From the Author: The first time my wife and I were in Paris, we were having dinner at Le Comptoir du Relais when the couple at the table next to us recognized our accents. As we struck up a conversation, we learned they lived only about an hour away from us, then we combined our tables and had a lovely meal together. (That’s one of truly wonderful things about travel — the people you meet.) As we ate, we discussed ours trips, and they, having found out what I did for a living, suggested an article about saving money on travel. So, if you two are reading this (I know you’re subscribed to the newsletter), thank you for the great article idea to help others and for the unforgettable dinner in Paris!
Travel can teach us about the world we inhabit and about ourselves. We can see and do new things that we may have never had to opportunity to. We can grow and learn what truly matters to us, while expanding our perspective. In short, travel can be one of the most valuable ways you spend your time. That said, when you’re retired and on a fixed income, it can be tough to make everything work within your budget, but it is possible. With the right mindset and the right resources, traveling doesn’t have to empty your savings every time you want to go somewhere new. There are ways to cut down on the costs!
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General Tips for Saving Money While Traveling
It’s worth taking note of a few ways anyone can save money on travel — even those who aren’t seniors! Chief among these is to do your research well in advance. Not only will this help you to pick out the best times to book different accommodations, tickets, and experiences, it will help you to prioritize what to focus on. Your research will inform the rest of your decisions and help you to save. For example, booking outside of the prime tourism season could mean less competition for reservations and lower hotel rates. Another money-saving tip is to book your flights around 76 days before you plan to leave, though watch out for deals or unexpected drops in prices. Of course, traveling on non-peak days or during the week can knock some dollars off the ticket price, too. Flight price tracker tools like Google Flights or Skyscanner can help you get the best deals when they pop up.
Your research will help you pick out the best times to book different accommodations, tickets, and experiences, and prioritize what to focus on.
Once you’re there, staying close to, but not in, the touristy or popular areas of your destination can also save some money, though make sure you’re staying in a safe area. Places like hostels or vacation rentals may be even less expensive, especially if you’re traveling with a group. Finally, consider joining a travel club, like AAA who can offer discounts and planned trips at an inexpensive rate, or work with a trusted travel agent who may be able to find you good deals.
While it’s become rarer in the last few years, there are still a few prominent airlines that do senior discounts, though these tickets may be limited to certain markets or conditions. It always pays to read the fine print! Some notable examples are United, reportedly American Airlines (though you may have to call to get the discount), Delta (in some markets), British Airways (for AARP members), and Air France, both in the form of a domestic discount and a special senior pass.
Amtrak riders can save up to 10 percent with the senior discount.
Many train and bus companies run senior discounts as well. The one of the biggest examples is Amtrak, the national railroad company. Amtrak riders can save up to 10 percent with the senior discount. Many local or regional bus companies offer senior discounts — like our local CAT and rabbittransit, though this will vary from area to area. If you’re traveling internationally, many national rail companies will offer senior discounts, as well.
Senior Cruise Discounts
Some cruise lines run discounts for seniors, making them a solid vacation option for Medicare-aged individuals looking to kick back and relax. It’s why we named a cruise one of our top vacations for seniors. This type of getaway can be even more attainable if you’re booking with a cruise line that offers a senior discount. While it may be worth calling a cruise line directly to see if there’s a discount, the two major companies publicly offering these discounts are Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Though these are the only two large cruise lines that advertise their senior discount, it doesn’t hurt to check when you’re booking a cruise, especially if you’re a member of a travel (like AAA) or senior organization (though more on those later).
The National Park Senior Pass
If you’re a fan of nature or just like exploring the beautiful country we call home, there are fewer ways better to scratch that itch than to get yourself a National Park Senior Pass. America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass (aka the Senior Pass) covers seniors’ entrance fees and standard day-use recreation fees to any site managed by the National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, US Forest Service, or the US Army Corps of Engineers. This accounts for over 2,000 sites around the country at your fingertips.
You can get this pass for a one-time fee of $80, plus a $10 handling charge if you order the pass online or by mail. Best of all, the pass is good for the rest of your life. You can learn more about the National Park Senior Pass in our article “The National Park Senior Pass: Lifetime Access to America the Beautiful.”
Once you turn 50, you’ll be eligible for a full membership with the American Association of Retired Persons, better known as the AARP (though you can join at a younger age). A big reason many join the non-profit is because of the multitude of discounts and savings membership can offer. If you’re a traveler, you have even more reason to join. The AARP has deals with a wide range of companies, including those in the vacation and travel industry.
If you’re a member of AARP, it’s certainly less expensive to travel.
For example, AARP members can get up to $200 off flights with British Airways or up to 10 percent off per night and free late check out at Hilton Hotels, including their other brands like Embassy Suites and Waldorf Astoria. Other travel deals can help with trains, trip planning, cruises, and vacation packages. If you’re a member of AARP, it’s certainly less expensive to travel.
Senior Travel Groups
Even if you’re not a member of a senior or travel group, there are groups that plan tours either specifically for seniors or heavily marketed for seniors. One such group that allows you to filter trips by activity level and interest is Smithsonian Journeys (yes, that Smithsonian). Similar to Smithsonian Journeys is Road Scholar, an educational and cultural tour group with trips all over the world. (Founded as Elderhostel in 1975, Road Scholar is actually the initial inspiration for this article, as the author’s impromptu dinner guests were on a Road Scholar-planned bike tour of France!)
You can also look for local senior or retiree travel groups, which may be able to help you achieve group discounts for cheaper travel.
For the more adventurous or fit, you could also try ElderTreks or one of Adventure Abroad’s senior travel tours. Finally, you have travel clubs like the Evergreen Club, which is a group of local bed and breakfasts that charge as little as $20 for two people over 50 (including breakfast). Of course, you can also look for local senior or retiree travel groups, which may be able to help you achieve group discounts for cheaper travel.
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Whether you’re traveling to immerse yourself in a different culture or conquer a mountain, travel can create memories and unite us in the most unexpected ways. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, whether that’s across the globe or the next city over, there are ways you can do so without breaking the bank.