Everybody loves a discount. And almost everybody can get a discount on hotels, car rentals, and other travel services. Yes, they're small, but even a small discount beats full price. Those small discounts are easily available to members of two giant organizations, popular with millions of consumers, with very low membership costs: AAA and AARP.
AAA features hotel deals, with typical discounts of 5 percent to 10 percent off the usual base rates. It has deals with four major chains that offer a spectrum of brands and sub-brands that range from near-bottom budget to luxury. Three — Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott — skew upscale, with most brands in the midscale to luxury range, but Best Western is more focused on budget and midscale brands. Each chain includes a dozen or more named brands and sub-brand levels. AAA deals apply to most brands within each chain, although a few locations opt out of the system.
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AAA offers rental car discounts with Hertz. Although the postings say "up to 35 percent," rental car pricing is so crazy that I wouldn’t even begin to try to calculate a "true" discount rate. Just be sure to include looking at AAA rates when you're searching. AAA rates include an additional driver and young renter (ages 20 to 24) at no extra cost along with other extras. The AAA website does not show the deal as extending to Hertz subsidiaries Dollar, Firefly, and Thrifty, although they may honor AAA discounts.
Surprisingly, AAA includes no other discount contracts, although many other travel suppliers do offer unofficial deals. Also, AAA operates a nationwide chain off brick-and-mortar travel agencies that usually have access to a wide range of deals.
AARP also features hotel deals, with five giant chains and a handful of independents and smaller ones. Best Western, Choice, and Wyndham, along with Motel 6 and Red Roof, skew budget to midscale, but upscale to luxury is offered through Hilton and — new this year — IHG, the parent of Holiday Inn and InterContinental. The discounts are about the same as AAA offers.
AARP offers car rental deals with Avis and subsidiary Budget that are similar to AAA's with Hertz, as well as minor discounts with Payless. One unique Avis benefit: a $5,000 cap on damage liability even without buying collision damage waiver.
AARP also offers the only airline discount program I know: discounts on British Airways round-trip tickets of $65 in economy and premium economy; $200 in business class. And AARP offers various percent-off, dollars-off, and other promotions on tour packages and cruises with Collette, Grand European, and Vacations by Rail, along with extra onboard credit on several cruise lines. Book through AARP travel website, where you can retain any "book direct" benefits.
Other, smaller membership organizations offer similar hotel and rental car deals to members. In addition, many hotels offer senior and other deals without any official arrangements with any travel organization. And long-term discount scroungers will mourn the departed Entertainment coupon books — once a hotel deal mainstay — although the program continues online, mostly with coupons for restaurants and attractions.
If you're traveling outside the U.S. and Canada, AAA and AARP deals generally apply to international locations of the big worldwide chains. But I checked with both the UK Automobile Association and RAC and found that neither offers a discount program. Also, I have been unable to find any similar discount program with the Accor or Louvre hotel chains, among the largest chains in Europe, or with either big UK chain, Premier Inn and Travelodge.
You can often beat a discount of just 5 percent to 10 percent through special promotions and discount agencies. Figure the modest deals you can get through AAA and AARP as a fallback position if you can't find a better deal elsewhere. But 5 percent to 10 percent off is better than nothing: Never pay retail if you can help it!