Here’s how to take advantage of age-related travel discounts when you’re 50 and over:
Feeling down in the dumps about an approaching milestone birthday? It may buoy your spirits to know you are now eligible for a spate of age-related “senior” travel discounts and perks, ranging from A to Z (airlines to zoos).
Over the next five years, 80 million Americans will be over the age of 50, according to a recent Nielsen report. “These are valuable consumers with a disproportionate amount of disposable income and discretionary time,” says Clay Buckley, Vice-President Lifestyles for AARP Services, Inc.
It shouldn’t be surprising that companies are finding ways to woo these consumers with discounts and perks on flights, transportation, lodging, tours and entertainment. “Travel is of huge importance to our members,” says Buckley. In fact, nearly 2/3 of the AARP membership takes advantage of at least one travel discount during the year (among the many discounts offered by the organization).
AARP is the major player in brokering “senior” discounts and perks with the travel industry. The organization has a dedicated webpage (discounts.aarp.org) with more than 70 deals on travel-related products and services. Apart from those listings, however, many more one-off, age-related deals are available that aren’t as easy to find. Consumers may need to go directly to the vendor/resource (or its website) to ask about or verify current offers.
Here are some tips on taking advantage of 50 or over travel perks:
1) Carry your card
Although Americans can start collecting Social Security at age 62, there is no uniform definition of “senior” when it comes to travel discounts. Eligibility varies, generally starting at ages 55, 60, 62, or 65. In the case of AARP, it comes at 50. Since “60 is the new 50″ and so on, always carry a driver’s license, AARP membership card, or other acceptable proof of age (Medicare cards aren’t universally accepted).
2) Just ask
While the minimum age for discounts varies for different products or services, most discounts hover around ten percent, says Brian Ek, a senior travel editor for Priceline.com. “Not all companies publicize them, so you need to ask,” he says. Check the company’s website or pick up the phone and call. If you haven’t done research beforehand or can’t find a written policy, don’t be shy about inquiring upon your arrival at a restaurant or movie theater, or when checking into a hotel. You may be surprised at your ability to negotiate with a local (rather than brand) firm that wants your business. Crowdsourcing on forums and chat rooms can provide insider information. For example, on CruiseCritic.com, an online cruise review community, there are threaded conversations on over-55 discounts.
3) Read the fine print
Not all discounts are evergreen; few last indefinitely. Even when they are applicable, they may apply only to certain dates or times, or have blackout dates or other restrictions. For example, a hotel may not offer every category of room at a senior rate, or every hotel in a brand may not be included. Since promotions change continuously, make sure your information is accurate and current. When it comes to discounts, guidebooks are likely to be outdated by the time they are printed.
4) Compare age-related discounts to other offers
Senior discounts aren’t always the best deals and usually, they can’t be combined with other promotions. For example, “2 for 1 cruise fares” may offer a better deal than a senior discount. “Though a few airline carriers, such as American Airlines and Southwest, still offer senior discounts that doesn’t mean you are necessarily getting the best available price on an airline ticket,” cautions Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com.
5) Ask a travel agent
If identifying discounts seems like a lot of work, it is. They continually change and their value can be hard to judge. Some travel agents can help identify promotions and compare them to other deals. “Cruise line senior discounts are offered on some sailings, to some destinations, on some dates,” says Chuck Flagg, owner of a Cruise Holidays Franchise in Canton, Georgia. “But pricing can be tricky and a travel agent can find a discount for residents of certain state, for example, that is lower than a senior discount. We look at these fares every single day and are not casual observers,” he says.
6) Join AARP
By joining AARP at age 50, travelers can start taking advantage of these deals five years before most other senior discounts apply. Membership dues of $16 per year (for an individual or couple) convey eligibility for a host of discounts and perks on car rentals, cruises, rail travel, hotels, dining, airline, medical evacuation insurance, tours and live events. AARP has also partnered with Expedia to offer cruise credits and upgrades.
Of course, there are other valuable travel perks that come with age. Younger travelers are constrained by school schedules, world schedules, and advance vacation notice requirements, says Jeremy Loeckler, founder of TourMatters.com, a new website ranking tour operators. “Perhaps the biggest advantage mature travelers have is their flexibility.”
Looking for a good deal?
Here is a sampling of some currently (December 2013) age-related travel discounts for people 50 and over:
Online travel agency CheapOair offers a discount code that changes monthly, saving seniors 65 or over about $15 on any trip depending on the month. They also offer “senior travel deals” on specific flights to and from certain destinations. www.cheapoair.com/flights/booknow/senior-travel-deals
Southwest Airlines offers discounted fares for travelers 65 or over. The website advises seniors to call a Southwest Airlines Customer Representative or a travel agent for details on fares, limitations, and any restrictions. Senior Fares are fully refundable. http://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/unique-travel-needs/seniors/index-pol.html
Hyatt Hotels offers seniors ages 62 or over up to 50% off on Hyatt Daily Rates at participating Hyatt hotels and resorts in the continental U.S. and Canada. http://www.hyatt.com/hyatt/senior.jsp
Marriott Hotels offers seniors 62 or over up to 15% discounts on rates at more than 3,600 Marriott hotels worldwide, seven days a week, on a space-available basis. http://www.marriott.com/specials/senior/default.mi
MSC Cruises offers “Boomer Plus Rates” for guests 50 or over on select seven-night sailings with reduced pricing, a two-category cabin upgrade, and a reduced $100 per person deposit. (This discount is combinable with MSC Club discounts or military/civil service discounts.) http://www.msccruisesusa.com/us_en/MSC/boomer.aspx
RAIL AND LOCAL TRANSPORTATION
Amtrak travelers 62 or over can obtain a 15% discount on the lowest available rail fare on most trains, with certain exceptions (such as Acela) and additional restrictions. On cross-border services operated jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada, a 10% discount is applicable to travelers ages 60 or over. http://www.amtrak.com/seniors-discount
Canada’s VIA Rail offers discounts of 10% off a full fare for a fully refundable and exchangeable ticket (which may be more expensive than tickets that can’t be changed or canceled). http://www.viarail.ca/en/fares-and-packages/discounts/60
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority allows individuals 65 or over to ride free at all times on bus, trackless trolley, subway, and trolley service. There is a 50% discount off regular weekday fare on regional rail between Philadelphia and New Jersey or Delaware. www.septa.org/fares/discount/senior-id.html. A senior citizen transit ID card or Medicare card issued by SSA is required.
PARKS AND ENTERTAINMENT
The U.S. Geological Survey offers a $10 lifetime pass (formerly called a Golden Age Pass) to U.S. Citizens or permanent residents 62 or over that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies, with up to 100% of the proceeds used to improve and enhance visitor recreation services. http://store.usgs.gov/pass/senior.html
The Flagstaff (Arizona) Extreme Adventure Course offers 30% off admission to individuals 60 years or over, including a free shirt for those completing all four courses. http://www.flagstaffextreme.com/Prices.html
Regal Cinemas offers discount of up to 30% (they vary by location) to individuals 60 or over at 546 theaters in 38 states and the District of Columbia. http://www.seniordiscounts.com/FeaturedDiscounts/Regal.aspx
At the San Diego Zoo, seniors age 60 or over receive a 10% discount off the “1-Day Pass.” Discounts cannot be combined with any other coupon or offer and cannot be applied online, as presentation of a photo ID is required. http://www.sandiegozoo.org/zoo/faq/faq_membership_and_discounts
Busch Gardens in Tampa offers Florida residents 65 or over “Senior Passes” for $11.75, which includes unlimited admission, no blackout dates, free parking and discounts on food and merchandise as well as eligibility for discounted admission for friends and family. http://seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa/Book-Online/Tickets/Annual-Pass-Landing-Page/Senior
[A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post on 12/4/13.]