The biggest addition is a "Trip Finder" application that makes destination suggestions based on parameters you input. It works about the same way the several other similar systems work:
-- Next, you "set the scene" by selecting one or more suggestions from another list of 16: Bustling Cities, Iconic Places, On the Water, Charming Towns, Coasts and Waterfronts, Offbeat Locales, Rivers and Lakes, Parks and Campgrounds, Mountains, Resorts and Retreats, Desert Oases, Beaches, Tropical Paradises, Natural Wonders, Idyllic Hideaways, and an opaque Surprise Me option.
-- Then, enter how long you want to stay, from "a couple of nights" to "forever and a day."
-- Enter the dates you want to travel.
-- Enter a "head count" of single, couple, family, or friends.
And voila: You get a primary destination recommendation plus three alternatives.
To test it, I started with a trip I might actually want to take: a combination of "arts and museums" with "music and theatre," in "charming towns," for a week in October, traveling solo, and the prime recommendation came out as Austin, Texas. Austin does pretty well by my options but is much more of a "bustling city" than a "charming town." Although not towns, either, Madrid and Venice were also pretty good options. But Trinidad-Tobago is a long way down my list for either theater (I do "theatre" only in London or Shakespeare-themed areas) or art and museums.
Because my personal situation -- a senior widower who travels solo -- isn't exactly representative, I tried a few more typical trips. And, overall, Trip Finder did OK. But it flunked "skiing and snow" for two weeks in August for a couple, coming up with three snowless U.S. ski centers plus Austria, also snowless, and ignoring Argentina, Chile and New Zealand, where the skiing is in peak season. Still, the system is fun and might generate some useful ideas. And the site also provides a place for you to store information and plans.
As for the nuts and bolts of travel, AARP continues to offer a bunch of member benefits:
-- Hotel discounts with most sub-brands of five big multi-brand chains -- Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood and Wyndham -- plus Best Western, La Quinta and Motel 6. As before, discounts are "up to" 20 percent at most brands but often less. Also discounts up to 25 percent on Endless Vacation timeshare rentals.
-- Discounts on British Airways tickets of $65 in economy, $130 in premium economy and $400 in business; book by October 14. That's the only airline deal.
-- Package tour discounts "up to $200 per couple" at Collette, "up to $100" per couple at Liberty Travel and $25 to $100 discounts per person on G Adventure tours. Liberty also offers members a reduced deposit of $50 per person and a final payment due 30 days before departure.
-- Discounts, mostly 5 percent, on Norwegian and Windstar cruises plus miscellaneous other deals.
-- Rental car discounts with Avis/Budget of 10 percent to 30 percent, depending on the rental, plus one-class upgrades; the additional driver fee is waived, and liability is capped at $5,000. The deal with Avis-owned Payless is a 5 percent discount, waived extra driver fee, and an upgrade.
AARP continues to link to a special sub-site of Expedia for individually purchased travel discounts. And it links directly to supplier sites for tours, cruises and rental cars. As always, available AARP discounts almost always cut a little off the regular rates. But I always recommend first checking on possible better deals for travelers of any age.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)
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