The 45 million Americans now over the age of 50 are the nation's largest and fastest-growing travel market, with those 55 or older accounting for one-third of all US spending for vacation or recreational activities. The travel industry has responded by offering a wide variety of discounts to the elderly:
Airlines. The government once disallowed air fare discounts for the elderly as "discriminatory" to younger travelers. This law has since been repealed, and many -- but not all -- US airlines, as well as some foreign carriers, now offer substantial reductions to passengers 65 years or older. In general, these fares average two-thirds the cost of a regular one-way coach ticket. Reservations sometimes must be made at least 24 hours before departure, but tickets can be bought up to one hour before flight time, and legal proof of age must be shown.
Some of the airlines offering senior citizen discount fares include American, Pan American, Braniff, and Delta. It's a good idea, however, to ask when making a reservation on anym airline if there are special fares for the elderly. Usually, senior citizen airline fares apply to those 65 years or older.
Amtrak. Senior citizens save 25 percent on the regular one-way fare where the ticket costs a minimum of $40 or more. This special fare is good for both unreserved and reserved travel in coach, club and sleeping cars; however, applicable accomodation charges -- such as a special fee, for instance, for a berth or roomete -- must be paid in full. This fare does not apply to Metroliner service between Washington and Boston and the cities in between.
Buses. Both Greyhound and Trailways give a 13 percent discount to senior citizens, but the lower rates do not apply to promotional fares.
National Parks. Available to anyone 62 years or older, a free lifetime permit gives entrance to all US parks, recreational areas and monuments.For details, write Public Inquiries, National Park Service, Washington, D.C. 20240.
Memberships. The several million members of the National Retired Teachers Association and the American Association of Retired Persons get special discounts for both lodgings and auto rentals at many places. By showing membership cards when checking in at Holiday Inns, Howard Johnson Motor Lodges, Quality Inns, Ramada Inns, and Rodeway Inns, members get a 10 percent discount on all rooms every day of the year. Scottish Inns, located primarily in the Southeastern States, gives NRTA and AARP members a 20 percent discount on room, while Sheraton Hotels and Inns give a 25 percent discount on all but minimum-priced rooms at all their worldwide locations. Sonesta hotels offer a 15 percent discount.
For information on membership in the National Retired Teachers Association or the American Association of Retired Persons, write (to either group) at 1909 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049. Their annual fee is only $4.
The NRTA and AARP Purchase Privilege Program also offers members discounts on Hertz, Avis, Domestic, and National auto rentals. The discount rates vary for differing circumtances.For Avis, for example, these discounts apply:
Domestic rentals (48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C.) a 30 percent discount on all normal time and mileage rates. In Hawaii, a 20 percent discount on unlimited mileage rates. For Florida, a 25 percent discount on Florida Freedom rates, a daily special with free mileage. In Canada, a 35 percent discount on normal time and mileage rates, and a 15 percent discount on flat unlimited mileage rates. In other foreign countries, a 10 percent discount on normal time and mileage rates. These discounts do not apply to Avis' Super Saver and other special rates.
Many major museums, amusement parks, and other tourist attractions also offer discounts to the elderly. At Walt Disney World in Florida, for example, older people are attracted by "Young at Heart" celebrations, with special low prices for admission.
A group travel program for people over age 50 is also a new feature of American Youth Hostels' 1981 "High Road to Adventure" program. Participants in the "50-plus Program for the Young at Hearth" travel by van and spend most nights at American Youth Hostel hostels or similar accomodations.
The New York Convention & Visitors Bureau stresses that older people visiting New York City should always ask at theaters, movies, sightseeing attractions, restaurants, and other services if there is a senior citizen fare before paying any charge. Says Charles gilett, president of the bureau: "If you don't aksk, you don't get!"
Many tours cater to the elderly. Says Robert Dunn, head of New York City's Grand Circle Travel, which specializes in travel for the Elderly: "Older people like to see things more in depth so we schedule more time for stops at museums and other attractions.
"The also want more free time to explore on their own. Our tours for the elderly usually start between 9 and 9:30 a.m. and are back before 5 p.m., and many are for only half a day or less."
A new trend in travel for the elderly, according to Mr. Dunn, is the "extended vacation" of two weeks to up to three months in a rented kitchen-equipped apartment in one locale.
Grand Circle Travel offers such extended vacations in apartment complexes in Spain, Algeria. Mexico, France, Austria, Hawaii, Florida, and South Dakota. As an example of savings possible, Mr. Dunn cites a two-week package in Torremolinos, Spain, for $605, including air fare. Or a 20-night package on a houseboat in India for $2,025.
Don't forget to check on-the-spot discounts which are usually designed for local citizens, but are still also available to tourists. In Switzerland, for example, a senior citizen halffare pass is good for the entire year on almost all that country's trains and famous postal buses. The cost of the pass, available to men over 65, women over 62, is only $50. Regular price of this pass is $225.
Williamburg, Va., is offering a special "Salute to Seniors" this year Sept. 1 to 30, with spacial events and programs aimed at those 55 years of age or older. For further information write Director of Travel, Colonial Willimasburg, Drawer C. Willia msburg, Va. 23185.