Airline Urban Legends: The Myth of the Senior Discount

Maybe you got an email or saw a Facebook post that starts out, "As I was waiting in line behind an older gentleman at Wendy's recently, I heard him ask for his senior discount." This is followed by a list of businesses offering similar discounts including unbelievably good airline deals.

Listen as travel expert Rick Seaney busts another myth:

Do bereavement fares still exist?

Phony Senior Discounts?

Sad to say, most of the deals are unbelievable. FareCompare did extensive research on senior discounts and learned that, like bereavement fares, most have disappeared. Yes, some airlines still offer them, but they are limited in scope – and you may be surprised at how much more senior tickets can cost compared to regular fares.

We have reproduced the airline section of the senior discount email/post below, followed by our verdict on its veracity. Then keep reading for the real story – which carriers have senior discounts and whether they are worth it.

Mythical Airline Senior Discounts – True or False

The following claims have been made about senior discounts. Which are true and which are false?

  • Alaska: 50% off (65+) – FALSE
  • American: various discounts for 50% off non-peak periods (Tuesdays – Thursdays) (62+) – FALSE
  • Continental: no initiation fee for Continental Presidents Club & special fares for select destinations – AIRLINE NO LONGER EXISTS
  • Southwest: various discounts for ages 65 and up – PARTLY TRUE
  • United: various discounts for ages 65 and up – PARTLY TRUE
  • US Airways: various discounts for ages 65 and up – PARTLY TRUE

Find the cheapest flight at any age

The Real Story of Airline Senior Discounts

AirTran: We could find no information on senior discounts anywhere on AirTran's website, but they generally follow Southwest's lead (the latter announced its acquisition of AirTran in 2010)

Alaska: No senior discounts (and none for students or children, either).

American: The airline "may" offer senior fares in "some domestic markets" for those 65 or older, but when we priced a senior fare for a flight from New York to Los Angeles, it cost the same as a regular adult fare.

Delta: The airline "may" offer senior discounts "in certain markets" but you have to call to get the reduced rate and Delta charges a phone fee of $25.

Frontier: The airline provides no information about senior fares on its website; take that as a "no" to discounts.

JetBlue: From its website – "Because our fares are already discounted to all customers, we do not offer additional discounts or special fares for the following situations: bereavement, age, disability, or clergy."

Southwest: This airline does offer senior fares, but there's a catch – they can be much higher than regular adult fares. Example: Senior fare on a flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City was $471 compared to $234 the regular adult fare. However, the senior fare was fully refundable. Only you can decide if that's worth paying double.

United: From its website – "United offers senior fares to selected travel destinations for passengers who are 65 and older." Again, on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, the senior fare cost the exactly same as the regular adult ticket.

US Airways: From its website – "Travelers 65 or older may be eligible for senior fares." However, we priced a senior fare from Philadelphia to Chicago and the fare was the same as a regular adult fare.

Virgin America: From its website – "We are pleased to make low fares available to everyone. As a result we do not offer specialty fares such as military, student, senior citizen or bereavement."

Bottom line: As you can see, most airlines today do not offer senior discounts. Those that do, don't offer much. In other words, don't believe everything you read.

Anne McDermott
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