By Cameron Huddleston
Most money-savvy adults know that they can take advantage of discounts once they reach a certain age -- starting at 50 but usually 60 and older. Some of these senior discounts represent outstanding bargains. Take, for example, the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass, which costs just $10 and gives adults 62 and older lifetime access to 2,000 national parks and recreation areas. There's an additional $10 processing fee if you order through the mail, buy you can avoid the fee by purchasing your Senior Pass at one of these locations.
But there are plenty of so-called special senior rates that aren't that special because there are deeper discounts for the same goods and services available to the general public. Here are five senior discounts that older adults shouldn't always say yes to because they could be missing out on better rates. Plus, we've identified a strategy for doubling up on some other popular senior discounts.
Attractions. Many museums, theme parks and other tourist attractions offer discounted rates for seniors. However, older adults should check for other non-senior discounts before flashing their photo ID or retirement group membership card at the ticket counter. For example, in Boston the New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, Skywalk Observatory, Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard Museum of Natural History all offer special rates for seniors. It would cost a total of $89.95 to buy discounted senior tickets to visit all five attractions. But seniors can visit the same five attractions for just $54 by purchasing a regular adult Boston CityPASS. CityPASS, which offers discounted admission to popular attractions, is available for 11 major North American destinations.
You occasionally also can find better deals than the senior discount rate for attractions and tours on daily deal sites such as Groupon (GRPN) and LivingSocial. For example, we recently found a Groupon deal on admission for two people to tour the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, a World War II Liberty ship, in San Francisco for $12. That's $4 less than the price of admission for two with the discounted senior rate.
Checking accounts. Before you sign up for a senior checking account, compare it with the bank's basic checking option. A Pew Charitable Trusts study of checking accounts offered at the 12 largest U.S. banks and 12 largest credit unions found that some senior accounts actually cost more than basic accounts unless the customer maintained a high balance.
Hotels. Some hotel chains including Holiday Inn offer discounted rates to travelers 62 and older. And AARP members who are 50 and older (membership is $16 a year) get discounts of 5 to 20 percent at several hotel chains ranging from Best Western to Wyndham (WYN). The discounts apply to the best available rates offered by the hotels and can't be combined with other discounts.
If seniors always default to these discounts, though, they'll at times miss out on better rates offered by discount travel Web sites and apps. For example, the senior discount rate for a one-night stay on Feb. 28 at the Holiday Inn Nashville is $252 -- the same as the advanced-purchase rate for anyone. But we found a room at that same hotel on Feb. 28 for just $177 on discount hotel-booking site Hotels.com. For more tips on getting a good rate on a room, see How to Get the Best Deal on a Hotel.
Phone plans. Some wireless service providers offer plans available exclusively to adults of a certain age, touting that the price is lower. However, adults that meet the age criteria might be better off with plans that are available to anyone. For example, Verizon's Nationwide 65 Plus Plan, available to customers 65 and older, charges $29.99 a month for just 200 "talk" minutes. You'll have to pay extra, though, for text messaging and a data plan. For example, it costs another $20 for unlimited messaging and $30 for 2 gigabytes of data -- for a total of $79.99 a month. However, a standard single line plan with unlimited talk and text and 2GB of data costs $75 a month (or $60 if you purchase a smartphone through the Verizon Edge plan).
Rental cars. AARP members can get discounts of up to 25 percent on Avis and Budget car rentals when using a code provided by AARP and booking through the rental companies. But book through a deal aggregator such as Hotwire.com, and you can save even more. For instance, when we compared prices for a one-day rental from Miami International Airport, we found that the rate listed on Hotwire for an economy car was 22 to 31 percent lower than the discounted rates offered through Avis and Budget. Hotwire often offers the best published deals on cars by collecting rates from its eight rental-car partners including Alamo, Enterprise and Hertz (HTZ).
A Trick to Double Up on Discounts
In some cases, the special deals that are available to anyone can be paired with a senior discount to score even bigger savings. One way to do this is with discount gift cards. Websites such as CardCash, Cardpool, GiftCards.com and Raise buy gift cards at steep discounts from people who don't want them and resell them for less than face value. For example, you could purchase a $25 gift card for $20 -- an instant $5 savings. Then you can use the discount gift card to pay for something at the senior rate, so you're taking advantage of both the gift card discount and the senior discount at the same time. Here are two places where you can try this strategy:
Movie theaters. Many movie theaters offer lower ticket prices for adults over a certain age. If you buy a discount gift card for your local theater, you can use it to pay for tickets at the senior rate for even greater savings. We recently found a $25 AMC gift card selling for $19.37 -- a 23 percent discount -- on GiftCards.com. And we found a $25 Regal Cinemas gift card for $19.94 -- a 20 percent discount -- on GiftCardBin.com. Visit Gift Card Granny, a site that aggregates deals from multiple gift card discounters, to see which sites are currently offering the best discounts on cinema gift cards.
Restaurants. Some restaurants offer meal discounts for seniors, typically 10 percent. And AARP members get 10 percent off at several fine restaurants such as those operated by Landry's and McCormick & Schmick's. Again, discount gift cards can help you get an even better deal. For example, we recently found McCormick & Schmick's gift cards on Gift Card Granny discounted as much as 19 percent. See How to Buy Discount Gift Cards for additional details.