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Maturity Has Its Privileges: Price Savings
July 14, 1994 -- Sophisticated travelers who pride themselves on ferreting out all the great deals and every imaginable price break often inadvertently overlook one of the best cost-cutting strategies: the senior-citizen discount.
Whether due to the lingering stigma of having to admit your age or the contradictory fact that some senior discounts kick in as early as your 50th birthday, too many travelers miss the metaphorical boat when it comes to cashing in on their maturity.
Travel suppliers "are discounting like crazy for seniors," says Gary Topping, the president of Gulfstream Travel, a leading boutique travel agency. "Some savvy seniors know what's going on, but the majority of travelers have no idea what they're missing."
Even the American Association of Retired Persons believes travelers are ignorant of the financial facts of maturity. "The general traveling public has very little awareness of what's available in the way of discounts," says Jim O'Maoilearca, AARP manager of travel programs.
As you can see by the accompanying chart, the parade of discounts and special programs aimed at senior travelers is unending. American Express, for example, has created a special version of its charge card for seniors. The innovative Freedom Passport from Continental Airlines offers seniors up to a year's worth of travel for prices that begin at about $1,000. And the Rodeway Inn hotel chain (800-424-6423) has created "senior friendly" rooms, which offer brighter lighting, televisions with large control knobs and doors with levers instead of knobs.
Here's a look at some of the other discount programs now available to senior travelers.
Savings in the air Although no carrier can match the overall value of Continental's Freedom Passport, most domestic and many international airlines offer travelers 62 years of age or older an across-the-board 10 percent discount with almost no restrictions. Most U.S. and Canadian carriers also sell deeply discounted senior coupon booklets. One typical example is the Golden Opportunities book sold by USAir (800-428-4322). For $596, senior travelers buy four one-way tickets valid for travel to more than 200 cities in the United States and Canada. An eight-ticket book costs $1,032, which means seniors pay just $258 per roundtrip.
Savings on the rails Amtrak (800-872-7245) offers passengers 62 years or older a discount of about 15 percent on most fares. Travelers need only be 60 years old to take advantage of the 10 percent discount offered by Via Rail, the Canadian rail system. Many overseas rail services offer senior discounts, too. Britrail (800-677-8585), for example, offers about 10 percent off selected rail passes, Travelers need only be 55 years old to qualify for the 12 percent discount offered on the Scanrail Pass (800-438-7245) programs valid for train travel in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Savings at your hotel More than two dozen hotel chains offer savings of 10-50 percent per night to members of the AARP, an extremely useful bargain considering travelers can join the organization at age 50. Dozens of other chains offer similar discounts to all seniors, but the minimum age requirement is usually at least 60 years.
Savings from tour companies Although programs, policies and age requirements vary widely, many tour companies offer senior citizen discounts of at least 10 percent, says Topping of Gulfstream Travel. And as shown on the accompanying chart, several firms like Elderhostel and Eldertreks specialize in arranging travel packages for travelers 50 years or older.
Savings at national parks Travelers 62 years or older can obtain free admission to all national parks that charge a fee if they have the Golden Age Passport. Available at the gate at any park that charges a fee, the Passport costs $10 and never expires. With proof of age, the Passport can also be obtained directly from the National Parks Service (1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20240).
Savings on cruises Many cruise lines have independent senior discount programs, but nothing beats the deals available through AARP membership. Via the AARP, 13 cruise-ship operators offer discounts of 50 percent or more off the regular retail price.
The last word on savings As with any discount offer, never assume the senior rate is the lowest price in the market. Always ask about the availability of a senior discount, but then make sure to ask if there are other, lower rates available.
This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.
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