bereavement fare?”

“As I said before, online booking and calling us require different fare structures.”

“Thank you,” I said, “I’ll go back online and book the cheaper fare.”

“That’s your choice, sir. Some people prefer the convenience of having us book the fare for them over the phone.”

“Ah,” I replied, “there’s the hook — there’s no preference involved if you are required to call.”

It was then I realized how the Bereavement fare scam must work: Continental bets you are in such deep hurt that they can squeeze a few more dollars out of you by requiring you to book your Bereavement fare over the phone instead of having you book it yourself online as a cheaper regular fare.

The insidious reality that Continental limits participation and requires documentation for Bereavement plays into the idea that you’re getting a great deal when you are not. It certainly appears Continental is preying on your loss and your broken heart to line their pockets and to blacken their bottom line.

It disgusts me when companies take advantage of the emotional despair that comes in waves of mourning and longing and yearning and companies like Continental Airlines deserve to have their Bereavement fares mocked online and wholly identified as an inconsolable and inconsiderate scam.

40 comments

  • sorry to hear fathers death and i can’t believe what a scam that is

  • Thanks, arin. Yes, it was an incredible conversation to have over the phone while realizing it was costing you more time and more money than if you just did it all yourself.

  • the fare online sure were different too i wonder why so much high

  • arin –
    Hi! I guess it was the “Thanksgiving Scam” where you get charged a thousand dollars more if you want to actually arrive home before the actual holiday. :grin:

  • probably so well have a good thanksgiving alone

  • I’m trying, arin, thanks. :grin:

  • Firstly my condolences to Janna and yourself.
    I have two words for the behaviour of Continental -
    emotional blackmail.
    Sickening behaviour.

  • Hi Nicola!
    Thanks for the kind thoughts. We appreciate it very much. Janna just sent me an SMS. Her flight is delayed an hour. Her plane isn’t even on the ground in Newark yet. Bad weather all over today. It will be a long, awful, day for her, I fear. She buries her dad tomorrow and flies back at 6am on Saturday. It’s an immediate turnaround for her — we’re so busy that was the only way.
    Yes, you’re right! It is EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL! It truly is sickening. I can imagine older folks, not yet web savvy, who are paying what I consider unfair, non-discounted Bereavement fares thinking they’re getting a good deal and Continental is doing them a favor. Grr!

  • i’ll eat some turkey for you

  • Better you than me, arin. :wink:

  • Condolences for you and Janna.
    I can’t help but wonder if some people have their own Thanksgiving on an entirely different day just so they can have their whole family together and not have it cost a lot of money. Why do we have to do it exactly today? What’s stopping people from getting together on a completely different day – Sunday, for the sake of most everyone being off work – and having it be after November so that you can get Thanksgiving things on clearance. Hmm.

  • Thanks for the kind thoughts, Gordon.
    That’s an excellent point! I remember one Christmas our family decided to meet at a lodge in Tennessee and we all agreed to fly there ON CHRISTMAS DAY from all parts of the country to get a cheap fare, empty planes and empty airports. It worked! Everything was a ghost town. We had a wonderful time.

  • Poor Janna – sounds like she will be exhausted when she returns both physically and emotionally.
    I suspect you will be too.
    I hope you take Sunday to have your own Thanksgiving.
    I an avoiding the subject of CA – I am full of righteous indignation over that and it is really winding me up.

  • Thanks, Nicola! We were able to have our “Thanksgiving” a couple of days ago. It was nice. This is the first time since we’ve been together that we aren’t together on this day, though, so that’s sad even though it is necessary.
    She’s almost on the plane, I think — nearly delayed 2 hours. Let’s hope Continental doesn’t read this and block her from getting on the plane!

  • Fingers crossed she is on the plane :)

  • My condolences to you and Janna David.
    I am in shock over the cold calculated way that CA are squeezing more money out of their customers!
    At a time when you would expect a little respect and understanding from most anyone, CA have proven that they really don’t care about customer satisfaction. All they care about is lining their pockets with yet more money.
    I agree with what Nicola said – Emotional Blackmail!

  • She should be landing in about 10 minutes if she’s on the plane! :grin: They made up about 30 minutes in the air so that’s always a good thing. I love how you can track the position of the plane in the air as it travels.
    I’m hoping for an SMS soon confirming she arrived, but she usually forgets in the thrill of being back with her childhood friends and family so I may not hearing anything until the morning! :lol:

  • Hi Dawn!
    Thanks for the good energy! We appreciate it.
    Yes. CA is really something as I sit here and ponder their policy and wondering how in the world they could ever try to properly explain it in public and on-the-record without looking like the fools they are…
    I remember back when these fares were exactly half the price of a regular fare across the board with any airline so you always knew what you’d pay. It was fair and predictable. I guess honorable Bereavement Fares are another victim of airline deregulation.

  • Janna arrived!
    She’s on the ground!
    Continental didn’t get her after all! :mrgreen:

  • So pleased to hear she has arrived safe and sound.

  • Me, too, Nicola! Thanks so much for you caring comments this afternoon.

  • Our thoughts and condolences go to Janna.
    Thanks for pointing out the Continental scam, I wonder how many people get caught out calling and paying the higher fare?

  • Thanks for popping in with your good heart, Mik, I appreciate it.
    I think a lot of people get caught in the fare scam. You start by doing a search for “Continental Bereavement fare” on Google and the results take you right to the page that tells you to pick up the phone and call.
    Few people would ever imagine a Bereavement fare would ever be higher than an online self-booked fare — so why take the extra step of checking out online pricing before you call? Now we know.
    This Continental episode is why blogging is so great and so real. You can share experiences that warn people and, perhaps, do a little bit of good in the process.
    Before blogging you’d maybe tell your friends and immediate family what happened and that would be it. Online you can touch thousands of people a day to let them in on what you discovered and then they know, and their family and friends know…
    Encyclopedia Brown — the children’s book detective — called that meme process the “Ghost-to-Ghost” network and that’s just how information now propagates over the web… via the horror of haunting experiences.

  • this is horrible stuff. Saddens my heart to read this.

  • Just dropping in to let you know that you are both being thought of .

  • Welcome to Urban Semiotic, amreekandesi, and thank you for the support!

  • I appreciate you checking up on us, Nicola! :grin:
    All here is well. Janna is up and ready to attend the service. Then she flies back at 6am tomorrow morning. It’s a quick turnaround for her.

  • Oh, and Nicola –
    On a previous private note… Janna’s father had been sick for a long time. He was in a nursing home and was miserable.
    He was hospitalized a few weeks ago and did not want to return to the nursing home. He either wanted to stay in the hospital or go back to his real home — neither of those choices were an option so… he decided to stop eating…

  • Few like flying these days and the stress of a loss only compounds things, but I’m not sure why you are calling this a scam. A scam is a deliberate attempt to defraud. Airline fares change constantly and Thanksgiving day is a discount fare day. Most days the bereavement fare would have been less than you could have booked online.
    Yes most airlines, other than Southwest are major pains in the neck, but I can assure that the airline clerk you spoke to was not trying to cheat you.

  • Thank you, Barry, for your comment.
    The next three days after Thanksgiving were all in the sub-Bereavement fare category as we tried to find the right mix of timeliness and cost.
    I believe it’s a scam because there is an obvious attempt to fool you into calling and paying a higher price offline than just staying online and booking the ride yourself — and the clerk basically confirmed that fact in my discussion with her.
    I’m not sure how you can be so sure about the intention of the phone reservation clerk. She may not have personally been trying to cheat me — but I do know she was trying hard to make a distinction without a difference between online booking and over-the-phone booking.

  • Here are a couple of ways Continental can immediately remedy their Bereavement Fares problem:
    1. Allow Bereavement Fares to be booked online for 50% of the stated online price. Reserve the opportunity to charge the full online price if the evidence for Bereavement does not match the program requirements.
    2. Remove the percentage scale for Bereavement fares that are not based on the online price but rather the price you are “given” over the phone when you call. That percentage discount — combined with the the differential between the online and “on-the-phone” price — leaves too much room for unscrupulous manipulation of fares in the name of Bereavement.

  • David,
    You’re right; I can’t be sure of the clerk’s intent. But given that she is a low paid employee for an airline that has complex pricing strategies, we can be reasonably certain.
    I’ll give you the easiest way for Continental or for that matter any other airline to reform their policies. Eliminate bereavement fares and charge reasonable fares to begin with. If they did they would be like Southwest and they might even be profitable.

  • Hi Barry!
    Yes, I think your suggestion is a fine plan and the fairest way to go for all airlines.

  • Hi David,
    Please convey my condolence to Janna – though belated.
    Sorry to hear about her loss, hope everything is going fine now.

  • Thanks, Katha! Things are slowly returning to normal if there even exists such an idea…

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  • I applied for bereavement fare with Continental back in November. I had to fly out so fast I had to do it afterward, which I did, submitting all the necessary paperwork. The discount should have been on a $1500 or thereabouts fare and instead, I find today, after 3 months of waiting and never hearing any response from them, they have credited me a whopping $22.22. I have flown with them for over 30 years and this is the answer I get in a time of hard-ship. I can’t believe it. No wonder they went bankrupt. I will never fly United or Continental again.

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