Hey, I’m Not THAT Old…Yet!

OK, now I am ticked off. Last week I received a solicitation in the mail to join AARP. Yes, that AARP! The American Association of Retired Persons. Sure, I have the silver hair, and my kids think I am ancient, but believe me, the only way I’m going to enter their little club is kicking and screaming every step of the way.

But indignation did not stop me from perusing the AARP flier and checking out the benefits of being what I prefer to call “maturely young” (or, as my girlfriend’s mother says: “an immature 45”). Actually, AARP membership is a pretty good deal, and that got me thinking about travel perks for seniors. My travel agency has a good number of senior clients, and I’ve noticed that more and more suppliers are courting the senior market with everything from airline and hotel packages to discounts on rental cars and area attractions. And why not? Seniors are good guests. They have money, they behave well, and they will tell their friends when they have a good time. Which makes me wonder, then: Why would they want me? I rarely behave, never have any money, and tend to keep my mouth shut (I learned my lesson once).

I strongly recommend that seniors work with a qualified travel agent. Most agents will have access to senior specials or “state of residence” specials available to you. Sure, go to the Web and hunt for deals, but before you commit, check with your agent. If he can’t get you a better deal, you’ve lost nothing but a phone call. If you don’t have an agent, contact the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which can refer you to some qualified senior travel specialists.

Here are some tips for getting the best senior deal.

Ask for senior info

A good deal probably won’t fall in your lap all by itself. Ask. Ask about a senior rate and at what age it takes effect. Some travel suppliers offer discounts for the over-55 set, while others require you to be 65 or older. United Airlines offers a club for passengers 55 and older. For $240 annually, members receive discounted fares, double miles and discounts on participating hotels and area attractions. Alaska Airlines and Air Jamaica have also been known to offer reduced rates for seniors. With a deal on airfares, that tropical or Alaska vacation that you’ve been pining for needn’t deplete your savings.

Another way to ask about senior travel bargains is to visit online forums. There are specialty forums out there like AARP’s Senior Travel Forums and more general ones like our own Tripso forums that can answer almost any question you have. They are usually free, and very worthwhile.

Get a senior card

Many hotels, airlines and rental car agencies honor AARP’s membership card, and it can save you hundreds of dollars while you are vacationing. The annual fee for the card is $12.50, and the AARP Web site provides you with information on where you can use it. The only requirement to join is that you be over the age of 50.

Another card that can save you money is a AAA (American Automobile Association) card, and you don’t have to be a senior to get it. Once you sign up, you will receive a monthly magazine that will give you ideas on how to make the most of your membership. AAA also has travel agencies nationwide that can help you get senior discounts.

If you are a grandparent, check out the Disney Rewards Visa Card from Chase. It’s a rewards credit card that can help you out with a trip to Disney with the grandkids. If you are already planning to take the grandkids to Disney, here is a good article to read before you go.

Some good finds

Train and bus companies also extend savings to senior travelers. Greyhound and Amtrak offer fares that are 10 percent to 15 percent less than the published fare. To qualify for Greyhound or Amtrak’s senior rate, you must be over 62.

Many hotels also offer senior rates, with or without an AARP membership. Marriott offers senior travelers 15 percent off the usual rate, and the discount is honored at more than 2,000 hotels worldwide. Marriott has beautiful resorts throughout the Caribbean and Europe. Just show your ID — my fake one is on the way!

Choice Hotels offers a program called “Mature Travelers” for vacationers over 50. With this rate, you will save 10 percent on hotels like Clarion, Cambria Suites and Comfort Inn. For seniors over 60, a 20 percent to 30 percent discount is applied when you make reservations in advance. This rate is honored at most U.S. locations.

Rental car agencies are looking for seniors’ business as well. Budget and Enterprise Rent-A-Car are two agencies worth checking out. Depending on the location and type of vehicle, these companies may offer discounts from 5 percent to 15 percent. With these savings, you can upgrade to that convertible you’ve always wanted and cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway.

When you arrive at your destination, be sure to check for senior rates at museums, amusement parks, golf courses and other attractions. The admission may be only a couple of dollars less, but those few dollars can add up. Even McDonald’s has a senior rate for a cup of coffee!

Your hotel concierge can be a big help in identifying local discounts, so be sure to stop by the front desk for a chat.

One caveat

Senior discounts are great, but they may not be the best deal out there. For example, AAA rates are often lower than AARP rates, and individual hotels may offer a more attractive rate than the chainwide rate. This goes back to point one: Ask. And if you have a trusted travel agent working for you, double check with him before booking a discount rate. Agents know the rates and can help you maximize your dollar.

Every traveler wishes to have a great vacation without breaking the bank. Now, as a senior, you can have a better trip by spending more on the things you enjoy and less on travel expenses.

NOTE: Murphy and his law are in full force. Just after this column appeared, I received a release from United Airlines that they will be discontinuing their Silver Wings program for seniors effective July 1, 2007. My apologies to my readers and a big “boo hiss” to United. JWF 6/22/07

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