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Discounts get better with age

Times Staff Writer

Don’t think of it as getting older. Think of it as getting discounts.

Just in time for the baby boomer generation, Joan Rattner Heilman -- a former editor for New Choices magazine -- has come out with a new edition of her travel guide for the older set. It’s called “Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can’t Get Unless You’re Over 50.”

“Many boomers over 50 don’t want to be labeled a ‘senior,’ ” said Heilman, who will flash her driver’s license for a discount but won’t reveal her age for print. “Snap out of it! You can save a lot of money if you take advantage of your age.”

Many discounts are available for those as young as 50, and the offers often get better as you get older, she said. But the age-based discounts are not always the best deals available, she cautioned. Sales, special promotions and American Automobile Assn. rates can be better. Sometimes you can get both. You’ve got to ask.

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“Most vendors will not voluntarily disclose information about price breaks unless they’re prompted,” she said. “They might not want to suggest that you’re old enough.”

And, yes, for the first time in decades, you’re likely to be “carded.” When going for a senior discount, make sure that you have a driver’s license or passport to prove that you qualify.

What can you get?

Deals for 50-somethings

* Hotel chains, including Best Western, Radisson, Holiday Inn and Choice International, generally offer a 10% discount for those in their 50s and up. (Choice operates lodgings such as Quality and Clarion.) Hilton offers discounts for 50-year-olds that range from 10% to 15%.

Many other hotel chains reserve their best senior discounts for those who have joined AARP. (AARP membership is open at age 50.) Baymont Inns & Suites, for example, gives a 30% price break to those with AARP cards, but otherwise provides only a 10% break to those over the age of 55. Sheraton hotels cut prices as much as 50% for AARP members; Wyndham hotels offer discounts of 35% to 40%.

* Car rental companies, including Avis, Alamo, Dollar, Hertz and National, offer AARP members discounts ranging from 5% to 25%. Budget takes 15% off for those over 50 but sometimes posts better specials for “mature travelers” on its website. Enterprise offers free upgrades to anyone over 50, subject to availability.

* Group travel organizations, such as Elderhostel, the world’s largest educational travel organization, offers membership starting at age 55.

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Over the Hill Gang, which sets up active adventures such as biking and skiing trips, offers membership to anyone over 50. Escapees RV Club, open at age 50, offers discounts on recreational vehicle fees and services.

Several bed and breakfast groups also open their doors to the 50-plus set, giving members the right to stay at other members’ homes for $10 to $15 a night.

Discounts for 60-plus

Once you hit age 60, the frequency and size of hotel discounts soar, Heilman noted.

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* Hilton, for example, offers many half-price rooms to those 60 and older who join its Senior HHonors program. Senior HHonors members also get a 20% discount at its restaurants. Marriott, Loews and Hyatt hotels start offering reduced room rates at age 62.

* The national park system offers one of the world’s best bargains with the Golden Age Passport, available to those 62 and over, Heilman said. For $10, you get a lifetime membership that provides free admission to all national parks, monuments and historic sites that charge fees, including the White House.

If you have the passport, national parks that charge a vehicle entrance fee will let your entire carload in for free -- regardless of the ages of everyone else in the vehicle, she added. The passport also entitles the holder to a 50% discount on federal use fees for camping, swimming and launching a boat, she said.

* College classes are available for free or bargain rates for 60-somethings, too, Heilman said. The age at which classes become free varies, but most state-run universities waive tuition for at least some classes for students 65 and older, she said.

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California’s Over 60 program offers degree credits for $3 a semester at participating state universities. The University of Utah invites residents age 62 and over to audit as many classes as they like for $25 a semester.

* Traveling by rail or bus also gets cheaper -- anywhere from 5% to 50% for those 60 to 65 years old, Heilman said. Amtrak, for example, offers a 15% discount to those age 62 and over. Coach Canada, a bus line, offers 10% to 25% off to those over 60. Gray Line Worldwide gives a 10% discount to AARP members.

* Many international airlines -- SAS, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, to name a few -- offer discounts for seniors. Few domestic carriers maintain these programs, however, Heilman said. One exception: Southwest Airlines provides as much as 75% off for those 65 and over. The seats are limited, but there are few other restrictions, such as charges to change flights, she said.

* A wide array of items, such as theater tickets and theme park admissions, also are discounted for seniors. The discounts -- and the age they kick in -- vary by vendor. Whether you’re seeing a movie or a play or visiting a museum, it’s wise to ask, Heilman said.

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* Skiiers get some of the best deals, she said. Most resorts will cut lift ticket rates in half for those over 65. Many don’t charge at all once you hit age 70.

But, a few -- such as Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra -- won’t let you ski free until age 80.

“Never plop down your plastic without asking about a senior discount first,” Heilman said. “And, you’re better off if you ask when you’re making a reservation, rather than when you’re settling the bill.”

*

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Kathy M. Kristof welcomes your comments, but regrets that she cannot respond to every question. Write to Personal Finance, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, or e-mail kathy.kristof@latimes.com. For previous columns, visit latimes .com/kristof.


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