An Auckland family rushing back to New Zealand after the sudden death of a relative are slamming Air New Zealand's compassionate travel policy.

Fairfax Media reported an Auckland businessman, referred to as Steve, was holidaying in Fiji with his family when he received news his father-in-law had unexpectedly died.

He arranged for his flights to be brought forward three days, and was told on the phone he would be able to use the compassionate fare policy to reclaim unexpected travel expenses after the funeral, Fairfax said.

It was not explained to the family how much of the extra costs would be refunded, and Air New Zealand ended up covering $360 of the $1444 extra cost incurred.


He was then told only flight change and service fees could be refunded.

"We wish they'd been straight with us from the start to avoid this nasty shock down the track, when we least needed it," he told Fairfax.

"The public need to be aware of how Air New Zealand behave, and to beware of how easy it is to interpret their wishy-washy communication incorrectly."

Air New Zealand has not yet responded to NZME, but told Fairfax the airline followed its compassionate policy by applying the family's original ticket value towards the new fare.

"In this case the new fares were more expensive than the original fares which had been purchased well in advance, so the family paid some differential between the two. The fare change penalty and service fees were refunded in line with our policy," spokeswoman Brigitte Ransom said.

The difference between the family's original fares and the new fares was large, because they had booked their original tickets well in advance, she said.

"We sympathise with the passenger and his family's circumstances and we are sorry that he doesn't find our compassionate policy to be clear."