nternational adoption is unpredictable, and travel plans can change unexpectedly and expensively. But some airlines offer special adoption fares to help reduce the extra costs that come from last-minute changes.
"Adoption is, unfortunately, an expensive venture," said Keith Wallace, chief executive officer of Families Thru International Adoption, an Evansville, Ind., child placement agency. "Any time there is some kind of benefit, it will be helpful."
Adoption fares aren't new, but they are more flexible, carrying the fully refundable and no-charge-for-change benefits that come with unrestricted airfares. Adoption fares — offered by major airlines including United, Northwest and Delta — are available for both the adopter and the adopted child.
These adoption fares, however, aren't always the cheapest available, said Gayle Bunton, travel counselor with International Adoption Travel in Garland, Texas. If saving money is important for a family, Mrs. Bunton said she can usually beat adoption fares by going through a ticket consolidator or wholesaler.
For instance, the cheapest round-trip fare for a flight from Dallas to Moscow was $2,200 booked one day ahead — a realistic scenario, since adoption travel is often last-minute, Mrs. Bunton said. The adoption fare might cost about $1,046.
The same flight through a ticket consolidator would cost around $850, she said.
But the intangible benefits of an adoption fare can justify the extra cost, she said. She compared choosing adoption fares over regular fares to choosing Nieman Marcus over Wal-Mart.
"Any time an airline sees there's an adoption fare, they will go above and beyond in service," she said. "You get what you pay for."
Flexibility is whatadopters are paying for, since travel plans can change during the process, Mrs. Bunton said. International adoption is unpredictable — last-minute travel is common and court dates may be delayed, she said.
"Long term, [adoption fares] can save a lot of money," Mrs. Bunton said.
Still, adoption fares are almost always cheaper than a full-price coach fare. United's fully refundable adoption fares tend to be about 65 percent cheaper than a full-price fare, depending on the destination, said United spokesman Jeff Kovick.
Northwest's adoption fares range from 50 percent to 65 percent off the full-price fare, while Delta offers a 35 percent discount.
Some adoption fares come with extra benefits. Northwest's adoption fares allow one extra piece of luggage per group and options for seat upgrades to business class, according to the airline's Web site.
But airfare is just one part of the $12,000 to $30,000 process of adopting a foreign child, according to the Joint Council on International Children's Services, an Alexandria association for international adoption agencies. Because of that cost, the benefits of adoption airfares are unlikely to encourage more international adoptions, said Tom DiFilipo, president and CEO of the council.
"The savings compared to the overall cost isn't much," he said. "You might save $400 on the airfare."
Also, more airlines are unlikely to start offering the benefits of adoption fares, since international adoptions have decreased as host countries adopt stricter adoption accreditation policies, said Mr. DiFilipo.
International adoptions decreased by about 9 percent in 2006 from 2005, according to the State Department, which keeps track of the number of immigrant visas issued to orphans traveling to the United States.
The United States issued 20,679 such visas last year, according to State Department figures. International adoptions peaked in 2004, when 22,884 visas were issued to orphans.
The flexibility of adoption fares remains a useful tool for the estimated 20,000 international adopters each year. But they are not the only option, Mr. DiFilipo said.
"Sometimes what we've seen is that you can go online and get a cheaper fare than an adoption rate but without the benefits," Mr. DiFilipo said. "You just can't go in and look at the adoption fare."