Travel Discounts for Seniors
Planning on taking a vacation next summer? You’re not alone. According to Travel Weekly, baby boomers and seniors account for 69 percent of the U.S. travel and tourism business. In better shape financially and physically than the the previous generation, boomers are hitting the roads rather than sitting at home. Many are signing up for the exploration of foreign lands and cultures; others are organizing getaways for the whole family. The travel industry recognizes their growing clout, and creates sweet deals to lure them. When it comes to traveling, age does have its privileges, but the minimum-age requirement varies widely (55, 60, 62, or 65), according to Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can’t Get Unless You’re Over 50,” by Joan Rattner Heilman (2007-2008 edition, McGraw-Hill). Discounts are often unadvertised, and you have to ask for them. So carry your ID and speak up.
“People seem to think that boomers have all this wealth they can throw around like crazy,” says Dean Parks, co-founder of Hotel Traveler Reviews. “Boomers still love to find a good deal.”
One of the best bargains around starts at age 50. It’s AARP. With a range of benefits and services that include AARP, the magazine, and AARP Bulletin, a monthly newsletter, plus savings of 10 to 30 percent off travel packages, cruises, hotels, and car rentals. Annual AARP membership is $12.50 a couple, which you can easily recoup with your first booking. Keep in mind that you may find a sale with deeper discounts elsewhere if you shop around. But if you don’t, an AARP discount will still save you money.
Airlines used to offer great incentives, but those perks have now gone the way of in-flight meals, pillows, and blankets. Southwest Airlines is the only domestic carrier that continues to grant savings of 20 to 70 percent off full-price fares to travelers age 65 and over. You get better breaks from international carriers. Cathay Pacific has specially priced fares to Asia and British Columbia through its 55 Plus Worry Free Fares programs. Other airlines require you to be in your 60s to qualify. Trains, subways, and buses have their own schedule of discount fares.
The National Park Service offers its Golden Age Passport to folks age 62 and over; a one-time fee of $10 gives you lifetime admission to all the national parks. Pack the entire family in the car and everybody gets in for free. The pass also grants a 50 percent discount on federal fees for things like camping, swimming, parking, boat launching, and guided tours.
If you’re into learning experiences, check out Elderhostel for its selection of more than 8,000 educational programs in the United States and abroad. Dreaming of an African safari or of snorkeling along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef? Active types looking to visit exotic locales should check out Elder Treks, which specializes in adventure travel around the world. Tours are limited to small groups and require a certain level of physical fitness. The online portal Cheap-Hotels.biz searches for vacation packages that cut out the fluff, for savings of 20 to 30 percent.
Cruises are heavily discounted, but you can score even bigger by approaching travel agents or cruise brokers such as Icruise.com and Cruise411.com, who buy blocks of cabins and resell them at a discount. Also get in touch with cruise lines directly to see if they’re offering specials on advance purchases, last-minute bookings, and introductory or repositioned cruises. Carnival, Celebrity, and Norwegian Lines regularly offer deals to passengers over 55. River cruises on smaller boats is another popular activity among boomers.
Hotels and motels will very often roll out the red carpet for folks as young as 50, slashing 10 to 15 percent off the regular rate if you merely flash your AARP card. Some chains like Choice, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Marriott, Radisson, and Sheraton allow you to enjoy your senior discount abroad. You may have to dig around to find the best deal. Again Cheap-Hotels.biz is a good place to start.
Want to spend time with grandchildren, nephews, nieces, adult kids? Take a vacation together. The options are limitless as to the places to visit, activities to do, and memories to share. If you don’t want the hassle of organizing the itinerary, look for companies like Elderhostel, Sierra Club, or Grandtravel that specialize in intergenerational travel. Trips are scheduled in summer and winter school breaks, running the gamut from pit stops at our nation’s capital — the Capitol Hill, Supreme Court, National Archives, etc. — to river rafting to observing elephants in Kenya. Many cruise ships provide activities for the young set, from toddlers to teens, and have cabins that can accommodate three or four passengers at significant savings.
Summer is chock full of vacationing families, for which reason you may want to postpone your own vacation trip until the fall; but if you have to travel during the summer, try to book your holiday during the last two weeks of August, when the kids return to school. “You will find a price dip and many fewer crowds,” says Pauline Dickens, creator of Expert Travel Reviews. Also consider traveling during the “shoulder” — that period between high and low season at popular travel destinations where the demand to go isn’t as high, so you can net good bargains — or low season at popular destinations. Good travel deals this summer can take you to the Caribbean, Alaska, China, the U.S. national parks, or Argentina where the peso is still devalued.
Check other travel Websites like Farecompare.com, Sidestep.com, and Cheapflights.com, which do more impartial and deeper searches than the average. “Sometimes you can find airlines that you won’t find on Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity,” advises Ms. Dickens. “Once I found a great fare to Paris on Air Kuwait, of all things.”
Remember that you’re entitled to all these price breaks and travel companies do want you to use them. Some youth-obsessed boomers shy away and even turn down senior discounts rather than admit that they are getting along in years. Our advice: Just get over it, because you can save a lot of money.