Some people grimace about growing older, but one of the benefits of having more candles on your birthday cake is sliding into the “senior” category. If you think you don’t qualify, think again: many programs are open to those 50 and older. That’s right: simply hitting 50, an age where there’s so much more to life, often means you can claim senior discounts. When there are savings to be had, there’s another reason to celebrate all of those birthday candles.

Why not make your senior status work for you by taking advantage of the discounts that are offered to the 50-plus crowd? Senior discounts are icing on the birthday cake and can mean savings on everything from cell phone plans to amusement parks, as well as travel, movie theaters, restaurants, haircuts and more.

So how do you jump into senior savings, especially if you don’t consider yourself “senior”? Part of it is not being afraid to ask. Not all available discounts are advertised. Some require AARP
membership, an acronym and group so well known that it needs no introduction. The American Association of Retired Persons (that’s what AARP stands for) has more than 40 million members – and you don’t have to be retired to join.

While many balk when they receive an AARP solicitation in the mail, you shouldn’t: AARP membership is essential to unlocking senior savings and discounts, and annual memberships start as low as $12 per year. Even with an AARP card, however, there is a caveat: make sure the senior or AARP discount is the best deal offered. Lower rates or specials may beat the senior deal.

“Sometimes a cruise will offer a senior discount, but it’s not as good as the lowest deal you can get,” explained Anne Breihan, a travel specialist with San Antonio’s Fuller Travel.

Breihan notes that tour companies and cruise lines may offer senior deals, but you need to book with a companion or be charged a higher, single rate — no matter your age.

The travel specialists with Fuller Travel always look for senior deals when assisting clients, but also look for the best deal overall. One travel area that does offer senior discounts is hotels, which often offer AARP rates — helping make your AARP membership pay for itself.

“If there are hotel rooms, car rental senior discounts or AARP discounts, they come across our system and we can book them for you,” explained Breihan. “We try to make trips as easy as we can, and we ask for discounts everywhere.”

In some instances, a senior discount may not be the best rate, but it offers additional perks, like the ability to get a refund on a non-refundable deposit or ticket.

For example, the senior rate available through Southwest Airlines is higher than the airline’s “Wanna Get Away” offers, but the senior tickets may be cancelled for a refund. “So, it’s not a deal necessarily, but it’s a benefit that allows greater flexibility,” noted Breihan. Fuller Travel can help find the best deals and benefits that fit any travel needs, saving time and money as you look for the best option for your next trip.

The array of senior discounts isn’t limited to just travel. Just going out to dinner or shopping gives you a chance to save. However, you need to know to ask for the discount — many places do not voluntarily offer a deal unless it’s requested, and some deals do vary by location.

Interested in dinner and a movie? Santikos Theaters offer a senior discount, as do AMC, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas. Each discount varies, so be sure to ask.

As for dinner — or lunch, or breakfast — the options are endless. From Krispy Kreme to the new Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on the River Walk, seniors can receive discounted meals. In addition to 15 percent off, Denny’s even offers a special menu for those 55 and over. Other discounts include national chains, like Applebee’s, Carabba’s Italian Grill, Outback Steakhouse and Saltgrass  Steakhouse, which is part of the Landry’s family of restaurants. Landry’s offers senior discounts across their family of restaurants and in San Antonio, that includes Rainforest Café and Landry’s Seafood House.

Not to be outdone, Texas-favorite Whataburger offers seniors a free coffee or 8-ounce drink with their meal. It’s important to note that some dining deals require AARP membership, so definitely check beforehand.

Of course, San Antonio is home to multiple attractions and museums. And yes, senior discounts are available. On the River Walk, Go Rio Cruises offers a senior discount on rides on the city’s iconic river boats. Seniors, in this case 60 and older, pay $9 instead of the regular $12 fare. Go Rio Cruises also offers a local (Bexar County) resident discount for ages six to 59 for $10. While it’s free to visit the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, there are some national parks that charge entry fees, including Padre Island National Seashore. To save, seniors who are 62 and older can pay $20 for an annual pass for admission to any national park, or $80 for a lifetime pass. The senior pass is available at any park that charges entry fees or can be ordered by phone.

The Witte Museum offers both a senior admission discount and a special senior family membership, allowing seniors to visit the museum with their families throughout the year. The San Antonio Art Museum offers discounted senior admission, as do the McNay Art Museum and the Briscoe Western Art Museum. On the wilder side, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch offers senior pricing as well.
Ticketmaster also offers seniors special pricing on certain events, but an AARP membership is required.

Retailers also offer senior discounts, some of which are only offered on certain shopping days or require that you join the store’s loyalty program. Walgreens offers seniors a 20 percent discount on the first Tuesday of the month, while Ross offers 10 percent off every Tuesday. Kohl’s offers a special 15 percent discount every Wednesday for customers age 60 or older. Beall’s offers 20 percent off every Wednesday and ACE Hardware locations may offer a 10 percent discount.

There are also senior discounts on necessities, like oil changes and cellular service. Both Jiffy Lube and Pep Boys offer senior discounts, but keep in mind that the offers may vary by location. Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Cricket Wireless offer senior pricing plans on cellular service. However, like with all discounts, it’s important to makes sure that the deal includes the service you need, or you may end up spending more money than you would on a regular plan.

So, blow out those candles and proudly claim your discounts. If you’re not sure whether a hotel, restaurant or service provider offers a senior discount, be sure to ask. You never know what discount you could be leaving on the table. After all, age is just a number, so let those numbers add up to savings. You can spend the money you save on a bigger cake and more candles next year.

By Dawn Robinette