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Why Senior Travel Discounts Aren’t Always the Best Deal

Older adults may find better prices on hotels, car rentals, tourist attractions and more by opting for deals that aren’t reserved just for their age group.

Most seniors know that they can take advantage of travel discounts geared specifically toward them for savings on hotels, attractions, rental cars, guided tours and more. But are the special rates for older travelers really that special?

Often they are not, and seniors would be better off taking advantage of deals available to anyone through travel deal sites, mobile apps, coupon sites, daily deal sites and rewards programs. Here are several examples of how senior discounts stack up to other special offers and deals:

Hotels

Some hotel chains, such as Holiday Inn, offer discounted rates to travelers 62 and older. And AARP members who are 50 and older (membership is $16 a year) get discounts of 5% to 20% at several hotels, including Best Western, Days Inn, Hilton, Hyatt and Sheraton. The discounts apply to the best available rates offered by the hotels and can't be combined with other discounts.

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If seniors default to these discounts, though, they’ll likely miss out on better rates. For example, the senior-discount rate for a one-night stay on June 21 at the Holiday Inn Chicago-O’Hare is $114.95. However, the rate for a seven-day advance purchase for any traveler is $106.95. And it’s just $101 if you book through the Last Minute Travel mobile app, which offers travelers access to wholesale prices for hotels in more than 150 countries.

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AARP members get a 5% discount on the best available rates offered by Hilton hotels. The lowest rate published on Hilton.com for a one-night stay June 21 at the Hilton in downtown Chicago was $279 when we checked. With the 5% AARP discount, the rate would drop to $265.05. However, the Last Minute Travel app was offering a rate of $136 a night – a savings of nearly $130.

For more tips on getting a good rate on a room, see How to Get the Best Deal on a Hotel.

Rental cars

AARP members get a 10% to 25% discount on Avis and Budget car rentals when you use a code provided by AARP and book through the rental companies. But book through a deal aggregator such as Hotwire.com, and you can save even more. For instance, when we compared prices for a one-day rental from Los Angeles International Airport, we found that the rate listed on Hotwire.com for an economy car was almost 50% lower than the discounted rates offered through Avis and Budget. Hotwire often offers the best published deals on cars by collecting rates from its eight rental car company partners, including Alamo, Enterprise and Hertz.

Attractions

Many museums, theme parks and other tourist attractions offer discounted rates for seniors. However, older adults should check for other discounts before flashing their photo ID or retirement group membership card at the ticket counter.

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For example, the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and Circle Line Cruises in New York City all offer special rates for seniors. But seniors will pay even less if they want to visit all of those attractions by purchasing a New York CityPASS for $109 (versus $131 with senior rates). CityPASS offers discounted admission to major attractions in 11 North American destinations.

You also can find better deals sometimes than the senior-discount rate for attractions and tours on daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial. For example, a senior ticket for a three-hour whale watching tour with San Diego Whale Watch costs $38, but Groupon had a special offer of $22.

Memberships in other groups, such as AAA, and loyalty programs also might offer better discounts to attractions. For example, Southwest Rapid Rewards members get a 20% discount at Sea World; whereas, the special rate listed on AARP.org for Sea World Orlando was the same as the rate listed on the Sea World site.

For more sources to help find the best deals on hotel rooms, car rentals, vacation packages, and flights, see 23 Best Travel Sites to Save You Money.

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