A Guide To Senior Discounts: ‘You’ve Earned It. Ask For It!’

by Elizabeth Van Wye
Many local, regional and national shops offer discounts to seniors. Many local, regional and national shops offer discounts to seniors.

If you are over 50, have you gotten your share of the $460 million in senior discounts given through AARP last year?

That's the amount AARP members save with its discounts, including restaurants, gas, shopping and cell phone plans. While AARP may be the biggest source of senior discounts nationwide, there are many more available locally through businesses and even state and local governments.

Senior discounts are a relatively recent phenomenon. While the idea that older Americans as a group need help dates back to the depression in the 1930s, companies only began offering a "senior discount" in the 1960s, according to the Washington Post. Discounts and other perks were offered primarily for PR purposes, to boost brand loyalty among the growing group of seniors.

How old do you need to be to get a senior discount? The answer depends on who you ask. For the AARP, the earliest discounts start at 50. Medicare says you are a senior and eligible for their benefits at 65. For Social Security, the age that you can receive full benefits is currently 67. And if you are getting a shellfish license in a Cape town like Chatham, you must be 70 to qualify for the special reduced senior rate, currently $20.

Senior discounts are often available at retail and some grocery stores. The eligible age varies as does the availability and size of the discount. For example, Kohls department store offers a 15 percent discount to those 60 "and better" every Wednesday. Ocean State Job Lot advertises that seniors "62 and older" receive 20 percent off food every Monday from 8 to 9.

Transportation discounts are also available to seniors, often requiring identification. The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority now offers passengers 60 and over free fares on all their fixed bus routes throughout the Cape. One caveat...you must have the new Go Card or current reduced-fare Charlie Card to get this special fare. You can sign up for a Go Card at the CCRTA administrative offices located in the Hyannis Transportation Center, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 508-775-8504 for more information.

Traveling by train? Seniors 65 years of age and over are eligible to receive a 10 percent discount on most rail fares on most Amtrak trains.

Entertainment venues often offer senior discounts on tickets. The Orpheum in Chatham offers a senior rate for those 62 and over, as does Entertainment Cinemas at Patriots Square in Dennis.

Senior discounts are also available for certain recreational activities, including parking at state parks like Nickerson Park in Brewster. Massachusetts residents aged 62 or older are eligible for a lifetime parking pass, covering the cost of parking at most state parks, for just $10.

According to Leah LaCross, Chatham's Director of Community Services, every business makes their own decision on senior discounts.

"The best thing to do is to ask whether a discount is offered and then find out the details. A lot of times if you ask, it's available," she said. Over 52 percent of the residents of Chatham are 60 or older.

Most Cape towns offer a senior tax write-off program. In Chatham, if you are age 60 or above you can apply to work as a volunteer in one of the municipal departments in exchange for a break on your taxes, LaCross said.

In Orleans the program is run through the assessors office, according to Council On Aging Director Judi Wilson. Some towns, she noted, including Orleans, have income guidelines as well.

Sometimes seniors are hesitant to ask for the discount, LaCross said.

"People think there is a stigma" associated with it, she said. Often they don't want to admit they are a senior or be seen as reluctant to pay the full price. But she urged seniors to be bold.

"You've earned it so ask for it!" she said.