Feeling down in the dumps about an approaching milestone birthday? It may buoy your spirits to know you may now be 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."
Irene S. Levine, PhD is an award-winning travel writer and member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). You can follow her blog for travelers over 50 at More Time To Travel.