The Brancatelli File



November 1, 1989 -- Wondering why you’ve seen so many promotions aimed at so-called “mature travelers” recently? One glance at the statistics explains it all.

The Census Bureau says more than one in four of us is now at least 50 years old. More importantly, this “mature” quarter of the population controls 75 percent of the nation’s wealth and 50 percent of its disposable income. And mature Americans are extremely active travelers. The American Association of Retired Persons estimates that people over 50 account 80 percent of all leisure travel.

Although travel discounts for senior citizens have been sporadically available for years, the boom in mature-traveler programs began about a year ago. “The big movement was when all the large airlines jumped in,” says Gene E. Malott, editor of The Mature Traveler, a newsletter for travelers over 50. “Now everyone feels the need to cater to older travelers to stay competitive.”

Here are some tips on how to take advantage of the major travel discounts available to mature travelers.

Investigate mature traveler discounts even if you’re not 65. “Sixty-five isn’t the magic door anymore,” says Malott. “It’s down to sixty-two for most airline discount programs and fifty-five for many hotels.” The AARP classifies as a mature traveler anyone over 50.

Join the American Association of Retired Persons. You don’t have to be retired, you need only be 50 to join, and the $5 annual membership fee buys a windfall of benefits. Members receive a 10 percent discount on the lowest published round-trip fare on any American Airlines flight in the continental United States, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico. Nineteen lodging chains, including Sheraton, Omni, Ramada and Holiday Inn, offer AARP members a minimum of 10 percent off room rates every day of the year. Some chains also offer discounts of up to 15 percent on food and beverage purchases. AARP members also receive a break on rental cars from Hertz, National, Avis and Thrifty. If you join, your spouse automatically becomes a member, even if she or he is under 50. For more information, contact AARP Membership Processing Center, Box 199, Long Beach, California 90801.

Buy the senior citizen’s airfare. Almost all U.S. carriers now offer 10 percent off any published fare to passengers over 62, although restrictions vary.

Some U.S. Airlines also sell membership in senior traveler clubs. United’s “Silver Wings Plus Club,” for example, offers hotel and car-rental discounts and 10 percent discounts off United, Alitalia and Iberia airfares. The $50 lifetime fee is credited to the first ticket purchase. Other U.S. carriers, including American, USAir, Continental and Delta, offer multiple-flight promotions. Continental’s “Get-Up-And-Go Passport,” for example, costs $1,599 and allows 42 flights per year within the continental United States, for an average one-way fare of about $38.

Some foreign carriers, including Lufthansa and KLM, also offer 10 percent discounts for mature travelers on certain fares and routes. And British Airways’ “Privileged Traveller Program” offers members over 60 up to 30 percent off published airfares and discounts on Cunard cruises and Orient Express rail trips.

Request Lodging Discounts. Stouffer Hotels, for example, offers “Great Years” rates of $38-$139 to all guests age 60 and over. Quality International, which includes Clarion, Quality and Comfort hotels and motels, offers a 10 percent discount at more than 900 properties in the continental United States and Canada and 30 percent if the room is reserved more than one month in advance. Even hotel chains without formal programs offer substantial discounts for seniors. Half of all Hyatt hotels, for example, offer special rates to guests over 60.

Always ask for a discount. Mature traveler programs are now so widespread that it never hurts to assume there’s one in effect. Some unexpected examples: Town Taxi, a Minneapolis taxi fleet, knocks 10 percent off the meter fare for anyone over 65; BritRail discounts first-class rail passes for travelers over 60; Hapag-Lloyd offers a 5 percent discount to travelers over 60 who book the tour company’s Austrian motorcoach trips, Danube cruises or Kitzbühel holidays.

Carry Proof of Age. Virtually all mature-traveler plans require it.

Subscribe to The Mature Traveler. This invaluable 12-page monthly newsletter covers the latest news about senior discount programs and promotions. A sample copy costs $1; a year’s subscription, $21.97. Contact The Mature Traveler, Box 50820, Reno, Nevada 89513.

This column originally appeared in Travel & Leisure magazine.

Copyright © 1989-2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.