Historically, travel suppliers have often courted senior travelers with special discounts. But the current status across travel types is uneven: Some supplier groups offer senior discounts almost entirely; others, like airlines hardly offer them at all anymore. Often, you need to know where to look to find them and how to secure one—but sometimes all it takes is asking for a senior travel discount to be applied.
The Best Senior Discounts in Travel:
Some suppliers offer percent or dollars-off discounts to senior travelers, typically starting at age 60 or 65. Here’s my take on the best brands for senior discounts, plus some great overall senior-focused brands, for every type of travel—from airlines to tours, cruises, rail, and more.
Airline: British Airways via AARP
Once common, senior discounts on airline tickets have virtually disappeared from the marketplace. Southwest, the last holdout among U.S. lines, discontinued its special senior fares in 2019.
One of the last remaining airline senior discounts is the AARP discount on British Airways, which is available to just about any senior as $65 off any economy or premium economy ticket, and as $200 off any business class ticket. Discounts apply to any ticket purchase, including flash sales. Seniors need to buy directly from British Airways through its AARP portal to get the discount.
While $65 may not be a game changer, you don’t sacrifice anything to get it. And $200 off a business class ticket is especially good when you start with a flash-sale fare. However, the main caveat is that British Airways’ business class on most planes isn’t typically anything special. Your best bet might instead be to use the discount for a true business class ticket on a code-shared flight: British Airways flights operates by American Airlines or Iberia have a more competitive business class right now.
(Note: Throughout 2020 British Airways is rolling out new business class suites on some international routes.)
Hotel: No Clear Winner
Most major international hotel chains offer modest senior discounts, typically of five to 10 percent, to seniors at various ages (usually 50 through 65). In some cases, discounts are available through AARP; in others, no membership is required. And the AARP deals are seldom any better than those offered to members of AAA and many other organizations. Senior discounts at hotels are most prevalent in the U.S. and Canada. Typically, local chain and independent hotels in Asia and Europe do not offer senior discounts.
Over the years, my conclusion about AARP or other senior discounts has been that they’re good for at least a small price cut when you can’t find a better deal through some other source available to travelers of any age. Among the ones to check first are: Opaque rates through Hotwire or Priceline (which reveal the specific property after purchase), flash-sale rates, and air/hotel packages for your destination.
Rental Car: Avis and Budget via AARP
Just about anyone can qualify for a typical rental car discount. But the AARP deal with Avis and Budget is different because, in addition to a 30-percent discounted rate, the base rate includes better liability coverage than almost all other rates.
Seniors with car preferences should also consider National. With its Emerald Aisle program, National pioneered the approach of allowing each renter to choose a preferred car from those available. For those seniors who are fussy about which model they drive, National’s system works especially well.
Rail: Amtrak, VIA Rail Canada, and Eurail Pass
The best rail brand depends on your destination. Amtrak currently offers 10 percent discount on coach class travel for travelers age 65 and over—or age 60 and over on cross-border travel with VIA Rail. That’s on most trains, but not the high-speed Acela, the Auto Train, Saver Fares, or on business class or sleeper-accommodation trains. Although Amtrak has been doing senior discounts for many years, it has in the recent past listed senior discounts as “ending soon,” with neither a specific cutoff date nor any suggestion of what might come. Amtrak also offers time-limited special senior discounts. Current offerings include a 50 percent discount on Downeaster trains and a 15 percent discount for seniors age 62 or over on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner, and San Joaquins lines.
Canada’s VIA Rail goes a bit further than Amtrak. It offers discounts around 10 percent on all trains, including sleeper accommodations as well as coach. But the very best deals are the weekly discount promotions, where cuts are far deeper on selected routes. Note: At this writing, the VIA Rail website says: “Discount Sleeper Deals will return in early January 2020.”
In Europe, you have a bunch of choices: No one line is “best” for everyone; but here’s how you can choose the one that’s best for your trip:
The Eurail Pass now offers senior passes for travelers age 60-plus at 10 percent off. The discount is available for both first- and coach-class travel throughout Eurail’s 31 countries. But there’s a big catch: high co-payments for travel on almost all of the top international high-speed trains—the ones most tourist visitors want to use. Several single-country passes also offer senior versions, typically at about 10 percent less than any-age passes. Eurail passes work best if you concentrate long-haul travel on a few days during your stay in Europe.
If, instead, you plan a lot of short trips, you might prefer a senior card that offers discounts to seniors age 60 or over on all applicable train tickets for a full year: The most popular are the U.K Senior Railcard for 33 percent off most fares, the French Advantage Senior Card for 30 percent off most fares, and the Italian Silver Card for 15-25 percent off most fares (free for travelers age 70 and over).
Outside of Europe, it’s hard to find other senior discounts. The most popular railpass outside of Europe is Japan Rail Pass, which doesn’t offer any senior deals.
Tour and Cruise Provider: Collette via AARP
The AARP deal with Collette Travel features discounts of $50 to $100 per person on most tours and river cruises, and discounts up to $450 person on some sale deals. Colleette provides good value overall for its many destinations, so the discount makes it even better.
Public Transit: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
Seniors age 65 and over travel free in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—a deal that’s really hard to beat. Most large public transit systems throughout the U.S. offer senior fares, typically about half off. Senior discounts typically apply to multi-ride and all-day pass tickets as well as single ride. Some systems require that you show a Medicare card or increasingly, a special senior ID. Some allow you to purchase online; others require that you show up at a local office. (Very few cities outside the U.S. offer similar senior deals.)
Best Travel Brands for Seniors Overall:
Not all the best senior deals are discounts: Some outfits tailor their products and services to the needs of senior travelers without actually discounting any prices.
Road Scholar and Grand Circle, for Packaged Tours
Formerly known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar excels at offering seniors an unbeatable combination of outstanding travel experiences with continuing education, and at a good value. It focuses on travelers age 55 and over, offering thousands of tour options designed for senior travelers in more than 90 countries. Tours of varying physical requirements are offered, from mild to rugged. Road Scholar does best with tours in the U.S. Its overseas tours and cruises, although excellent, typically do not offer quite as good values as its domestic offerings. Even so, Road Scholar is hard to beat for any senior who wants to broaden his or her horizons through travel.
If you’re looking for a more conventional tour, consider Grand Circle Travel, a tour company that focuses on travelers age 50 or over. Tours are paced for seniors; they’re offered worldwide, from the U.S. to Antarctica to Wales. Grand Circle also features no-cost or low-cost single supplements to serve the ever-increasing demand from seniors who travel solo.
Viking for River and Ocean Cruises
I agree with SmarterTravel sister site Cruise Critic’s judgement that the best cruise line for seniors is Viking Cruises. Viking targets “well-traveled adults 50 years of age and older.” River cruises are generally more interesting experience to seniors than the mass-market Caribbean, Mexican, or Mediterranean cruises.
Set on an ocean cruise? Cruise Critic also favors several ocean cruise lines, the best of which include such luxury-level outfits as Oceana, Regent Seven Seas, and Silverseas. They’re clearly great for seniors—but expensive. Cruise Critic does not include any of the three giant mass-market lines—Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean—in its “best for seniors” compilation, but it does include two notch-above cruise lines, Celebrity and Holland-America.
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More from SmarterTravel:
- The Best AARP Benefits for Seniors
- 7 Safety Tips for Senior Travelers
- The 10 Best Hotel Booking Sites
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.