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Where to Look for Summer Discounts

Senior discounts are still around—neither as plentiful nor as big as they once were—but still worth pursuing. Here’s my overview of the senior picture for this summer.

Air Travel. Basically, nothing doing. Southwest is the only airline that still posts senior fares on all routes, and they’re almost never the lowest fares that line offers. They’re useful only when the lower fares for travelers of any age are no longer available. And although a few airlines say they still have senior deals, I haven’t found any. That holds true for Europe and Asia, too—senior airline deals are basically off the table. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}
Rail Travel. Seniors do a bit better on trains. As I’ve noted, Amtrak offers 15 percent discounts off most coach class tickets to seniors age 62 or over. You get no discount on sleeping accommodations, but you can upgrade from the discounted coach fare.

Via Rail Canada offers varying senior discounts, but they can be good: On the routes I checked, the senior fare was about 25 percent less than the any-age “super saver” fare. And you can get discounts on sleeping accommodations as well as coach.

In Europe, France does best by seniors. Its first-class-only senior rail pass costs just a bit more than the second-class any-age pass, so it’s a good deal. In the UK, standard class any-age passes cost about 20 percent less than first-class-only senior passes, and standard class good enough to make you question the value of the senior pass. As an alternative, both France and the UK sell senior rail cards that offer up to 50 percent and 33 percent, respectively, off most rail tickets for a full year. And senior rail passes are good deals for the Balkans, Northern Ireland, and Romania.

I haven’t come across any senior rail discounts in other areas of the world. But you may find a few.

Local Transportation Some of the best senior deals around the U.S. are for local and regional transit service. By just showing a Medicare card, seniors 65 or over get as much as 50 percent off in many important metro areas, including Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver; Honolulu; Minneapolis; Orlando; Phoenix; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City; San Diego; San Francisco; and the San Jose area. Transit in Pennsylvania is free to seniors, except during rush hours. And you can get good discounts after first buying a senior transit ID card in Atlanta, Boston, New Orleans, New York City, and Seattle. Wherever you plan on getting around on local public transportation, ask about senior deals.

In general, European and Asian transit systems do not offer special senior rates. But it never hurts to check.

Car rental. Although the big U.S. rental car companies offer “special” AARP rates, in my experience, they’re about the same as you can get through other sources. AARP rates do, however, offer an important advantage: superior insurance coverage. I haven’t seen any senior deals from rental companies outside North America.

Cruises. Cruise lines sometimes promote what they claim are senior discounts, although it’s hard to tell if the rates are really any better than those offered to other segments of the population. When you’re considering a cruise, by all means, check out any senior deals you can spot. But checkout the any-age prices, as well.

Hotels. Many large U.S.-based hotel chains and many independent units offer modest senior discounts, typically around 10 percent, but sometimes up to 15 percent. They’re offered both through AARP and separately. They’re also generally the same deals that the hotels offer members of AAA and other large organizations. AARP/senior/AAA rates are often as good as you can find in the large budget and mid-price ranges.

More upscale hotels and resorts, however, often offer considerably better deals through chain-wide promotions, local promotions, and especially through discounters such as Hotwire, Priceline, Quikbook, and such. In these hotels, you should view the senior discount, if any, as a fallback position to use only when you can’t find a better deal through a discount operation.

Have you found any great senior discounts for travel this summer? Share your thoughts and advice by submitting a comment below!

(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Hotwire.)

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