Discounts for seniors extend far beyond early-bird dinner specials and cheap tickets at the movie theater. Consumers in their golden years have plenty of golden opportunities for savings, including some in surprising places.
In the wake of the recession, some businesses, especially retail chains, have cut back on their discount programs for senior citizens, making it all the more important to know where to find them. Meanwhile, other businesses looking to drum up sales in a slow economy have created new programs for seniors, said Joan Rattner Heilman, author of Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50.
"It has become more widespread, from senior discounts on plumbers to the local Chinese restaurant," said Heilman, who has revised her senior discounts book regularly for 20 years. "But it's become smaller deals for some. For example, you don't get as much off on hotels as you once did. Almost everybody now has about 10 percent off with your AARP card."
Here are tips to allow you to get all the discounts you can if you qualify as a senior, in some cases if you're 50:
Ask whether a business offers a senior discount, even if it doesn't seem the type of sale that usually warrants one. For example, you might get a break on your Jiffy Lube oil change or Midas muffler job, although that will vary by location. Senior discounts are sometimes available but are not company policy at either chain.
"Discounts are more prevalent, even in tiny, little places," Heilman said. "Everybody has gotten into the act."
The good news for middle-age consumers is that many businesses don't want to administer their own senior discount program, so they offer them through AARP, whose members are as young as 50, Heilman said.
An AARP membership costs $16 a year, or less annually with a multiyear membership. Many seniors could easily make that back in discounts. It offers discounts at more than 500 retailers, plus price breaks on travel, financial services and health products. Membership also gets you the AARP magazine.
CATEGORIES OF DISCOUNTS
"Today's seniors have a wide range of discounts available to them," said Erin Huffstetler, who operates About.com's Frugal Living Web site and maintains a list of senior discounts. "Discounts on groceries, restaurant meals and travel are especially common."
Most grocery stores have senior discount days, often midweek, although it varies by store. Large pharmacies have programs, too.
Examples of chain restaurants that offer discounts are Applebee's, Chili's and Friendly's, along with most major fast-food chains.
You can get clothing discounts at such stores as Banana Republic, Ross and Stein Mart.
Some U.S. airlines mention senior fares on their Web sites. But, as a practical matter, only Southwest Airlines regularly offers discounts to seniors, whom Southwest defines as those 65 and older, Heilman said.
For travelers, there might also be discounts on hotels, rental cars and cruises. Older commuters might find half off on bus and train fares. Amtrak fares, however, are discounted only 15 percent.
Kohl's Department Stores often have senior days, which offer storewide discounts. Even thrift stores offer senior discounts, Huffstetler said.
Financial products and services might offer senior discounts. Examples include tax preparation, bank accounts and auto and home insurance.
WHERE TO FIND DISCOUNTS
The Internet is a great resource for finding specific senior discounts. Earlier this year, GiftCardGranny.com published a list of 136 discounts for seniors at tinyurl.com/4tgjgv9. Huffstetler's list is at tinyurl.com/6db7sh. You can search Savings.com for the word "senior" to browse discounts. And one Web site, SeniorDiscounts.com, is devoted to the topic.
A few books address discounts for older people, although it seems Heilman's book is the only one regularly updated.
BEST DEAL EVER?
Maybe the best discount for seniors comes from the National Park Service. A senior pass, formerly called Golden Age Passport, is an admission pass for anyone age 62 and older. It gets you into any national park, along with your vehicle load of people if the park charges by vehicle. Or, if the park charges by the person, it gains admission for you plus three adults. It also gets you half off at parks' camping, swimming and boat launch facilities.
The cost? Ten bucks — for life. Compare that with the cost for those younger than 62: $80 per year. For details, go to Nps.gov and search for "senior pass."
Just because you get a senior discount doesn't mean it's the best discount. You might pay less with a general sale or coupon than with the birth date on your driver's license.
Fortunately, many seniors have caught on to the idea of discounts and are speaking up. That even applies to baby boomers, who as a group aren't fond of admitting they are growing old, Heilman said.
"They don't like to be called seniors, but they don't want to miss on saving a couple of bucks," she said.