Getting old has few benefits, but the occasional senior travel discount is one of them. Senior travelers can enjoy a wide range of discounts, but both availability and value vary substantially among different travel sectors and in different parts of the globe.
Typically, senior status starts at age 65 in the U.S. and at 60 in the rest of the world. Here’s where to look for a senior travel discount, and what you’ll get.
Airline Senior Travel Discount
Only two large airlines offer discounts to senior travelers: Southwest and British Airways.
Southwest offers senior fares on most flights for those 65 and over—but some senior fares can still be much higher than the cheapest ones available to travelers of any age. On a sample Sacramento to Chicago flight two months in advance, for example, the cheapest ticket available to travelers of any age is $169, compared with the $287 senior travel discount fare. But, for flights just two days in advance, the senior fare is still $287, while other travelers’ cheapest option is $348. Southwest’s senior travel discount is a good deal for airfare booked closer to departure.
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British Airways offers round-trip senior travel discounts of $65 in economy and premium economy and $200 in business class to AARP members who book through the AARP website. Both are available to anyone age 50 or over. The $60 discount on an economy ticket is fairly attractive, but it’s worth noting that British Airways is known to have an inferior business class compared to its major competitors.
Rail Senior Travel Discount
Amtrak offers 10 percent discounts to senior travelers for coach travel on most trains, but the discount does not apply to sleeper travel, business class, or most trips on Acela. Seniors get bigger discounts on some flash sales, and routinely get 50 percent discounts for Downeaster trains between Boston and Portland, Maine.
VIA Rail Canada offers 10 percent senior discounts to travelers 60 and over on most trains, including sleeper service. Often, however, the cheapest any-age ticket is less expensive than the lowest discounted senior fare.
In Europe, only Belgium and Portugal seem to offer senior travel discounts to those 60 or over on individual tickets for some trains. A senior travel discount is also available on first-class British and French rail passes, but any-age passes in second class are cheaper. Rail systems in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain sell annual railcards that offer discounts of 15 percent to 50 percent on individual tickets to seniors age 60 or over. Rail pass prices can vary greatly, but the Italian card is free to seniors age 75 or over. You typically can’t buy European rail cards online in advance, so plan to buy on arrival.
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Public Transit Senior Travel Discount
Many transit systems in U.S. cities offer senior travel discounts to people age 65 and over, but the amount will vary. You can find lots of options for about 50 percent off, and rides are free for seniors in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Regional suburban rail systems in several cities also offer senior deals. In recent years, however, big destinations including Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington no longer accept a Medicare card as I.D. for eligibility and instead require that seniors apply in person at a local transit office for senior I.D. issued by the transit system. Check with the city transit system’s website for details.
The U.S. seems to be unique in offering widespread senior transit deals: Only a few Canadian cities do, and there are very few in European or Asian hubs. Australian senior discounts are limited to local residents.
Hotel Senior Travel Discount
Large U.S. hotel chains and independent hotels alike typically offer a small senior travel discount of about 10 percent. Qualifying minimum ages range from 50 years (for AARP members and sometimes others) to 65. To take advantage of senior travel discounts, most chains now require that you book directly rather than through an online travel agency.
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Other Senior Travel Discount Opportunities
Cruise lines and tour operators don’t routinely offer senior discounts, though some have deals with AARP that can include dollars off or extras tacked on. The Avis family (Avis, Budget, Payless, and Zipcar) offers AARP members discounts of 10 to 25 percent off rental rates. Greyhound buses offer a modest senior discount of five percent.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The Best Times to Book for Cruise Savings, by Destination
- 7 Safety Tips for Senior Travelers
- 6 Saving Secrets for Senior Travel
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.