Saturday was my dad’s birthday. This is a big one, since he’s turning 65 but firmly resists the idea of retiring (I’m not sure what he would do with himself). My dad is the kind of guy who, every time he receives an AARP membership offer in the mail, dumps it in the trash as he calls out like a sea lion: AARP AARP AARP!
But in recognition of his turning 65, I thought I’d do a little rundown of senior discounts for travel.
For the most part, senior discounts don’t exist anymore on airlines. This makes sense. Except for lap infants, who generally travel for free in the U.S. or for a small percentage of an international fare, all adults over 18 months pay the same rate.
Other travel expenses are a slightly different story. While the discounts still exist for things like hotels, they are generally lower than they used to be. Certainly there are discounts if you join certain groups like AARP. But as I’ll explain below, they aren’t anything worth writing home about.
I did some exploring to try to figure out what discounts, if any, still exist for senior travelers. If you know of something I’ve overlooked, please let me know and I’ll be sure to add it to this post.
Southwest still offers senior fares for those 65 years and older and must be verified at check-in at the airport using a government-issued ID. This will be notated in your Rapid Rewards profile so you can check in online in the future. Senior fares are fully refundable to the form of payment, even the lowest fare type “Wanna Get Away,” but I didn’t see any mention of a discount nor did I notice one when I made a phony booking.
However, I couldn’t find reference to senior fares from many other carriers, either, except that they are available on “select routes.” What I take away from this is that, for all airlines, a blanket discount is pretty much gone. United Airlines used to have a Silver Wings program that it has let slowly fade into oblivion, apparently hoping that those who paid for lifetime membership will pass away before they can complain their way to getting benefits reinstated. If you signed up for Silver Wings in the past, I know some people who would like to get in touch.
In sort, I would recommend you fly Southwest because, as you get older and can’t lift that carryon over your head, it probably helps to be able to check a bag for free. And the refundable fare doesn’t hurt either.
Amtrak provides senior fares offering a 15% discount are available for those 62 years and older, though passengers traveling to or from Canada receive only a 10% discount for those 60 years and older. Weekday Acela Express trains, premium cabins, sleeping cabins, and combinations with other discount offers are excluded.
Rail Europe, an online agent for rail tickets and passes in Europe catering to vacationing Americans, also offers discounts. These can range from 15-20% looking at a few examples. Unlike Amtrak, these discounts are generally available only on travel in first class cabins on select trains and passes.
Many hotels offer discounts to seniors, generally a 10% cut off the best available rate at either 62 or 65 years and older. AARP members, although my guess is that you do not actually need to have an ARRP card to confirm your discount at check-in. For example, DoubleTree specifically mentions that you will be asked to provide proof of age, and doesn’t advertise its senior rates as AARP rates. Travelodge, Days Inn, and Starwood properties offer 20% off, but again I saw no reference to AARP on their websites, only generic senior rates. If you’re looking for a discount, I’d recommend you try Expedia’s dedicated AARP Travel Center. It requires a separate AARP Travel Center account, but it didn’t appear to ask for an AARP member ID during the sign-up process.
Sorry, there aren’t many discounts to be had for cruises. Expedia’s AARP homepage does mention on-board ship credit for some bookings, but I have seen similar offers for booking a cruise from lots of agencies. While I have never been on a cruise, I do hear that seniors love them. It makes sense: you get to eat, lounge, and visit several places without the headaches of packing up over and over. However, if all the seniors are taking cruises, there really isn’t any incentive to offer discounts.
At the end of my investigation, none of the discounts I found were particularly impressive. 10% usually, maybe 20% for the better offers. Often nothing. I certainly didn’t see anything that required membership in a senior organization like AARP. If you already subscribe to AAA, that’s probably good enough, and even Costco membership will get you 10% off at Hyatt hotels.
The largest consistent discount was on train travel. If you want to explore Europe (or even North America) by train, check out the offers from Amtrak and Rail Europe. I actually think this is a great idea if you’ve retired and have the time to travel a little slower and enjoy the scenery.