Travelling cheaper with senior discounts in the U.S.

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The United States is one of the world’s great destinations, with hundreds of great places to visit. But like Canada, the U.S. isn’t cheap, especially for foreign travellers facing a strong U.S. dollar. Luckily for those of us in the baby boomer generation, it’s possible to cut those costs by taking advantage of senior discounts in the U.S.

In comparison to the discounts in Canada, the subject of my last post, senior discounts in the U.S. are more plentiful. In fact, the seniordiscounts.com website lists more than 200,000 offers, and AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) says 80 percent of its members takeDancers Times Square advantage of these deals each year. Best of all, for some offers you can be as young as 50.

Many of these discounts can help travellers save a few dollars on everything from train fares to food to theatre tickets. But while they may be everywhere, senior discounts in the U.S. can be tricky to find. Many businesses that offer them don’t advertise the fact – in fact, it seems as if they’re trying hide them. So the message is: when in doubt, ask. The worst they can say is no, and they might knock a couple of dollars off the bill anyway.

It’s impossible to even attempt a comprehensive listing of senior discounts in the U.S. But I’ve compiled a list that gives you a look at some of the major companies offering discounted prices or special deals. Again, I’ve focused on nation-wide offers rather than local discounts, which I’ll look at in future posts.

Here are a few of the prominent senior discounts in the U.S., in the categories most used by travellers. All prices are in U.S. dollars, and the age of eligibility is listed at the end of each offer. (Note: these listings are as accurate as I can make them; if you see an error, leave a comment and let us all know.)

Trains, buses and cars

Amtrak The national rail service offers a 15-percent discount on the lowest available rail fare on most Amtrak trains. If you travel between the U.S. and Canada on services Amtrak cupoperated jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail, there’s a 10-percent senior discount. (62)

Greyhound The major U.S. bus company offers a 20-percent discount for seniors on unrestricted passenger fares. Book three days in advance and you can bring up to three companions at a 50-percent discount. Or bring along two grandchildren, or nieces or nephews for 50 percent of the child’s fare. (62)

Budget Rent A Car Offers a discount of 5 to 10 percent, varies by location. (50)

Hertz Seniors can get price reductions using a special discount code. (50)

Airlines

U.S. airlines are reluctant to offer discounts for seniors these days. Despite reports to the contrary, inquiries to both Delta and American Airlines turned up the same response: no senior discounts. I did find a couple of airlines that admit to giving us a break, though they’re vague on the actual discounts and their availability. Note that the discounts you do get may not be as good as the fares you can find elsewhere. However, they may be refundable, which can make them a better deal.

Southwest Airlines Senior fares are available online for both domestic and international flights, and are fully refundable. Government-issued ID required. (65)

United Airlines Senior fares to selected destinations: ask when booking by phone, or choose the “65 and older” age category when booking on united.com. (65)

National and state parks

National Parks The U.S. National Park Service offers a great deal for senior U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Its America the Beautiful pass admits you to parks across the country, and includes three passengers in your car, or the whole carload where admission is per vehicle. Best of all, it’s good for a lifetime and costs only $10 if you buy it at a federal recreation site, or $20 if you order it online. (62)

California state parks California offers the Golden Bear Pass, which gives you a $1 discount per day on your vehicle pass and a $2 discount on family camping. The pass costs $5, so it’s worthwhile if you’re spending some time in the state. You can apply for the pass online. (62)

Other state parks According to seniordiscounts.com, 40 of the 50 U.S. states offer some type of discount or pass to seniors, from reduced admission fees to discounts on things like cottages and greens fees. Many states reserve these for residents, but it’s always worth checking if you’re going to be using the parks. (Ages vary)

Hotels

Choice Hotels (Includes Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Sleep Inn, Quality Hotels, Clarion, MainStay Suites, Suburban, EconoLodge and Rodeway Inn) Offers seniors “up to 10 percent” off on advance reservations. Request the senior rate when you call 800-4CHOICE. Eligible for Choice Privileges points or airline rewards. (60, inHotel clerk some cases 50)

Best Western Offers a minimum 10-percent discount. As well, you may get perks like early check-in, late check-out, complimentary room upgrades or continental breakfast. (55)

Marriott Hotels (Includes Renaissance , EDITION, Autograph Collection, Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, TownePlace Suites, Springhill Suites and Marriott Vacation Club International brands) Seniors get 15 percent or more off their room rate, where space is available; you can book up to two rooms at the senior rate. (62)

Wyndham (Includes Baymont, Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Hawthorn Suites, Knights Inn, Microtel, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge, and Wingate by Wyndham brands) Offers up to 10 percent off room rates at participating Wyndham Hotel Group hotels. (50)

Restaurants

Many U.S. eateries have discounts for seniors, but they can be downright elusive. That’s because most of the chain restaurants are franchises, and the owner of each location decides what kind of discount to give, if any. So all you can do is ask: if you’re in a participating restaurant, you’ll get the discount.

Fast-food chains Most fast-food chains offer a 10-percent discount, and/or a free or discounted drink — at participating locations. The qualifying age is usually 55, in some cases 60. The list includes A&W, Burger King, Ben & Jerry’s, Dairy Queen, El Pollo Loco, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell and TCBY. Ask, and see what you get.

Boston Market The chain has a general seniors discount of 7 percent. (55)

Carrows This California-based chain offers discounts on breakfast, lunch and dinner. (55)

Country Kitchen Nation-wide chain has a special seniors menu with lighter entrées. (55)

Denny’s Has an all-day “55+” menu with smaller entrées at lower prices. (55)

Fuddruckers Offers 10 percent off any senior platter (still not sure what that means). (55)

IHOP Discounts of 10 to 15 percent available at participating locations. (55)

Sizzlers National steak and ribs house offers a seniors menu or up to a 15-percent discount at some locations. (60)

There are many more discounts at both national and local restaurants, so ask wherever you go. If you want guaranteed discounts, you have to join AARP (see the AARP section below).

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 AARP discounts

As in Canada, one of the best ways to get senior discounts in the U.S. is to join the club: in this case, AARP (formerly the American Association for Retired Persons). Using the power of numbers, AARP has arranged discounts with a long list of companies in almost every category, so showing your AARP card almost assures you of getting a deal.

The question is, are the AARP discounts any better than the deals offered to anyone who can prove they’re 55 or 65? In some cases the answer is no. However, there are many cases where it is better, and since the discount is listed on the AARP website, it’s easier to find. An AARP membership costs only $16 a year, so if you save anything at all, it’s worth it.

You can find the travel-related discounts in the AARP Travel Center, which is part of the EverydaySavingsCenter on the AARP website. Here are a few of the discounts you’ll find in the Travel Center.

Rental cars

AARP’s car rental partners include most of the major companies, including:

Times Square carsBudget One free day when you rent an intermediate-to-full-size four-door car for three consecutive days, including a Saturday night.

Avis AARP members get a 10-to-30-percent discount on all vehicles, plus free upgrades and no charge for an additional driver.

Hertz Discounts of up to 25 percent with an AARP code; combinable with other offers.

Payless Everyday savings of 5 percent, plus free upgrades and no charge for an additional driver.

Hotels

Most of the major hotel chains offer discounts of up to 20 percent to AARP members. The list includes Motel 6, Hampton, Best Western, Comfort Inn, Hilton and LaQuinta, all offering up to 10 percent off the best available rate. Wyndham Hotels and Days Inn give AARP members up to 20 percent off. In some cases you can get a similar discount without an AARP card, especially if you book online. But not always: Wyndham offers only 10 percent to non-AARP members.

Trying a couple of searches using the links from the EverydaySavingsCenter, I found that AARP does deliver some good hotel deals.

Howard Johnson Searching for a room in New York in early June, I found a room at the Howard Johnson Long Island City hotel for $149.52 a night; the same reservation cost $178 on Hotels.com (the same as the regular price quoted on the AARP search).

Days Inn A search for a hotel in New Orleans on the same dates turned up the Days Inn New Orleans at a price of $57.33, compared with $72 on Hotels.com. Both were substantially below the “regular” rate, quoted as $71.66 by the AARP members site and $105 by Hotels.com.

Flights and packages

AARP has its own online booking engine, powered by Expedia. And it offers discounts on all kinds of flights and vacation packages, like these.

Liberty Travel Up to $100 off for two travellers on some package vacations, plus reduced deposit of $50 per person and final payment 30 days before departure.

British Airways Offers savings from $65 on economy class to $400 in business and first class on flights to Europe, Asia, the Middle East or Africa.

Vacations by Rail A free hotel night in Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria or Calgary when you book a qualifying Canadian Rockies rail vacation on the Rocky Mountaineer.

Grand Canyon Railway AARP members save 15 percent on the two-night “Canyon Explorer” package, which takes passengers on a train trip to the rim of the canyon.

Restaurants

AARP members get a price break at a number of restaurants; in most (if not all) cases the discount applies to food and non-alcoholic drinks. HereDinner shot are a few examples:

Denny’s In addition to the regular 55+ menu, U.S. Denny’s restaurants give AARP members a 15-percent discount on meals.

Outback Steakhouse Offers a 15 percent discount off your entire dining bill, excluding alcohol.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.  AARP members save 10 percent on food and non-alcoholic beverages.

The Rainforest Cafe A 10-percent discount on food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Burger King AARP members get a free 12-ounce coffee with any purchase.

Theatre tickets

There are also discounts for theatre tickets booked through these agencies like Ticketnow, Premium Seats USA and Select-A-Ticket, if you’re visiting major U.S. cities. You’ll save 5 to 15 percent on your admission price.

 

That’s a look at some of the most accessible senior discounts in the U.S. There are thousands more out there, but if you look through the list, you may find a few that save you some money as you travel across the country, or maybe even in your own neighbourhood.

Even if these discounts don’t work for you, there are likely others that do, so remember to ask for the seniors price whenever you travel. We all know travel is expensive; if we can find ways to cut costs, all the better. As I always say — if you’re going to get older, you may as well get the benefits …

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

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