By Greg Daugherty
Originally Posted On August 11, 2014
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, chances are it will sooner or later. You’ll be making some minor purchase when, without your even asking for it, the clerk will treat you to a senior discount.
Surely, you will say to yourself, I don’t look that old.
I’m a mere 59 and 19-months-old and it’s happened to me twice. The first time was at my local supermarket. I didn’t know whether to be happy or horrified. And on top of that, I had saved all of 77 cents.
So I figured the senior discount was a fluke, an innocent mistake on the part of a young, obviously confused cashier. I took my bag of groceries and went back into denial.
Then it happened again.
This time was at a fast-food chain. After ringing up my burger, the cashier rethought the matter and suddenly lowered the price. Had she taken a liking to me? Were they having a special?
No, when I checked my receipt, I found a 10 percent discount and the dreaded word “SENIOR.” This latest jab to my ego had been worth all of 32 cents.
I suppose that one’s first senior discount is just another rite of passage, like your first date, job or colonoscopy. But I had always assumed that when the day finally came, I’d have to demand my rights, produce indisputable proof of my age and still face disbelief on the part of the cashier. I might even have to ask to see the store manager.
I pictured this happening somewhere around age 85.
But no, it was too late for that. I had already been accorded senior status by two sales clerks and it could happen again any time I visited another store or restaurant. I was beginning to see why some people shop entirely online.
Senior Discounts in Decline
To add injury to insult, I am becoming a “senior” at a time when senior discounts are often paltry and increasingly rare. It’s one thing to get a little break on a sandwich, but nobody’s going to give us one on a Subaru.
Joan Rattner Heilman remembers a different time, a sort of golden age for golden agers. She’s the author of the standard reference on the topic, Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures that You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50, 18 editions of which have appeared since 1988.
Heilman believes the high point for senior discounts was around 1995. Back then, she recalls, “almost every airline, domestic or foreign, gave people age 60 or 63 and a traveling companion a 10 percent discount off published fares and virtually every major U.S. airline also offered booklets of coupons for flights at lower rates.”
When you reached your destination, further rewards awaited.
“Hotels were the other best deal in the glory days, with some offering as much as 50 percent off regular adult rates,” Rattner Heilman says. “Today, the standard discount is 10 to 15 percent.” (Often you can beat that simply by asking the reservations agent which other sales and promotions are available.)
And, not to complain or anything, but it’s not like the previous generation of “seniors” really needed those discounts. These were people, after all, who still had traditional pensions coming to them. Those were the days!
What’s Available Now
So what’s left for the rest of us? There are still some decent senior discounts at chain restaurants, clothing stores, train and bus lines and movie theaters, Heilman says.
For example, AMC Theaters has Senior Day on Tuesdays for moviegoers over age 60; the amount of the discount varies by location, but can chop as much as $5 or so off the regular adult ticket price.
Many Cinemark locations have a similar deal, though the days vary from theater to theater. Regal Cinemas also offers discounts for anyone over 60.
Plus, if asking for a senior discount embarrasses you, what better place to wait for the blushing to subside than a darkened movie theater?
Outlet malls remain another haven for senior discounts. Premium Outlets, with 81 locations, offers shoppers over 50 an additional 10 percent off on Tuesdays at participating stores. At Tanger Outlets, with 44 locations, AARP members (you can join starting at age 50, of course) can get coupon books for an additional 20 percent off at selected stores.
Perhaps the best deal of all is the National Park Service’s Senior Pass for U.S. citizens and permanent residents over 62. For $10 if you apply in person ($20 if you do it by mail), you get lifetime entry at some 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks and wildlife refuges. Younger passholders normally pay an $80-a-year entry fee. Details and application instructions are at the National Park Service's site.
If a business doesn’t advertise a senior discount, Heilman notes, there’s no harm in inquiring about one. “If you want a discount, ask for it,” she advises. “Maybe you’ll get it.”
Or, if you’re like me, maybe they’ll just give it to you anyway.
Greg Daugherty is a personal finance writer specializing in retirement who has written frequently for Next Avenue. He was formerly editor-in-chief at Reader’s Digest New Choices and senior editor at Money.