I've heard that with some companies, a lot of times, the "senior discount" isn't much, or isn't even the best deal. How do I get senior discounts while making sure they're also the best deal?
–Jane, Foxborough, Mass.
You're definitely right, Jane, that the senior discount isn't always the lowest rate. Sometimes, it's no discount at all. With some airlines, for example, searching for senior discounts can often lead to higher starting rates, so that when you get your 5- or 10-percent discount, it's from a higher base rate. This means that a ticket bought with a "senior discount" can occasionally cost more than it would without one.
The most important thing to do is to ask for (or search the Internet for) the lowest rate first. Once you know what that is, then ask for a senior discount from that rate.
Be aware that some hotels can do the same things that airlines do and increase their base rates, which can effectively negate discounts. Again, always ask for the lowest price first, then ask about senior discounts.
There are some areas of travel where a senior discount is usually a good deal. Train travel is one. Amtrak offers a 15-percent discount for travelers over the age of 62. But unlike airlines, which have a notoriously opaque pricing structure, train tickets are more straightforward, so it's easier to tell if you're getting a good deal.
And there are a number of Web sites in addition to AARP.org that can help you find discounts. Seasonedspender.com is one (http://www.seasonedspender.com/index.pl) free option that you might visit. There's also SeniorDiscounts.com (http://www.seniordiscounts.com/), which has a free section, but requires a paid membership for access to the complete listings.