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Senior Travel

Senior Budget Travel

By Arnie Wills

Seniors have plenty of ways to cut costs if you know where to look.

Air travel is generally the biggest money outlay—and therefore the biggest deterrent to going anywhere. Consider some key ways around it. One is the extraordinarily low winter airfare to get to Europe that happens every year, usually between mid-October and March or April. Airlines offer transatlantic roundtrip fares of $400 or even less to London, Paris, Rome, etc.

Why would you want to go abroad in the winter? To see and do the same things as in peak seasons and without the crowds and high costs for museums, concerts, theater, language courses. Hotels and all-inclusive packages are generally cheaper at that time too. Book at least six months in advance and pay early to get low-priced promotional airfare, or, if your time is flexible, see what you can get at the last minute for a low price. Most major airlines have discontinued the senior discount fare, making the off-season rates especially attractive. Once in Europe, you’ll find more new airlines to provide cheap travel from nearly all the major hubs to wherever you want to go (see below).

Rail Passes

Once you’re there, even more opportunities to save are available for the over-60 crowd. Most senior rail passes are for single countries or contiguous countries such as Scandinavia or the Balkans.

Eurailpass, good for unlimited travel in about 17 European countries, offers no senior discounts, making individual country passes a better deal. Here are the best ones:

Eurostar, the Channel Tunnel train, and the Thalys train give seniors 25-30 percent off, but you may have to order them ahead. Check out www.raileurope.com for all train travel information. In many major cities local transportation—subways, buses, and lake steamers—is grouped together in a one-purchase card.

For discounts in general, other than transportation, different countries offer different deals, and the practice is often unpredictable. Some bargains are available to anyone over 60; others are limited to citizens of the EU nations. In Greece, for instance, a few museums and archeological sites are discounted. In Austria discounts vary from one museum or site to another; there is no general rule. You often have to be a member of an association or hold a British pension book in England to get a discount. And so it goes—no hard and fast specifics. Before you go, see what discount cards are available for free or reduced rates to attractions in the areas you’ll visiting.

The point is that discounts are out there. They’re very often available for movies, theaters, museums, tours, local sightseeing, historic buildings, hotels, restaurants, and car rentals. The main rule to keep in mind is that if you think you may qualify for a discount on anything ask. They’re not apt to volunteer the offer—any more than they do in your home town. In the case of hotels and car rentals, ask when you make the reservation, not when you check out. And ask too for weekend or midweek packages at hotels or, better yet, look for lower-priced B and Bs where you’ll often feel like one of the family.

As for evening meals, which abroad are frequently served when American seniors are ready to turn in, look for early-bird menus, often served before 7 p.m.

Another tip: always keep some form of identification like a passport or a driver’s license with you that shows your date of birth. You never know when and where a bargain is waiting for you. Finally, verify all published rates and schedules before you assume they’re valid.

Airlines Within Europe

German Wings, www.germanwings.com. Prices from 19 euros to all points where they fly.

Ryanair, www.ryanair.com, has carried 15 million passengers annually since 1985. Bases in London, Brussels, Frankfurt. Also good rates on car rentals.

BMI Airlines, 888-755-7725; www.flymbi.com. Formerly British Midlands Airways, BMI deliberately sells one-way fares so you don’t have to double back. No minimum stays or other requirements. Examples: Heathrow to Madrid or Nice from $54; Heathrow to Paris from $23.

British Airways offers those over 60 a 10 percent discount in its Privileged Traveler program.

Train Savings in Europe

The Swiss card gives a 50 percent discount on all Swiss railways, postal buses, and mountain excursions.

The following are for seniors only but discounts vary. Contact the country’s tourist board for details.

Balkan Flexipass (1st class only), Britrail Classic and Flexipass (1st class only), France Railpass (1st class only), France Saverpass (1st class only), Scanrail Pass and France Senior Pass (1st and 2nd class), Holland Railpass (1st and 2nd class), Norway Railpass (1st and 2nd class).