Sometimes Age Is a Bargain

By Martha M. Hamilton
Sunday, November 26, 2006

Forget cheap movies and early-bird meals at Applebee's.

When it comes to age-related discounts, you can't beat Panama.

To attract more investment, the central American nation has eased immigration laws and set up a discount bonanza for expatriate pensioners that includes 20 percent off professional services such as those provided by lawyers, architects and physical therapists; no property tax for 20 years; no income tax on income earned outside Panama; and a 50 percent discount on real estate closing costs.

And that's only the beginning. The list of discounts goes on and on, including price breaks on telephone service, surgery and domestic airfares and a one-time waiver of duties on imported household goods up to $10,000.

All it takes to qualify is pension income of $500 or more per month -- at any age and from any source.

Although the law creating the discounts has been around since 1987, Panama only began to promote the discounts about two years ago, said Rafael C. Donado, commercial attaché at the Panamanian Embassy. "It's booming at this point -- and the most attractive program worldwide," he said. And Panama's legal tender is the dollar, making relocation even more painless, he said.

Well, we can't all move to Panama, although it does sound tempting.

But many of us can qualify for other age-related discounts, both stateside and abroad, that help pre-retirement and retirement income go further. From being able to get in the short line for car inspections in the District to cheaper rates for vacationing in a castle in Spain, they're worth checking out.

One of the most obvious places to start is with AARP, which provides a package of discounts for members. Although many age-related discount are reserved for folks who are in their 60s, AARP membership begins at 50, and the $12.50 annual membership fee buys discounts of up to 30 percent on car rental rates from Hertz and Avis and on eye exams and eyewear from companies including LensCrafters and Pearle Vision and many other goods and services. This holiday season the group is launching a Web site pooling discounts on more than 500 brand-name products.

Airlines used to be a good deal for older travelers, offering a 10 percent discount, but most of them have cut those programs -- along with peanuts, jobs and other expenses. Southwest Airlines still offers savings for travelers older than 65, however. And several non-U.S. airlines, such as SAS, Lufthansa and Virgin, still offer discounts, said Joan Rattner Heilman, author of "Unbelievably Good deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're Over 50" (McGraw Hill).

"As far as everything else goes, there are more and more discounts out there" for lodging, meals and rental cars, she said. But don't assume the discount is the best deal. Check travel Web sites, including and, that offer bargains, and you may find an even bigger break. There are some particularly nice bargains for lodging outside the United States, although you have to book them well in advance, said Heilman. For instance, if at least one member of your party is 60, you can get 40 percent off a stay (except for Friday and Saturday nights) at the beautiful Pousada de Castelo in Obidos perched on a hilltop surrounded by centuries-old walls. And Spain has breaks on its government-owned inns, many of which are converted castles or convents.

There are also many good deals on outdoor activities. The National Park Service has offered its Golden Age Passport for 41 years. A one-time fee of $10 buys lifetime of free admission to national parks, including Shenandoah National Park, which charges $15 per car from March through November, and Yellowstone National Park, which charges $25 per car. And you can wave your pass to admit a whole carload of visitors of any age.

Heilman says that many retirees ski more than before because they can ski midweek when the slopes are less crowded. Many ski resorts cut lift ticket prices in half for skiers older than 60 or 65, she said, and some allow even older skiers to ski for free. At Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., extended day passes are available for half off for skiers older than 62, and skiers who are 70 or older ski for free.

It's also worth checking to see if river outfitters offer special age-related breaks. For instance, a six-day trip on the Salmon River in Idaho offered by Warren River Expeditions costs $190 less if you're 50 or older.

And those movie tickets? Well, in Washington, ticket buyers at AMC theaters who are 60 or older pay $7 to $7.50 instead of $9 or $10. You may have to produce your driver's license to get lower-priced movie tickets, but who knows, said Heilman. "It's usually some teenager in the box office, and everyone looks older to them."

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