Let’s face it, travel is expensive, especially for those of us who are a bit older and have bid the working world goodbye. And even though the Canuck buck is a bit weak these days, Canada is no cheap destination. So it’s nice when you can shave a few dollars off your costs while you’re checking out some of the great things to do in Canada this summer. And one of the best ways to do that is by looking for senior discounts.
There’s no trouble finding senior discounts these days. Over the past 10 years, as the baby boomer generation has grown older, businesses far and wide have started offering special deals to compete for our business. These come in all different shapes and sizes: simple discounts, special discount days, extra perks or even seniors menus. In some cases you need a special card, or a membership (as we’ll see later, in the section on CARP). But in most cases all you need is some proof of your age, and you’re in.
The good news is that you don’t always need to be 65 to qualify — in some cases, you can be as young as 55, or even 50. But you do need to ask: in many cases, there’s a discount available, but the salesperson doesn’t bother to offer it. And don’t assume that only big corporations offer senior discounts. Many local businesses and small chains do, too.
Here’s a sampling of the most common senior discounts available to travellers exploring Canada this summer. For this post, I’m focusing on deals available across the country, or at least across a wide area. All figures in Canadian dollars; the age of eligibility is listed at the end of each entry. (Note: these listings are as accurate as I can make them; if you see an error, leave a comment and let us all know.)
Vial Rail Train travel is a great way to go, especially for seniors. And you can save if you travel with Via Rail: it offers a 10-percent discount to those over 60 on Economy Plus and regular Sleeper, Sleeper Plus and Touring fares. (60).
Greyhound There are also great discounts available if you travel by bus. Greyhound cuts the price by 20 percent for seniors on unrestricted fares. As well, you can save 50% on up to three companions if you book three days in advance. (62)
First Air Major Canadian airlines are a bit stingy about giving senior discounts, but if you’re flying north, you can get a 10-percent discount on fares with First Air, “the airline of the north”. (65)
Shopping is a big part of travel for some people. And even if it’s not, there are times when you need something on the road. A number of Canadian stores feature senior discounts, mostly on special days – so check your calendar and see if you can hit them when the discount is on.
Hudson’s Bay Canada’s oldest department store (in fact, North America’s longest continually operated company) gives seniors a break, one day a month. The first Tuesday of the month is seniors day, with a generou 15-percent discount for anyone over 55.
Shoppers Drug Mart Canada’s biggest drug store chain offers seniors a 20-percent discount on regular-priced items on the last Thursday of the month. You need a Shoppers Optimum card, but it’s easy to get one. (65)
Rexall PharmaPlus Not to be outdone, PharmaPlus has a 20-percent price cut for seniors on the last Tuesday of the month. The best thing is, you only have to be 55.
A number of chain restaurants around the country give seniors a break, though it’s not always advertised. Ask if you’re in doubt, even at smaller, local chains — you might be surprised. In most cases, if not all, the discount does not include alcohol.
Denny’s This family-style restaurant offers a 15-percent discount for boomers every Thursday. As well, it has a separate page on the menu, with a smaller selection at lower prices. Works for me, though beware — they charge for those coffee refills. (55)
IHOP The famous pancake house has locations in Canada, and like Denny’s it has a special menu page for older diners, with smaller and lower-priced entrées. (55)
A&W I don’t eat much fast food, but it can come in handy when you’re travelling. This burger chain gives seniors 10% off food items every day. (65)
Wendy’s It’s not much, but this fast food chain offers a free drink with your meal. Age requirements vary.
Mandarin Restaurants This Ontario-based Chinese food chain offers 20 percent off buffet meals with ID. (65)
National Parks If you’re the outdoors type, Parks Canada gives seniors a break on the annual Discovery Pass, which allows free entry to more than 100 national parks and historic sites. The senior price is $57.90, compared with the full price of $67.70. (65)
A number of hotel chains in Canada and the U.S. offer senior discounts. However, travel experts point out that the senior rates are often the same or more expensive than the ones you can find elsewhere. Here are a couple of hotel chains that offer senior discounts (more are listed in the CARP section, below).
Best Western This chain offers a 10-percent discount for seniors. Using its online search engine, I found a room at the Best Western Ville Marie Hotel & Suites in Montreal for $184.49. However, that was almost identical to the $184 rate I found on Hotels.com. (55)
Mariott The chain offers a 15-percent discount to seniors over 62. Using their search engine, I found a price of $260 a night for the Renaissance Montreal Downtown hotel; the same reservation cost $289 on Hotels.com. (62)
DoubleTree The website says DoubleTree offers at least a 5-percent discount to seniors, and allows them to book a second room for the lower price if they want to bring family along. Using their discount, I found a king room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Toronto Downtown for $217; on Hotels.com, a queen room at the same hotel on the same date was $309. (65)
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If you’re retired, or even approaching retirement, it can pay to join CARP, Canada’s association for the 50-plus (formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons). Besides keeping you in the loop on senior issues, CARP offers discounts that can come in handy when you travel. A simple membership, without a subscription to the Zoomer magazine, currently costs $19.95 a year. Best of all, you only have to be 50 to join.
Here are a few of the travel discounts for which CARP members are eligible (you can book through the CARP site to get the discount).
Fairmont Hotels Your CARP membership will get you a third or fourth night free when you stay at a Fairmont Hotel in Canada, the U.S., or even Mexico and the Caribbean. As well, you get a $25 hotel credit.
Choice Hotels Canada CARP members get reduced rates at Choice hotels: CARP advertises savings up to 20 per cent. For a night at a Comfort Suites hotel in Montreal, I found a CARP price of $118.15, compared with $139 on Hotels.com.
Park’n Fly If you’re leaving your car at the airport, using your CARP number can get you significant savings. For example, a week of self-serve parking at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport costs $49.95 with CARP instead of $94.95, a hefty discount.
Avis Canada The CARP discount can save you a significant amount when you rent with Avis. Searching for a three-day rental of a compact car in Toronto, I found a price of $109.32 at Avis with the CARP discount; the price was $167.36 without it.
Budget There are discounts with Budget as well, but they may not be as dramatic. Repeating the same search, I found a CARP price of $127.93, only slightly lower than the regular price of $139.74. (The difference may be partly because the regular Avis search didn’t offer a lower-priced “pay now” option, while the CARP search did.)
Those are some of the most prominent senior discounts available in Canada at time of writing. It’s not all the deals available by any means — as noted, there are many offered by local businesses and chain operations. If you know of any senior discounts that are useful for travellers, leave a comment and I’ll add them to the list. And remember, you can find more useful links for baby boomer travellers in The Travelling Boomer’s Baby Boomer Resources page.