By Catey Hill
Last Update: 1:42 PM ET Sep 21, 2012
Leave the early-bird specials to, well, the birds. These days, older Americans get thousands of discounts on everything from french fries to cruises to gym memberships, without having to resign themselves to the equivalent of eating dinner at 4:30 on a weeknight.
Deals for Americans age 50 and up have been around for a while, of course. Sometimes, companies offer these deals in the hopes that they will attract a new customer base among the big (and fast-growing) boomer demographic; more recently, its often been a tactic to boost sales when business is slow, says Jon Lal, the founder of cash-back and coupons website BeFrugal.com. For its part, the over-50 set seems to be increasingly drawn to these deals, given the shaky economy and the anxiety some have about their retirement assets. Consumers are a lot more price sensitive since the recession, and this has led to greater usage of discounts, Lal adds.
Another change in the older-customer market: Increasingly, these senior deals are happening online. Brent Shelton, a spokesperson for deal site FatWallet.com, says retail deals for seniors are especially abundant online these days. And some airlines have begun for the first time to allow seniors to claim discounts when they book their flights online. Prior to this, senior fares were only available when booking by phone, says Lal.
While deals like this have usually been associated with retirees, they also offer a nice value proposition to 50-somethings a chance to cut some costs at a time when many people are still playing catch-up with retirement nest eggs. Certified financial planner Karen Lee, founder of Karen Lee and Associates in Atlanta, says she generally recommends that people become a member of AARP ($16 a year). Anyone over 50 can join, and members are eligible for hundreds of discounts on hotels, restaurants, rental cars and other expenses.
Even when discounts arent publicized, Lee adds, The best advice I can give to people is just ask. If you dont ask, they dont offer.
Here are five areas where older buyers can watch for deals:
Older people make attractive customers for travel companies: Households in which the head of household is between 55 and 64 years old spend, on average, $1,897 a year on travel more than any other age group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Graying travelers may not be able to get every trip they want on the cheap, but there are enough discounts on airfare, rail and bus travel, rental cars and hotels for older Americans to keep costs down. Here are a few:
Bus and rail: Amtrak offers a 15% discount for travelers 62 and up on the lowest available fare on most trains (some limitations apply). Greyhound gives that same age group 5% off some of their fares.
Airlines: American, United Continental, Southwest and US Airways may give discounts to those 65 and up who call and ask before booking the flight, says Lee. But these discounts aren't always cheaper than Web specials, says Andrea Woroch, a money-savings expert for consumer app-maker Kinoli Inc.
Cruise lines: Some cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, sometimes offer deals for those 55 and up, says Louis Ramirez, the senior features writer for deal site DealNews.com. For passengers who book online, theres usually a check box for seniors. If you dont see that, recommends Ramirez, call and ask.
Rental cars: Most of the major rental car companies offer deals for AARP members, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and National, says Lee.
Hotels: Cambria Suites, Clarion Motels, Comfort Inn and Quality Inn all offer discounts for travelers 60 and up; Marriott, Hyatt Hotels and the InterContinental Hotels Group discount for those 62 and up. Some hotels give the discounts only to those with AARP membership.
2. Chain restaurants
While the Per Ses and Momofukus of the world generally wont cut older diners a break, a number of fast-food and chain restaurants will. The fast-casual restaurant chains that offer deals for older Americans (typically starting at age 55 or 60) include Applebees, Boston Market, Chilis, Einsteins Bagels and IHOP. The fast-food chains that offer deals include Arbys, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin Donuts, Hardees, Jack in the Box, KFC, Subway, TCBY and Wendys. No need to worry if you arent an early bird; at most chains, the discounts are available all day.
3. The great outdoors
Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon If you have yet to visit these or one of the other national parks, nows the time to get in at a budget. Through the National Park Service, Americans 62 and older can get a lifetime pass to more than 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other protected lands. The cost: Just $10.
The pass gives you free admittance to these lands for life and can also include a 50% discount on fees for boat launching, parking, camping, swimming and tours. (For those not fortunate enough to be older yet, admission to the parks typically start at $10 or $20 per park for a seven-day pass.)
Some of the best deals for older Americans are in the apparel arena, says FatWallets Shelton, with a bunch of the big chains offering 10% or more off all merchandise. In part, this may be a we want you back effort, because middle-age and older shoppers have been scrimping on their threads since the recession: Over the past five years, boomers monthly spending on clothes has declined by 30%, according to the Lifestyle Monitor Survey conducted by the trade and marketing group Cotton Incorporated.
Banana Republic, Bealls, Belks, Dress Barn, Ross, C.J. Banks and Kohls all offer discounts for older Americans. Discounts may vary depending on the buyers age and location.
Loyalty programs have become a major marketing tool for supermarkets, with discounts and points program aimed at keeping consumers from, well, shopping around. But markets have been gradually incorporating additional discounts for seniors, along with amenities like supermarket cafes that experts say are aimed at creating a social vibe that keeps older customers (and others) coming back more often.
Today, a number of supermarkets offer deals for older adults, says Andrew Schrage, the founder of MoneyCrashers.com, a personal-finance website. For example, Harris Teeter offers shoppers 60 and older 5% off on Thursdays; Kroger offers people 59 and older 10% off Kroger Brand items every day; and Food Lion offers 6% off every Monday to those 60 and up. Some of the deals may vary by location and may require an AARP membership.