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REAL DEALS

Be proud and loud about being 50

Email|Print| Text size + By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Correspondent / December 3, 2006

If you're over 50 and want a senior discount, you'd best not be bashful about your age.

Joan Rattner Heilman is both a member of the group and the author of "Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50" (McGraw-Hill) . The 2007-08 edition of the perennially popular book will be published Thursday. It lists places ranging from the Tower of London to Amtrak to Burger King that offer perks, discounts, deals, bargains, special offers, and adventures for those over 50, or in some cases 55, 60, 62, or 65. But those offers are not always automatic, so heed Heilman's cardinal rules:

Never pay for anything without asking if there is a senior discount. That goes for non-travel items, too. "You can't be shy if you want to take advantage of your age," Heilman said in an interview. "Speak up and ask, wherever you go -- from the movies to concerts, health-food stores, supermarkets, parks, restaurants, trains, hotels, and motels -- whether there are special breaks to which you are entitled. Don't expect clerks, ticket agents, tour operators, waiters, or even travel agents to volunteer the information."

Ask about those discounts before you pay, order, or make a reservation, not when you settle the bill. A credit card is Heilman's preferred method of payment (mine, too) because a card makes it easier to resolve disputes.

Carry proof of your age, whether it's a membership card in an over-50 organization or an ID with your date of birth.

Now that you're equipped to deal, here are some goodies the new edition mentions:

United Airlines' Silver Wings Plus® program for travelers 55 and older is the only senior airline club left. For $264 a year, or $24 a month, there are travel credits, double bonus miles, discounts on packages, cruises, hotel s, and car rentals, and other savings and amenities.

Call 800-241-6522 or visit silverwingsplus.com .

Budget Rent a Car takes 15 percent off for those over 50. Its website sometimes posts even better senior savings offers.

Call 800-527-0700 or visit budget.com .

Grand Circle Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel , both well versed in trips for seniors, will give you a free trip if you organize a group of 10 friends and relatives to travel with you. If that's too difficult, you get a $100 credit if you refer just one new traveler.

For Grand Circle, call 800-248-3737 or visit gct.com . Call Overseas Adventure Travel at 800-955-1925 or visit oattravel.com .

Seniors Home Exchange lists residences in the United States and around the world that mature people will swap with other travelers, thus eliminating one of the most expensive parts of a vacation. Participants must have Internet access and an e-mail address and pay $79 a year, or $100 for a lifetime membership.

Visit seniorshomeexchange.com .

Many cruise lines will give unattached older men a virtually free cruise for being gentlemen hosts. That is, they dance and socialize with passengers (most often single women), host tables for dinner, attend parties and events, serve as partners in games, and help with shore excursion s. They are, however, strictly forbidden from becoming romantically entangled with passengers.

Among cruise lines with a host program: America West, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Delta Queen, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas, and Silversea.

And Heilman's favorite deals? "I love getting hotel rooms for less. If you're over 50, you never have to pay retail for a hotel room again. Some deals are better than others, however. Most hotels and motels give you 10 percent off. But Sheratons, Westins, and other members of the Starwood Group [starwoodhotels.com ], for example, give up to half off at age 50 on rooms with 21-day nonrefundable advance reservations, and 15 to 20 percent off otherwise. Because I'm a skier, another favorite bargain is the breaks on lift tickets and season passes at ski areas. At most mountains, you get a significant discount at age 60 or 65 and pay nothing after 70."

Along with that good advice, here are a couple of caveats: Guidebooks such as this one are written well in advance of publication and some offers may change or vanish. Also, compare any offer that is strictly for seniors with other available deals. Sometimes the latter can be better.

Book a factory tour
Also being published this month is the fourth edition of "Watch It Made in the U.S.A.: A Visitor's Guide to the Best Factory Tours and Company Museums" by Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg, both Newton residents (Avalon Travel Publishing) . Such tours are usually low cost, or sometimes no cost, and can be enjoyable indeed. Sometimes you even get a souvenir. Along with updates, the fourth edition has added 60 more tours, including the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich., CNN's studios in New York , NASA sites in Florida and California, the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., Orvis (fly-fishing rods) in Manchester, Vt., and Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., and, oh yes, The Boston Globe.

Winter at the Clarence
The Clarence bills itself as Dublin's rock 'n' roll boutique hotel because it is, after all, owned by a couple of members of U2 . The trendy hotel becomes somewhat more affordable off season with its Winter Retreat Package, starting at about $275 per room for up to two people. The offer includes a superior room, a full Irish breakfast, a welcome cocktail, and a complimentary newspaper each morning. The rate includes taxes, and no service charge applies. An upgrade to a deluxe (larger) room is $26 more. Visit theclarence.ie .

Azorean Carnaval for $589
The Azores, the mid-Atlantic islands that are an autonomous region of Portugal and a four-hour flight from Boston, have held a Shrove Tuesday Carnaval for centuries. This year festivities begin on Valentine's Day, which should appeal to travelers seeking a romantic getaway. Azores Express , a US-based tour operator, is offering packages starting at $589 per person in which travelers can choose from six hotels on three islands. Included are round-trip air fare from Boston, six nights' lodging, and all breakfasts. Departures are on Tuesdays and Fridays, with the lowest prices for Tuesday takeoffs.

Call 800-762-9995 or visit azores-express.com .

When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy; solo travelers will usually pay more. Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. Contact Richard P. Carpenter at carpenter@globe.com.

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