When summer crowds go home, savings accelerate for seniors Discounts: Older travelers discover that autumn is open season for vacation bargains.

September 15, 1996|By Rhoda Amon | Rhoda Amon,NEWSDAY

There's something special about autumn days: Children are back in school, their parents are back at work, the hotels and airlines are back to wooing seniors still free to travel.

Though senior perks and discounts are available year-round, senior "specials" proliferate in the fall when there are more empty hotel rooms and airline seats.

Even if you're a youthful 50 and feel younger than springtime, you can start cashing in on some autumnal perks.

President Clinton, who recently turned 50 and counts on continuing to travel on Air Force One, is now eligible for an American Association of Retired Persons card ($8 a year), honored for discounts at hotels and movies.

The travel industry loves seniors, who account for 75 percent of leisure-travel spending.

Take, for example, George and Wanda Cope of the San Francisco area who joined United Airlines' Silver Wings Plus travel club, which offers a variety of benefits to members as young as 55. The Copes, both in their 60s, have journeyed from Australia to the Caribbean and say that they've saved enough in assorted discounts and specials from the airline and its travel "partners" (such as hotels and car rentals) to pay the cross-country airfare for George Cope's 95-year-old mother to visit her 100-year-old sister in Warwick, N.Y.

The Silver Wings Plus program, now 10 years old, offers memberships on a two-year ($75) or lifetime ($225) basis. Partners include cruise lines (Holland America, Norwegian, Renaissance, Crystal) and hotel chains (Aston, Hilton, Radisson, Thistle, Westin, ITT Sheraton). Call (214) 760-0022.

Transportation perks

Some benefits available to senior travelers:

Most airlines give a basic 10 percent discount off any ticket price for travelers 62 or over. Amtrak will knock 15 percent off the lowest fare for train travelers over 62. On Air South, Air Canada and some foreign airlines, senior citizenship begins at 60.

For costly flights, I've found the best year-round deal is the four-coupon senior book, which allows a one-way trip to the opposite coast for $135 or less. Only TWA and Continental sell books of eight that offer a cheaper ticket-rate than that. Reservations must be made at least 14 days ahead, although coupon holders can fly standby at any time.

TWA offers four-coupon books for $498, or $124.50 a trip, or eight-coupon books for $938, which averages $117.25 each way.

One coupon is needed each way for the continental United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Toronto or the Dominican Republic flights; two each way for Hawaii. (800) 221-2000.

Continental's four-coupon book is $579; eight is $999. One coupon is good for travel in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda, two coupons each way for Alaska or Hawaii. I used a Continental coupon to fly standby from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to New York last New Year's Day, then used two for a round-trip to Albuquerque, N.M. Without the coupons, each flight would have cost many more bucks. (800) 441-1135.

Other airlines offering four-coupon books for about $540 include American, Delta, Northwest, USAir and United. USAir has a special deal for seniors who want to take a grandchild along. They can use the coupons for one or two children 2 to 11. (800) 428-4322.

Hotel savings

For hotel benefits, join the club. Besides offering discounts to AARP members, many hotel chains maintain their own senior clubs, providing an assortment of membership benefits, particularly off-season.

Members of the Hilton chain's Senior Honors Program for over-60s are especially welcome this time of year at the 40 Hilton Resorts, including 16 golf resorts. Discounts can run up to 50 percent off room rates, 20 percent off dinner for two. Annual membership is $50. (800) 432-3600.

The September Days Club for over-50s guarantees a year-round 15 percent discount at Days Inns. Specials at individual inns can run 20 percent to 50 percent.

Discounts are also available for restaurants, airlines, cruises, car rentals, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Annual membership is $15. (800) 241-5050.

Howard Johnson's Golden Years membership begins at 50 and costs $12.95. (800) 547-7829.

No need to join anything but AARP for up to 50 percent discounts, subject to availability, at Omni hotels. For example, fall guests at the Omni Chicago might pay $148 a night for a $295 room, if it's available. (800) 843-6664.

The Choice chain -- Clarion, Comfort, Econo Lodges, Friendship, Quality, Rodeway, Sleep -- provide a 30 percent discount for over-50s, more available in winter than in summer, a spokesman said. (800) 221-2222.

What I like best are the creative discounts, such as the "age-less rates" at the Inn at Semi-Ah-Moo, north of Seattle in the northwestern-most corner of the United States. From October through March, guests can deduct their age from the Inn's $125 rate. Thus an 85-year-old would pay $40 a night at this romantic resort with an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. (800) 770-7992.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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