American companies are notoriously stingy about offering their employees vacation time. While most corporations in Western Europe offer workers four, six or even eight weeks off each year, many Americans are lucky to make do with two weeks a year for most of their career.
As a result, we spend much of our working lives dreaming of the places we will travel to when we retire. Often, those dreams collide with the reality of a more limited travel budget than we had hoped. But what retirees are rich in, generally, is time. By leveraging that additional time, retirees can stretch their travel dollars in ways that were impossible when their travel plans were constrained by their employer’s vacation policy.
Flexible Travel Days
Airlines manipulate their fare structures to earn the most revenue from business travelers and employees taking vacation. For this reason, airfares will be higher at the beginning and ends of the work week.
With no incentive to make it back to work on Monday, a retired traveler can feel to take advantage of the lowest fares when they are offered for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Without having to worry about their children’s school holidays, they can avoid travel to vacation destinations during peak times such as spring break and during the summer vacation period. You can also consider using credit card reward miles.
Taking the Slow Route
For workers trying to maximize their allowance of vacation time, it can make perfect sense to pay extra for a non-stop flight—or at least one with the fewest, shortest connections. Retired travelers on a budget can let go of these concerns and seek out the least expensive flights, regardless of the routing. Required stopovers can even be extended to allow you to take in additional sights enroute to your destination.
You may also wish to consider other forms of transportation such as cars, buses, trains, even boats. Surface transportation is ideal for those with plenty of time, but a limited budget. When traveling in this manner, the journey becomes part of the experience rather than an necessary ordeal to be endured on the way to your final destination.
Other Retirees’ Strategies for Travel
Those who travel frequently for business often lose sight of all of the opportunities to earn free travel through loyalty programs. Keeping track of all of the earning and redeeming options for points and miles can be too complex and time-consuming to be worth the effort.
For a retired person, though, taking full advantage of these programs makes perfect sense. Spend the time to get to know the published details of the programs you belong to. Next, visit forums frequented by travelers such as FlyerTalk and InsideFlyer (formerly Milepoint) where all the best tips and tricks are shared. In fact, some of the most active members of these forums are retired travelers who make a hobby out of creatively earning and redeeming points and miles through loyalty programs in order to travel the world for free, or at very reduced prices.
How Retirees Can Save on Holiday Travel
The holidays are prime time for family and friends to get together, as the airlines well know. That can making finding deals difficult. Here are six different tactics retirees (or anyone, actually) can use to try to save money on holiday travel.
Ideally, people would book their holiday travel months in advance. But if you haven’t, you might be able to benefit from some last-minute bargains. The key is to be aware of sales that occur on all airlines, not just your favorite one. You may have to make airfare searches a regular part of your day, or try to save a search on a site like FareCompare.
Frequent Flier Awards
As incredible as it may seem, some airlines will continue to open up seats in their frequent flier programs as the holidays approach. Just like tickets that you would pay for, you will have to keep searching the various airlines with which you have sufficient reward miles. Also, consider a first-class ticket: There may be more availability for them around the holidays when business travel is low.
Alternate Forms of Transportation
Again, as a retiree, you have more time to get there and back—no more 9:00 AM meetings to attend—so you might able to spend a few more hours going via train or even one of the new luxury bus services. The latter go way beyond Greyhound, offering amenities such as free WiFi, cushy seats and even free beverages.
Rent a Car
Or consider driving. Even if you already own a car, you can rent a much more fuel-efficient one for a long holiday trip, and save wear and tear on your own auto. And rental cars can be very inexpensive during the holidays when there is little business demand.
Even if you’re flying somewhere, renting a car at your destination might save a lot over taxis. There are often discounts for seniors or members of AARP that retirees can take advantage of. Do try to rent your car at a neighborhood rental car venue, as you will incur fewer taxes and fees than you would at the airport.
Travel on the Holiday
Another trick is to fly on the holiday itself. While traditionally jammed the day before, airports are often deserted on the Big Day, and the fares often drop dramatically. A short trip on Thanksgiving morning can get you to your destination in time for dinner, while an early Christmas Day flight can allow you to open presents in one city and enjoy a late party in another. The same goes for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
The Bottom Line
Retirees have an asset more valuable than their savings—time. By using their time to shop around for the best deals on off-peak travel, and by maximizing their participation in loyalty programs, retired travelers can do more and see more, with less money, than they ever could during their working years. By considering all available options, you might even be able to have a holiday family reunion this year (or a voyage on your own!) for a reasonable price.