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Slipping past the 50th birthday may be a trauma, but the sting should be eased somewhat by the travel discounts that start to become available then.

One friend laughed about using her senior citizen card to discount a motel room for an assignation, but why not?If you say you are a member of a senior citizen association when you register at a motel, you will usually get a discount, at least 10 percent.

You may need to show a membership card, but if you are a member's spouse, that card will work just as well, and you can be any age.

Frequently, desk clerks do not even ask.

For almost all actual travel, the qualifying age is higher and the rules a little tougher.

Amtrak offers people at least 65 years old a 25 percent discount on a regular one-way fare and any accommodations charge.

The ticket must be bought in advance, and while anyone may purchase it, the person who uses the ticket must be able to present an official document - Medicare card, driver's license, passport or the like - that proves his or her birth date.

The discount is not available for the Florida Auto Train or the Metroliner in the Northeast Corridor. There are blackout dates, mostly around holidays.

The airlines provide varying programs, although they seem to be growing more alike.

No matter what the wording for provisions for deep senior discounts, you basically will travel when the airline wants you to - that is, when the seat can not be sold at full fare.

Some U.S. airlines include overseas destinations, and a number of foreign airlines have programs for travelers who pay a fee; it's worth asking before you plan an expensive overseas trip.

Delta gives a 10 percent discount off any published fare to anyone at least 62 years old, as well as to a traveling companion of any age.

Delta also sells coupons to people at least 62 years old, in books of four or eight. A book of four coupons valid a year from purchase costs $420; a book of eight, $704.

Each coupon may be used by a purchaser for a one-way trip in the 48 contiguous states or Puerto Rico. Two coupons are needed for Hawaii or Alaska.

In January, Delta raised the price of its coupons and changed the terms, which limited travel to Tuesday to Thursday while allowing reservations up to seven days ahead.

The new coupons are valid all week, but reservations, or changes, must be made 14 days in advance.

The number of seats available for couponholders is limited, Neil Monroe, a Delta spokesman, said, but there are no blackout days.

Lillian Schiff of Brooklyn, who buys Delta coupons for travel to a Florida home, says that the 14-day deadline is tough because she is not certain that she will feel like traveling in two weeks.

If you want to change your reservation to a flight that leaves sooner than two weeks off, you can go to the airport as a standby and if they have space, they let you use the coupon on a flight.

"But waiting six hours at the airport is no treat either," Mrs. Schiff said. Delta: 800-221-1212.

USAir, another early promoter of a senior fare, offers a program like Delta's: 10 percent off published fares for anyone at least 62 years old, as well as for a companion. This discount applies to flights in the United States, to Canada, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

The USAir one-year coupons for people 62 and over are also $420 for four and $704 for eight. These can be used on flights in the United States and Puerto Rico only. Reservations must be made 14 days ahead. There are blackout periods. USAir: 800-428-4322.

Northwest is also an old-timer in the old-timer business. It offers the 10 percent discount for travel by a 62-year-old and a companion. It also offers coupon books to 62-year-olds, at $384 for four, $640 for eight, for travel in the United States and Canada; trips to Alaska and Hawaii require two coupons each way.

Travel days are Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday. Reservations may be made up until flight time, but changes must be made 14 days ahead. Northwest: 800-225-2525.

Continental offers 10 percent off published fares to a traveler over 62 and a companion.

The airline does not have coupons but sells "freedom passports" at various levels. One for a year's domestic travel in coach costs $1,599.

A person at least 62 may buy one, and another for a companion, who need not be 62. The small type is copious, but it boils down to the ability to take a maximum of one flight a week, including connections but not stopovers.

The passport may be used from noon Monday to noon Thursday and all day Saturday. Reservations are to be made no more than seven days ahead of an initial departure.

There are blackout dates. You may travel to the same destination only three times in a year. Continental: 800-441-1135.

United offers 10 percent discounts to travelers 62 and over, as well as one-year coupons costing $420 for four, $704 for eight.

Each is valid for one flight in the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, providing the distance is 2,000 miles or less; longer flights take two coupons. Reservations must be made 14 days in advance. United: 800-633-6563.

American Airlines offers a 10 percent discount on published fares to a traveler over 62 and a companion of any age. This applies to some international as well as domestic flights.

Alone among airlines, it also provides a 10 percent discount to members of American Association of Retired Persons, which you can join at the age of 50, and their spouses.

The discount applies if tickets are purchased 30 days in advance and goes to tickets in the contiguous 48 states, Hawaii, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and some other places in the Caribbean.

American's one-year coupons for 62-year-olds cost $420 for four, $704 for eight. They are good for the 48 continguous states, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Coupon travel is possible seven days a week, except to Puerto Rico, which is limited to Tuesday to Thursday. Trips over 2,000 miles require two coupons. American: 800-433-7300, ask for promotion desk.

Trans World Airlines offers 10 percent discounts to a traveler of 62 and a companion of any age.

Its coupons cost $379 for four and are good for the 48 contiguous states and the Caribbean. Hawaii requires two coupons as do trips of more than 2,000 miles from May 15 to Sept. 15.

Trips to Hawaii are not available from June 1 to Aug. 15.

Travel days are Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday; for Hawaii and the Caribbean, the days are Tuesday to Thursday. Reservations must be made 14 days in advance.

With the four coupons comes a certificate to obtain a round-trip ticket to Europe for $449 or $649 depending on the season. TWA: 800-221-2000.

Pan American provides 10 percent discounts for 62-year-olds and their companions on domestic flights. It also has a program for people 65 and over on the New York-Washington, New York-Boston shuttles at off-peak hours.

From 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, all day Saturday, and Sunday until 2:30 p.m., a ticket is $49; the regular fare is $119 and the weekend fare $79.

My vigorous aunt, well into her 80s, says that the most dismaying experience is to have clerks and salespeople offer the senior discount before she has a chance to ask. Usually you must ask and show a card.

Overseas, when transit systems and big museums offer discounts to people over 60, a passport or international driver's license does the job.

Otherwise, membership in the American Association of Retired Persons (3200 East Carson Street, Lakewood, Calif. 90712) costs $5 a year for an individual or couple, and two membership cards are provided.

Membership for three years is $12.50 and for 10 years, $35. The minimum age for membership is 50, but there is no minimum age for a spouse; neither need be retired.

The National Council of Senior Citizens (925 15th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005) charges $12 a year for an individual or a couple. The minimum age for joining is 55 with no minimum age for the spouse.

The Mature Traveler monthly newsletter tracks changes in air-fare discounts, carrying a roundup annually, although the information is sometimes out of date by publication. A year's subscription costs $23.50: Box 50820, Reno, Nev. 89513.

The 1990 Senior Citizen Travel Directory is a photocopy of 58 pages researched and typewritten by Harry H. Henry. It lists 41 motel chains that give senior discounts. The price is $4.70: Senior Directory, 663 Carlston Avenue, Oakland, Calif. 94610.