Grown-up Gallivanting
Author : By Sandy Berger    -   Subject : travel

    Look at those empty rocking chairs on the front porch. Today older Americas are off the porch and on the highways, in trains, and aboard planes. Statistics from the last five years show a 23% increase in travel in the US. Much of that increase is associated with those vacant rocking chairs. The Travel Industry Association of America reports that people aged 55 and over have increased their travel by almost 40%. Today's Americans are retiring earlier than their parents. Armed with more disposable income, more leisure time, and a longer life span, today's retirees are giving in to their wanderlust and following their spirit of adventure.

    Another phenomenon is affecting the popularity of senior travel. The Internet. The World Wide Web now provides travel information and e-tickets for any computer user with access to the Internet. In the past, travel agencies and airlines had a monopoly on ticket sales. Thanks to online communications, any wired senior with a credit card in hand can shop for flights, hotel rooms, and rental cars and subsequently make reservations online.

    Senior Discounts
    Seniors don't always have to settle for the small ten percent discount most airlines offer. There are many special discounts for those over a certain age in addition to or instead of the standard discounts. Today hundreds of deals are available on domestic fares for senior travel.

    According to Tom Parsons of Best Fares, senior fares are hidden fares, typically anywhere from 50% to 70% cheaper than the lowest regular fare. He claims senior fares are available in 80% of the market. Tom encourages older Americans to ask travel agents specifically for the special senior fare instead of the usual ten percent discount. Many major hotel chains also have special senior fares that save up to 50%, but you must ask. Be prepared to find that the age of a "senior" will vary from hotel to hotel (the term senior in airline lingo usually applies to travelers age 62 and above). Tom Parsons advises you to inquire about current special rates that may be cheaper than the senior discount.

    For travel by train, Amtrak offers older travelers 62 and over 15% off train fares. Certain cruise ships shave up to $300 off the price of selected cruises for travelers 55 and over. Again, be sure to ask for the discount.

    Last Minute Travel
    In the travel industry, it is never too late to book a bargain ticket. In certain cases, a round-trip ticket to a vacation destination may be offered for as little as 25% of the usual costs, as an attempt to fill unsold seats on the plane. Who can take better advantage of this immediacy than retired travelers? Because travelers without job and family constraints can make their own schedule, they have the freedom to take advantage of last minute discounts and often have the flexibility to book the cheaper roundtrip flights that require a Saturday night stay.

    E-mail Notice
    So you are retired, you want to travel, and you want the best deal. How do you take advantage of these great travel offerings? Airline companies use e-mail releases to announce many of their special fares. After you have registered at the Web site of an airline, you can complete an online form indicating your departure date and destination city. The airline will e-mail you a listing of fares as they become available.

    For example, United Airlines sends out a weekly newsletter that lists special deals for weekend travel in the domestic US. Travel begins on Saturday and returns the following Monday or Tuesday. The E-Fares list displays the departure city, destination city, and price. Visit United and click on SPECIAL DEALS and Webfares. Special Deals is an easy way to view all of United's bargains in one place. Locations and fares change every week but are only available at Most other prominent airlines like American, Delta, and US Airways have similar services.

    Finding a reliable travel site is an easy as pie but deciding which one to use can be a tough decision. Several excellent Web sites offer extensive travel services. Travelocity, owned by computer-reservation system giant Sabre Holdings, and Expedia, owned by Microsoft, are two of the biggest. Biz Travel is also an extensive site. Each of these services allows the surfer to shop for vacations, book flights, reserve hotel rooms, and rent cars. They each have special deals and personalized features. Expect to register at all of these sites, but registration is free.

    The Internet offers convenience as well as bargains. Several new sites will do all the travel comparison/research work for you; they scour the Web for the lowest fares. Travel sites such as FareChase and SideStep are gaining in popularity by offering a one-stop location that will search the various e-ticket sites for the traveler. SideStep pulls together the Web's best travel deals in one place and connects you directly to the airline, car rental, and hotel brands you trust to book your reservations. SideStep also offers bonus incentives such as frequent flyer miles for buying direct from travel suppliers.

    The Transportation Department has given Orbitz, a new e-travel site, approval to launch this June. American, United, Northwest, Delta, and Continental Airlines own this site jointly. With that kind of power, the Orbitz site has the potential to be the mother of all bargain airfare Web sites.

    The world of travel and online booking, like everything else, has its pitfalls. Remember these words to the wise. Often the fares are attractive, but be sure to check for surcharges, fuel charges, or special fees especially when traveling abroad. Advertised rates of airfares rarely include the extra tariffs that impact international fares. These extra tariffs can add hefty taxes and government fees. To be fully prepared, ask about extra charges ahead of time. It is always advisable to check to see if these fees have to be paid in cash.

    If you are buying one of those bargain packages over the Internet, caution must be taken. A person's dream vacation can become a nightmare if he or she falls victim to a travel scam. Although many travel opportunities are legitimate, scam operators defraud millions of dollars from travelers each year. Be wary of bargains that require you to purchase add-ons that are more expensive. Check out the services and accommodations in advance to avoid paying for nonexistent services or accommodations in unsafe or less than desirable locations.

    So, be wise, but be mobile. There is plenty of time for the rocking chair…later.

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