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.