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AARP Updates Travel Discounts for 2010

AARP’s travel discounts—once an important resource for travelers age 50 or over—continue to decline in their appeal and utility. As I noted last year, you should now view a mass-group discount (AARP, AAA, and such) as a fallback position to be used only when you can’t find a better deal some other way.

The AARP hotel program for 2010 is down to 33 brand names, drawn mainly from three big multi-brand chains:

  • Discounts at the 10 mostly mid-price and budget Choice Hotels brands are now “up to” 10 percent off, close to a meaningless promise: Ascend, Cambria Suites, Clarion, Comfort Inn/Suites, Econo Lodge, MainStay Suites, Quality Inn, Rodeway Inn, Sleep Inn, and Suburban Extended Stay.
  • Discounts at the nine mostly upscale Starwood brands are 5 percent to 25 percent off the “best available” rate, another vague promise: Aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Meridien, Luxury Collection, Sheraton, St. Regis, W, and Westin.
  • Discounts at the 11 Wyndham brands in all price ranges are 10 percent off: Baymont, Days Inn, Hawthorn Suites, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, Microtel, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge, Wingate, and Wyndham.
  • AARP members receive unspecified “credits” and “purchase discounts” at resorts in the Sandals/Beaches group.

Among the other three chains, Best Western offers “up to” 20 percent in the United States, Canada, and many other locations throughout the world; Hampton (the only Hilton brand in the AARP program) offers 10 percent off “select” rates—which may not be a deal at all—and La Quinta offers a measly 5 percent discount.

In checking out this year’s program, I found some minor discrepancies between the deals as posted on the AARP website and those posted on the hotels’ own sites. I list the latter.

Although other big chains and individual hotels do not participate in the AARP program, many of them nevertheless offer senior discounts. Most are in the same range as AARP’s deals; qualifying ages range from 50 to 65, with some even accepting AARP identification.

Beyond hotels, AARP members get a range of other travel discounts:

  • Up to 20 percent to 25 percent off many car rental rates at Alamo, Avis, Budget, Hertz, and National, with unspecified discounts at Enterprise. In addition, all six companies provide extra liability coverage of 25/50/10 plus a $5,000 cap on collision liability—a significant benefit if you rely on personal insurance or a credit card for collision coverage.
  • Reductions of $50 to $75 per person on AMA Waterways, MSC, and Hurtigrunen cruises.
  • Reductions on tour packages up to $200 per person on Collette Tours, DuVine Adventures, General Tours, Grand European Tours, Journeys Unlimited, and Regina Tours, plus 5 percent reductions on vacation rentals from The Right Vacation Rental.

Your strategy for finding your best deal remains about as it has been for several years. Start by looking for special promotions and “sales” available to travelers of any age. You can do that easily through any of the big online search programs, such as SmarterTravel’s price comparison tool, KAYAK, or DealBase, or one of the big online agencies such as Expedia or Travelocity. Then check to see if you can do better through AARP deals, senior deals, or AAA deals with any of the suppliers that look good. If one of these deals is better, take it, but chances are you’ll often be able to do better with a more limited deal available to the general public.

If you’re sure you won’t cancel—and will accept a “run of the house” room assignment—you can often cut your hotel bills substantially by buying through one of the two big “opaque” sites, Hotwire or Priceline. They’re even better for rental cars, where you typically don’t care which rental company supplies the car. Even if you add in the price of cancellation “insurance,” those opaque rates can be a lot lower than the best openly posted deals.

Have you noticed the discounts declining with your AARP membership? Or do you find better discounts when you skip the AARP rates all together? Share your thoughts and advice with fellow readers by submitting a comment below?

(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Hotwire.)

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