retirement

5 tips to affordable retirement travel

Zepke notes that most U.S. airlines offer senior discounts of 10 percent or more. Foreign airlines sometimes have them, but other products, such as air passes, may offer greater savings.

Air passes allow you to fly to multiple destinations within a country or region for one set price. This arrangement is often cheaper than booking each flight separately. Some airlines offer air passes directly to passengers; others require that you purchase them through travel agents. "Always ask when you call the airline, because programs are often revised," Zepke says.

Some airlines have restricted or eliminated their senior specials. Delta Air Lines phased out its senior discount programs. US Airways offers special fares "in select markets," but the Senior Save Pack offered by America West before it merged with US Airways is no more. United Airlines' senior fares are available only when you book on the Internet.

Hotel chains have senior discount programs, too. Among the most generous are the 50 percent cut at Starwood Hotels (including Sheraton, Four Points, W Hotels and Westin Hotels and Resorts) and the 40 percent discount available through the Hilton Senior Travel Honors Program, which requires a $55 per year membership fee.

2. Look beyond travel Web sites 

Major online travel sources, such as Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire and Orbitz, all boast about letting you in on the cheapest fares. The truth is they only show the lowest fares among the vendors that opt to be included on their Web sites.

"Some hotels and airlines have never paid to be on these sites," Zepke says. Furthermore, some that used to pay to be listed on these sites are no longer doing so, because they are using that money elsewhere -- like to advertise their own Web sites."

Go to the Web sites of airlines and hotels you don't see on the list -- or call them -- and see how the prices you find compare. If you're just not up for that much homework, consider enlisting the help of a travel agent, who will have access to constantly updated information. The more complex the journey -- an international trip, for example, or one involving lots of activities -- the more useful it is to tap into a travel agent's expertise.

3. Check out room rates from the source 

If you have a list of hotels you're interested in, first check out their Web sites to find the rate for the dates you need a room. Then call each hotel and ask what kinds of specials and discounts it offers. Besides the perks that specifically target seniors, you may find even better deals from teacher, government or military discount programs, frequent traveler reward programs and other offerings.

You can also try simply asking hotel managers what kind of break they can work out for you. "Their cooperation will depend on how booked they are," Zepke says. "For instance, if they are at 95 percent capacity, they are less likely to negotiate than if they're at 45 percent capacity."

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Timing is a big factor when shopping for hotel bargains. "Something to remember is that hotel rooms are perishable commodities, meaning that the rates drop in the low or off season and as the day goes on," Zepke says. "Rates are much lower after 8 p.m., assuming that the property has vacancies."

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