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Travel discounts for seniors are there for the asking

By Ellen SteeseStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 10, 1985



Boston

If you're a senior citizen looking for travel discounts, the byword is: Question, question, question. Discounts are there, but it may take persistence with travel agents to dig them out. And ask for all the comparative information that helps you distinguish among excursion rates, weekend rates, and off-season rates. To help you sort through the maze of current offerings, here are some suggestions: Organizations offer discounts

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One way to become eligible for discounts is to join a seniors organization. Members of the huge American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) get special rates on some auto rentals and hotels. For instance, Avis and National offer 40 percent off on normal time and mileage rates, or a flat rate of $33 and $32 a day (respectively) on a subcompact.

Most Best Western, Econo-Lodges, Holiday Inns, Howard Johnsons, Hospitality Internationals, Quality Internationals, and Rodeway Inns offer a 10 percent discount to AARP members, while La Quinta offers 20 percent off and Sheraton, 25 percent. Most Marriott hotels (75 percent of them) offer a 50 percent discount to AARP members.

Members must be at least 50 years old. For membership information, call (202) 872-4700 or write 1909 K Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20049. The cost is $5 a year per person or couple.

There is no bottom age limit to join the National Council of Senior Citizens, though most members are over 60. Some of the advantages: 25 percent off Avis rentals, 15 percent off Ramada Inns (25 percent on weekends). Perhaps of greatest interest to travelers is the council's unusual travel program to low-cost resorts in Europe. One example: a three-week trip to France for $1,399 (all inclusive, plus 15 percent sales tax). Membership costs $8 a year, $10 per couple. Write 925 15th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, or call (202) 347-8800.

Members of the National Association of Mature People (NAMP), for those 40 and over, get between 10 and 20 percent off at TraveLodge, La Quinta, Ramada, Best Western, Quality Inns, and Rodeway. To reach NAMP write PO Box 26792, Oklahoma City, Okla. 73126-0792, or call (405) 848-1832.

The primary purpose of these organizations is not to offer bargains to travelers, of course. But that's a nice dividend. In fact, the NAMP offers varied services (a retirement planning service, for instance), and the National Council of Senior Citizens lobbies for laws to benefit seniors. Tours offer special services

Tour operators that specialize in travel for seniors usually feature such unusual offerings as slower-paced traditional tours, short-term apartment rentals in European capitals (with a host in the complex to assist when needed), and educational vacations where classes are offered in conjunction with sightseeing.

AARP runs tours for its members: Its Learning Holidays cover subjects such as art history in Florence, antiques and auctions in London, and arts and crafts in Scandinavia. In addition to its traditional tour program there are ``regional vacations,'' coach tours of a small area, and ``extended vacations'' -- apartments in Paris, London, Budapest. AARP also offers cruises at discounted rates.

For travelers over 50, Grand Circle Travel of New York offers traditional escorted tours at a slower pace; it also has ``countryside tours'' of Europe that last three weeks and yet visit only three places. Participants stay in smaller country inns, and sightseeing is not included, though there is a tour director.

Grand Circle's apartment-rental program is very popular. You go for a minimum of two weeks; offerings include London; Paris; Florence, Italy; and the Costa del Sol. The latter is a particularly good deal: A studio, including air fare (but no meals or sightseeing), costs between $710 and $725 per person for the first week. Each additional week is $50. Grand Circle's number is (212) 688-5900.