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AARP in 2018: Travel benefits slowly eroding

Ed Perkins
Contact ReporterEd Perkins - On Travel

AARP has featured travel discounts as a member benefit for many years, and those travel deals remain a focus of AARP's ongoing program. Many of the longstanding deals carry over into 2018, but the program has lost some key participants this year.

Hotel. The AARP hotel discount program focus is now down to just three large hotel brand "families" plus Best Western:

-- Choice Hotels: Up to 10 percent discount at most Ascend, Cambria, Clarion, Comfort, EconoLodge, MainStay, Rodeway, Sleep Inn and Suburban units.

-- Hilton Hotels: Five percent or 10 percent discount at most Conrad, Curio, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Garden Inn, Hampton, Hilton, Homewood, Home2 and Waldorf Astoria units.

-- Wyndham: Ten percent discount at most Baymont, Days Inn , Hawthorn Suites, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, Microtel, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge, Tryp, Wingate and Wyndham units. Plus TripBeat vacation rentals. Last year, the discount was "up to" 20 percent. Wyndham just acquired La Quinta, included last year as an independent.

-- Best Western: Ten percent at most locations.

The big loss this year is Starwood, a staple of the program in previous years. Starwood was acquired by Marriott last year, and Marriott is apparently not interested in working with AARP. Still, the current program provides a wide enough price range to satisfy most travelers.

Airline. For some time, the only useful AARP airline deal has been with British Airways, with discounts on round-trip tickets purchased through the BA/AARP booking engine. This year, the discounts are $65 in economy, $65 in premium economy and $200 in business class. For a while, BA kept this deal on a short-leash, month-by-month basis, but the current version shows no cutoff date. Although $65 isn't a big discount, it applies to any economy fare, including the lowest flash sale fares, and $200 off a flash-sale business-class fare can be attractive, if you're trying to escape the cattle car.

Rental car. AARP continues to offer various discounts on rental cars, but now from only the Avis family. On Avis and Budget rentals, members receive discounts of 10 percent to 25 percent, a no-fee additional driver, discounted GPS at $6.99/day, and a $5,000 collision damage liability cap. Discounts are more limited at Payless. AARP also offers Zipcar membership at a 43 percent discount. Lost this year are the former enhanced liability limits, which were potentially more valuable than the collision caps.

Other. AARP continues to offer various percent-off, dollars-off and other promotions on tour packages and cruises with Collette, Grand European, Liberty Travel, Grand Canyon and Vacations by Rail. It also provides 18 percent off Medjet enrollment and 12 percent discounts at Park Ride Fly.

Overall, my take on AARP discounts remains as it has been: Use the AARP discounts either as a fallback position when you can't score a better deal through some other source or to sweeten a deal that you've already selected:

-- With hotels, these days booking direct gives some important benefits, but you don't have to give up the AARP discount when you book direct: Most chain websites show AARP rates.

-- Use the BA discount when BA offers a competitive fare and schedule. It's especially useful when you can knock $200 off a highly reduced business-class fare, although BA's current business-class product lags its big competitors.

-- The parking discount lets you knock a few bucks off of a service you'd probably buy at the regular price, anyway. Ditto the membership discounts on Medjet.

-- The tour/cruise discounts are good when the package you're considering is a competitive deal without the discount, which then becomes pure gravy.

You don't have to belong to AARP to get the deals it features: Many are available through other sources, including individual company loyalty programs, AAA and other large organizations. But at $12 the first year, then $16 a year, it's an easy way to get a useful range of deals.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

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