Many ways se­niors can save on travel.

Houston Chronicle - - EXTRA - By David Koenig

DAL­LAS — Most se­niors have more free time for leisure ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing travel, but money is tighter when the pay­checks stop at re­tire­ment.

Re­tirees who want to travel can make those trips more af­ford­able by tak­ing ad­van­tage of se­nior dis­counts and through less ob­vi­ous strate­gies.

Many of the tips of­fered by travel ex­perts work just as well for any­one, re­gard­less of age, but could be es­pe­cially valu­able for se­niors. Among them:

• When trav­el­ing by air, be flex­i­ble about dates and even des­ti­na­tions.

• Be im­pul­sive; grab bar­gains when you see them.

• If you’re pay­ing a lot up­front, in­sure your trip.

Few air­lines pro­vide se­nior dis­counts any­more. Amer­i­can Air­lines and United Air­lines said they don’t of­fer se­nior dis­counts. Delta did not re­spond to in­quiries. South­west Air­lines does, for trav­el­ers 65 and older. It is not a set amount, a spokesman said.

South­west’s web­site lets cus­tomers in­di­cate that they are a se­nior, and their searches will in­clude four fare lev­els in­stead of three. An As­so­ci­ated Press sam­ple of pop­u­lar routes on a Sat­ur­day in March and a Mon­day in April in­di­cated that the se­nior fare was of­ten lower than the mid­dle “Any­time” fare, which comes with the same ben­e­fits.

But the se­nior price was al­ways higher than the cheap­est — but non­re­fund­able — “Wanna Get Away” fare. Some­times the dif­fer­ence was just a few dol­lars, but of­ten the gap was more than $100 each way.

“The only time you would ever con­sider buy­ing a se­nior fare on South­west is if for some rea­son the Wanna Get Away fares are all sold out,” said Ed Perkins, an ed­i­tor at Smarter Travel. That hap­pened a few times, but not of­ten, on the flights sam­pled by the AP.

Bri­tish Air­ways of­fers a $65 dis­count on econ­omy tick­ets and $200 on busi­ness-class seats when pur­chased through a pro­gram with AARP.

Am­trak has a 10 per­cent dis­count for those 65 and up on most trains, and also on U.S.Canada ser­vice op­er­ated jointly with VIA Rail Canada. Eu­rail does the same. Some na­tional rail lines in Europe, in­clud­ing those in Eng­land and France, give more gen­er­ous breaks for se­niors but only af­ter buy­ing a yearly card, likely to be a deal­breaker for most Amer­i­can vis­i­tors.

Many big ho­tel chains in the U.S. of­fer dis­counts of 5 per­cent to 15 per­cent, gen­er­ally through AARP or the AAA travel club, but smaller ho­tels in Europe typ­i­cally don’t. Pub­lic trans­porta­tion in many U.S. cities is some­times heav­ily dis­counted for se­niors, al­though there can be catches, like re­quir­ing a spe­cial card in ad­di­tion to a li­cense or other iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Re­search be­fore a trip pays off.

“You can’t an­tic­i­pate ev­ery­thing, but plan­ning ahead def­i­nitely helps save money,” said Maria Gillen, who spe­cial­izes in over­seas travel for AARP.

Gillen noted that air­fare and ho­tel prices of­ten rise the closer you get to your travel date. For pop­u­lar sum­mer des­ti­na­tions like Italy, this is the time to be shop­ping for flights and ac­com­mo­da­tions, she said.

Travel to tourist des­ti­na­tions will al­most al­ways be cheaper in the off- or shoul­der sea­sons — think spring and fall in Europe, sum­mer for moun­tain re­sorts. You’ll also en­counter smaller crowds.

Ex­pen­sive or ex­otic va­ca­tions are of­ten planned months in ad­vance. If you have one or a few des­ti­na­tions in mind, it will be worth­while to sign up for alerts at web­sites that track fares and ho­tel deals, such as air­fare­watch­dog.com. The alerts come in handy when air­lines and other travel-re­lated com­pa­nies of­fer on­line “flash” sales that can be gone in a few hours.

“If you see a good flash sale, jump on it,” Perkins said. “I’m a se­nior, and I’ve done that a cou­ple of times over the last three years,” in­clud­ing a round trip in busi­ness class be­tween Seat­tle and China for $1,500, which he fig­ured was half the nor­mal price.

Deals that bun­dle some com­bi­na­tion of air­fare, ho­tel or cruise, tours, and car rental can be cheaper than buy­ing each sep­a­rately. Some se­niors, like trav­el­ers in other age groups, are us­ing miles or points to help pay for their travel.

“We find that se­niors are more prone to buy pack­ages. It’s more eco­nom­i­cal, whether it be a cruise where you’re get­ting your lodg­ing and meals taken care of, or a tour pack­age,” said Beth Godlin, pres­i­dent of the travel prac­tice at Aon Affin­ity, a whole­saler of travel in­sur­ance. “A high per­cent­age of folks are book­ing air sep­a­rately be­cause there aren’t as many (air­line) dis­counts as there used to be and there are so many ways to col­lect loy­alty points.”

Be­sides ad­vice for sav­ing money, ex­perts have tips for trav­el­ing safely.

Julie Hall, a spokes­woman for travel club AAA, said U.S. cit­i­zens go­ing abroad should sign up for the State Depart­ment’s Smart Trav­eler En­roll­ment Pro­gram, which makes it eas­ier for em­bassies and con­sulates to con­tact them in an emer­gency. She sug­gested car­ry­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion be­sides a pass­port, such as an in­ter­na­tional driv­ing per­mit, which trans­lates U.S. li­cense in­for­ma­tion into 10 lan­guages.

Hall said se­niors should call ahead if they will need wheel­chair as­sis­tance at the air­port, ar­rive early if they don’t know the air­port, and carry ex­tra medicines in case the flight home is de­layed.

As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

Most se­niors have more free time for travel, but money is tighter at re­tire­ment. Re­tirees can make those trips more af­ford­able by tak­ing ad­van­tage of se­nior dis­counts and less ob­vi­ous strate­gies.

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