If you’re a senior about to shove off on your vacation, here are a few notes on the current state of senior travel.
Airlines: The only airline with meaningful senior fares is Southwest, and its senior fares are good deals only for travel booked within a week or less of departure. Otherwise, its advance purchase fares for travelers of any age are a far better bet. And although some other airlines still ask for “seniors” on their online reservation pages, I haven’t seen any worthwhile senior fares from any other line in years.
Railroads: North American railroads are kind to seniors. Amtrak offers 15 percent discounts from the lowest available coach fare on most trains to seniors age 65 or older; VIA Rail Canada offers 10 percent or more on all rail fares, including sleepers, to seniors 60 or older. But, as with airfares, VIA Rail’s frequent half-price sales and highly discounted “escape” fares, for travelers of any age, are typically even better deals.
Overseas railroads aren’t so senior friendly. Only four countries offer senior railpasses. Senior passes in Ireland and Romania are good buys in either class, but the first-class-only senior BritRail pass is considerably more expensive than the second-class pass for travelers of any age. The best senior railpass deal is in France, where the first-class-only senior pass is just a few dollars more than the any-age second-class pass. The Belgian, British, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish railroads offer senior discounts up to 50 percent on individual tickets, mostly starting at age 60, but most require purchase of a yearly senior card, which you typically can’t buy until after you arrive.
Cruises: Most online cruise agencies ask for your age, but whether senior status helps is always uncertain. Still, there’s no downside to asking.
Package tours: Tour packagers seldom discount to seniors; they don’t have a big enough margin to offer a substantial cut to anyone, but Liberty Travel offers some modest deals to AARP members. And several operators specialize in tours designed for seniors, going at a slower pace and with less strenuous requirements than for any-age tours.
Rental cars: Rental car companies give discounts to just about any organization you can name. The Avis/Budget deal with AARP doesn’t appear to offer prices any lower than you can get elsewhere, but rentals through AARP include somewhat better collision and U.S. liability insurance, as well as a waiver of any extra-driver charge.
Local transit: Many U.S. transit systems offer senior discounts, typically around 50 percent, mostly starting at age 65, but some important systems, including Boston, Chicago and Washington, require seniors to get prior ID cards. In Pennsylvania, seniors use transit free by showing a Medicare card, with some time-of-day limits. Outside the U.S., however, few transit systems offer senior deals.
Super senior deals: On my trip to Austria and Italy last year, I observed a senior taking advantage of an offer of free rides on some cable car systems to seniors age 80 and older, and in recent digging, I found that the Italian State Railway “Silver Card” that offers discounts of 15 percent on most trains, available to seniors 60 or older for 30 euros, is free to seniors 75 or older. Keep your eyes peeled for similar deals if you’ve passed the 75 mark.