Senior discounts for budget travel exist across a wide spectrum of opportunities, but many aren't obvious -- they'll require some looking.
Senior Pass From the U.S. National Park Service
Let's start with a visit to a U.S. national park, already a good buy for travelers of all ages.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents age 62 and older can purchase either a lifetime Senior Pass or an annual pass to U.S. national parks.
There are a few things for which the pass will not pay: fees charged by park concessions are not covered; same for some recreation permits you might need in certain parks. Those with questions about Senior Pass will generally find that even when the exemptions are noted, this is still something that will pay for itself with one visit to a park that charges admission.
Rail Europe offers senior discounts for travelers age 60 and older "for certain passes and specific trains," and generally only on first-class tickets. So in some cases, you might find it cheaper to forgo the senior discount in favor of a second-class seat. Still, it pays to check into whatever senior discounts might be available for your itinerary and class preference.
Amtrak offers a 15 percent discount on their lowest fares for anyone at least age 62. If the itinerary crosses the Canadian border and involves a VIA RailCanada train, the age restriction falls to 60. Look for the senior fare option on all of VIA's ticket options.
Another Canadian rail line, Ontario Northland, routinely discounts any trip by 10 percent for those at least 60 years of age.
With corporate belt-tightening in recent years, senior discounts on airfares have declined. But airlines still offer some consideration to senior passengers, although the extent of the savings can vary quite a bit. The best advice: shop first on price, and be sure to type in your age status when making the reservation. Here are two examples of what is offered:
Southwest offers fully refundable Senior Fares for travelers at least 65 years old. Some seating limitations or other restrictions might be applied.
Air France offers discounts for those age 60 and older when flying "within metropolitan France." The tickets can be changed or refunded with no penalty.
Travel Discounts through AARP
Travel is not the top concern of most seniors. Health care and financial stability probably outrank visiting the world's best destinations.
But travel does find its way onto the list of priorities, and it shouldn't be surprising that groups formed to lobby for senior adults would also work to offer some travel discounts. The best-known example is the AARP, once known as the American Association of Retired Persons. The name change came because the organization's focus isn't limited to the concerns of retirees. In fact, membership has long been open to anyone at least 50 years old.
AARP membership can be purchased for one year, three years and for five years. Travel discounts are offered at more than 40 hotel chains and six car rental firms. Discounts on tours, cruises, roadside assistance plans, and even vacation rentals are included.
Although self-described as non-partisan, AARP is a powerful lobbying organization in Washington D.C. Undoubtedly, AARP advocates positions that some of its members would oppose. Be aware that some budget travelers decline membership offers for this reason and seek discounts elsewhere.
The organization's stands are not secret, so take a look at the AARP website and decide for yourself if membership fits with your convictions.
Some discounts are initiated by governments. For example, Europe offers a number of discounts for seniors.
In Spain, a recent promotion called Golden Days Parador included a 30 percent discount on a standard double room throughout the year at the government-owned Paradores, but certain blackout dates were applied. What are Paradores? The government defines them this way: "hotels for luxury accommodation in Castles, Palaces, Fortresses, Convents, Monasteries, and other historic buildings. There are also modern Spanish hotels, built in traditional style, in areas of outstanding beauty."
If you want to find the senior discounts for major hotel chains, you might have to dig a little. Click "site map" on the home page and then look for senior discount or something similar such as senior rates.
Many of the chains will offer discounts in connection with membership in organizations such as AARP, but others extend the lower rates to everyone in the age category. Motel 6 will discount room rates 10 percent for guests who are at least 60 years of age.
Marriott extends a 15 percent discount to travelers age 62 or older at 3,600 locations worldwide seven days a week. As with many of these corporate hotel discounts, the Marriott offer is subject to availability. It is capped at a maximum of two rooms per stay.
Many parts of the United States feature regional discount cards that seniors can present at participating businesses for immediate discounts. In Ohio, for example, there is the Golden Buckeye Card, which is available to all state residents at least 60 years old. Among the 20,000 businesses that honor the card are restaurants.
National restaurant chains are also frequently discounting senior tabs. For example, the International House of Pancakes, Burger King, Wendy's, Shoney's and Chili's all offer 10 percent discounts to seniors in the 55-60 age range. Taco Bell gives free beverages to seniors at participating locations.
Obviously, the terms of these offers will vary by location, and some franchisees might not participate. But don't be embarrassed about asking if any senior discounts are in effect. If the answer is "no," what have you lost?
Car Rental Discounts
Car rentals should be searched first on the basis of price. Then look for any discounts offered based on age. Why proceed in this manner? Because at many of the major companies, the prices will vary more than the senior discount offers.
As with hotels, some companies will base their discounts on AARP membership. Most of the major companies will discount rates 20-25 percent for AARP travelers who present their valid membership cards at the time of check-in.
Some won't make any distinction beyond an age eligibility requirement.