(USA TODAY) - Frequent flier Steve Kaufman appreciates the actions of two airlines after the deaths of two family members.
Continental Airlines, which has since merged with United Airlines, refunded seven tickets for a vacation trip after his father died in 2007.
Four years later, Delta Air Lines helped him get home from a business trip in Toronto when his mother-in-law died.
"They waived the change fee and booked me on the first flight out with no added cost, even though the ticket would have been substantially more," recalls Kaufman, of Chesterfield, Mo., who works in the souvenir industry and voluntarily provides travel information as a member of USA TODAY's Road Warrior panel.
The days of airline generosity after a loved one dies may soon be only distant memories. United last month stopped offering bereavement fares, and American Airlines ceased the practice in February.
USA TODAY surveyed 11 airlines, and only one, Alaska Airlines, still offers bereavement fares — but they may not be a bargain. Cheaper, non-refundable coach fares can often be bought.
Delta Air Lines says it technically has no bereavement fares, but it offers discounts to grieving fliers. The airline, though, won't specify the discounts, which are not available online, and says less expensive tickets may also be available.
Alaska's bereavement fare is a 15% discount on a newly purchased, full-fare, refundable coach ticket, and it is also not available online. Full-fare coach tickets allow changes without penalty but are more expensive than non-refundable coach tickets with change and cancellation penalties.
On April 3, for example, USA TODAY checked fares on Alaska's website, and the least expensive coach ticket for a round-trip San Diego-Anchorage itinerary, departing April 5 and returning April 7, was $1,026.90. The cheapest full-fare ticket, minus a 15% bereavement discount, was $168 more, or $1,194.90.
USA TODAY also checked Alaska's fares for a round-trip Seattle-Los Angeles itinerary for the same dates. The cheapest full-fare ticket, minus a 15% bereavement discount, was $724 — $28.20 more than the least expensive non-refundable coach ticket.
Unlike Alaska's policy, United's bereavement polices — before they ended last month — provided a 5% discount off the cheapest non-refundable fare.
Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec says its reservations personnel will offer "a bereavement discount" and waive all restrictions on the ticket.
Cheaper fares may be available in some markets but would have cancellation and ticket-change restrictions, he says.
American Airlines spokesman Casey Norton says the end of the airline's bereavement fares is in line with other airlines' policies, including those of US Airways, which completed its merger with American in December and doesn't offer bereavement fares.
Before they ended in February, American's bereavement fares were less expensive than the lowest published coach fares, Norton says.
Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, says airlines' bereavement policies benefited consumers many years ago, because 21-day or other advance-purchase requirements were waived, allowing fliers to book cheaper fares within a few days of departure.
In recent years, though, the benefit disappeared, Seaney says, because airlines instead offered bereft consumers a small fare discount that often wasn't the cheapest fare available.
Bereavement fares were not used often by consumers, because they could not be booked online or by travel agents, and proof of the death or family emergency was often required, Seaney says.
George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com, says bereavement fares "weren't much lower than regular fares," and online travel agents such as Priceline give better last-minute deals.
Hobica says bereavement discounts were not an easy task for airlines, because it was difficult to determine which fliers legitimately qualified for them.
Airlines' current policies vary for fliers who already bought non-refundable tickets and must cancel their flight after a relative dies.
Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska are the only carriers that offer a full refund. United offers a refund minus a $50 processing fee.
Frontier and Hawaiian also refund all additional fees paid.
Bereft ticket holders who do not want a refund but want to change their flight dates will usually have to pay the difference in fare between the original and new tickets.
Some airlines will also charge ticket-change fees, while others waive them.
All airlines except Allegiant provide a refund if a flier who buys a ticket dies before departing on a trip.
United Airlines says a refund will be given minus a $50 processing fee.