In the travel industry—and the marketplace, generally—some discounts depend on who or what you are rather than what or where you buy. Over the years, age-based status discounts have perhaps been the most common, but you find others as well. In researching an old rail timetable, for example, I once noticed special fares for clergy, and an Athens discount agency once got me a ticket on an airfare for “sailors rejoining their ship.” But those occupational discounts are now rare; status discounts are down, overall, and most current deals are for seniors and youth.
These days, the world’s airlines offer almost no status discounts. Although U.S. airlines once offered a variety of senior deals—some really attractive—today’s seniors are left out in the cold. Youth, too: Whether you’re 8, 18, or 80, you want a seat, you pay the full price. The only widely available senior discount I know is the AARP senior discount program on British Airways round-trips: $65 off economy fares, $200 off business class.
In the U.S., Amtrak may be the status-discount champ. It offers 10 percent discounts to seniors 65 or over, disabled travelers, members of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, active military, and veterans. Most require advance purchase up to three days; most exclude sleeper services, business class, and many do not apply to promotional fares. Senior discounts up to 50 percent are currently available on some Downeaster runs, and seniors get 15 percent on some intra-California trains, but any-age promotional fares are sometimes better. One child, 2 to 12, accompanied by an adult, gets 50 percent off. You don’t have to suss out the details; enter your data and Amtrak’s website does the math.
Brightline doesn’t have any senior details, but has run promotions for kids.
VIA Rail Canada offers 10 percent discounts to seniors 60 or over, through membership in the Canadian Automobile Association. But any-age weekly “discount Tuesday” promotions are often better bets.
Most European railways do not offer discounts on individual tickets, but they do have status deals:
Eurail Passes are available at discounted rates for youth 12 to 27 and seniors age 60 or over, in both first and second class; kids 4 to 11 travel free with accompanying adults. Single-country passes for Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Norway, Scandinavia, and the UK offer similar options; the German pass is not discounted for seniors.
Some individual countries also sell annual railcards giving discounts on all or most trains for status groups. Examples include UK Railcards that typically give one-third off any ticket and cost 30 euros (about $37) per year for youth 16 to 17, youth 16 to 25, young adults 30 to 36, seniors, and family groups; French Rail sells annual discount cards at 49 euro (about 53) for youth and seniors; other countries make similar deals.
Italy is the main destination country that offers discounts up to 50 percent for youth under 30 years and seniors 60 or over when you buy an individual ticket. You must first register for a CartaFreccia; free.
Most public transit systems in the U.S. offer senior discounts and many offer special fares for youth, often tied to school status. The minimum age for senior fares is typically 65. Many systems accept a Medicare card as qualifying ID, but a few big systems—including Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington require special ID cards: Some allow you to apply online in advance of your visit, but others require that you apply in person at a local office. Big systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh provide free transport for seniors 65 or over, but only with a locally issued ID card.
In general, cities outside the U.S. typically do not offer senior discounts, and student-youth deals are often tied to school affiliation or enrollment.
Finding Your Deal
Wherever you plan to visit, whoever is in your travel party, and whatever form of transport you plan to use, take a look for discounts before you leave home: You may be entitled to something you didn’t know about.
©2022 Ed Perkins. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.