Travel 2020: Where the senior discounts are
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Travel 2020: Where the senior discounts are

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SENIOR TRAVEL

Senior woman sitting on vintage suitcase and reading travel newspaper.

Some senior discounts have been around for decades, but others have come and gone.

Here's how senior discounts look for 2020.

Airlines

Old-timers who remember those great senior coupons and clubs must surely be dismayed by the current state of senior deals on airlines. Last year, Southwest dropped the last useful senior program among U.S. airlines, leaving the British Airways deal through AARP as the only one any senior might use. It offers $65 off any economy or premium economy ticket and $200 off any business class ticket. Discounts apply to any ticket purchase, including flash sale deals. Buy directly from BA through its AARP portal. The discount isn't huge, but if British Airways works for you, it's money on the table.

Hotels

Just about all major hotel chains and independent hotels in the U.S. and Canada offer small senior discounts to seniors, usually 5 percent to 10 percent, that kick in at ages ranging from 50 through 65. In some cases, they're limited to AARP; in others, all you need is proof of age. On the other hand, local chains and independent hotels in Asia and Europe typically do not offer senior discounts. Moreover, AARP deals are seldom any better than those offered to members of AAA and many other organizations.

Over the years, my take on AARP or other senior hotel discounts hasn't changed: They provide a modest cost reduction that's useful when you can't find a better deal through some other source available to travelers of any age, such as flash sales, opaque rates, and air/hotel packages.

Rental Cars

Just about anyone can wangle a nominal rental car discount. For seniors, the Avis and Budget deals through AARP have an extra edge: The base rate includes better liability coverage than almost any other deals.

Package Tours

Road Scholar (roadscholar.org/), the former Elderhostel, offers seniors outstanding travel experiences combining continuing education and good value. It focuses on travelers age 55 or over, offering thousands of tour options designed for senior travelers in more than 90 countries. Tours of varying physical requirements are offered, from rugged to mild. Prices -- especially for tours in the U.S. -- are not "discounted" as such, but they're almost always good deals.

For actual discounts, the most widely available is the AARP deal with Collette Tours, which offers discounts of $50 to $100 per person on most tours and discounts up to $450 person on some "sale" deals.

Rail

Amtrak currently offers 10 percent discounts on coach class travel for travelers age 65 or over -- age 60 on cross-border travel with VIA Rail -- on most trains. It also runs time-limited special senior discounts, such as the current 50 percent discount on Downeaster trains and 15 percent discount for seniors age 62 or over on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Sunliner, and San Joaquins. But Amtrak is obviously re-thinking its discount policies, and the current programs may not last through the year. VIA Rail offers discounts around 10 percent on all trains, including sleeper accommodations as well as coach, but you find even better any-age discounts on weekly discount promotions.

In Europe, Eurail Pass now offers senior passes for travelers age 60 or over at 10 percent below any-age passes for both first- and second-class travel throughout its 31-country validity region. Alternatively, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK sell annual senior cards that offer 30 percent to 40 percent discounts on ordinary single-trip tickets. You can buy the UK pass online (railcard.co.uk) for downloading to a phone app; the others are available only after you arrive in-country. Elsewhere, most rail systems, including Japan Rail Pass, don't offer senior discounts.

Public Transit

Most large public transit systems throughout the U.S. offer senior fares, most typically about half the any-age fare and most typically to travelers age 65 or over. In Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, seniors age 65 or over travel free. Some systems require only that you show a Medicare card, but increasingly, you need a special senior ID. Check the details for any major U.S. city you plan to visit. Very few cities outside the U.S. offer similar senior deals.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

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