If you are 62 or over and fly a lot, this is a good day to assess the airlines' discount-fare coupon books for seniors, some with recently changed rules.
If your situation matches the rules, it may be worthwhile to move rapidly because the prices of two books are going up this Wednesday. Two programs allow you to buy seats for travel companions younger than 62; a third allows grandchildren if they are 2 to 11 years old.One program, Continental's Freedom Passport, is being sold to people as young as 55, but only until Jan. 15.
These coupon books, although not the only airline senior discounts, are still the best deal for older people who travel steadily. The airlines set the price low because they get the money in advance and then limit the number of coupon seats on each flight; in return, travelers can fly from one coast to the other for around $100. Those who get full value from these offers have flexible schedules and are not bound by a Monday-Friday workweek. Blackout days may apply.
Rules for these coupons contain a lot of small type. This column will summarize main points; further information is available by calling the phone numbers listed. But see a travel agent if you want to beat Jan. 15 deadlines.
The Continental Freedom Passport comes in four varieties: domestic coach, for $1,799; domestic first class, for $2,499; global coach, for $3,599, and global first class, for $5,999.
Each of these passes allows as many trips as the holder wants in 12 months, up to one one-way trip a week. Travel is basically permitted Monday to Thursday and Saturday, meaning that a Sunday stay is required.
The domestic pass covers 150 cities in the United States, Canada and the United States Virgin Islands; the global pass includes these and cities served by Continental in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, Europe, Alaska and Australia, New Zealand and Guam.
There are limitations; for example, only one round trip to Honolulu and one trip to the Pacific are permitted in 12 months.
The ticket for a younger companion has the same terms, and the companion must fly with the primary pass holder. People buying the global pass must be sure they are going to travel enough. Continental also has a middle ground offering, a domestic pass with add-on foreign trips, for an added price.
Gene and Adele Malott, who publish The Mature Traveler newsletter, annually round up senior air discounts. They report that Continental has evoked complaints of lack of seats on desirable flights for pass holders, who may not reserve more than 7 days in advance for a domestic flight or 30 days for overseas flights.
Ned Walker, a Continental spokesman, and Eric Kleiman, who is in charge of the line's pass program, said that they had heard the same complaints. For a test period until May 25, they said, holders of first-class passes, either domestic or foreign, will be able to reserve as much as six months in advance.
Continental requires small photos of all pass applicants. Application forms are available at ticket counters and from travel agents, and 55-year-olds hoping to get aboard for 12 months should have applications postmarked by Jan. 15. For further information: (800) 441-1135.
Trans World Airlines also allows companions under age 62 to participate in a domestic discount program. It is not a coincidence that TWA is troubled; it ended 1991 without filing to reorganize in bankruptcy, but this step was expected soon. Continental is reorganizing in bankruptcy.
TWA's Senior Travel Pak, allows four one-way trips in 12 months in the contiguous 48 states and Puerto Rico. It costs $436 for the primary buyer, who must be 62. A trip to Hawaii requires two coupons each way, as do trips of more than 2,000 miles in the month of August.
A four-trip book for a 62-year-old plus an any-age companion four-trip book costs $985. The book comes with a certificate that can be redeemed for a round trip to one of 20 European cities at $449 or $649 in the high season.
TWA does not allow coupon travel in the mainland United States on Thursdays or from noon to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays. Trips to or from Puerto Rico may be made on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The line also applies blackout dates. Reservations must be made at least 14 days ahead; no early limit. (800) 221-2000.
United's Silver Travel Pak comes in regular and off-peak versions for travel in all 50 states, with no mileage limit in the contiguous 48 states although Hawaii and Alaska require two coupons each way. The off-peak version, with travel only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays, with no Saturday flights to Hawaii and with holiday blackouts, costs $432 for a four-coupon booklet and $725 for an eight-coupon booklet.
Reservations must be made 14 days in advance. The regular book is $473 for four coupons and $790 for eight. Until Feb. 12 only, the airline is permitting use of a coupon by a grandchild aged 2 to 17 who is traveling with the book's holder, who must be at least 62. (800) 633-6563.
USAir's coupon program, Golden Opportunities, is available to a primary purchaser 62 and older, who may use a coupon for an accompanying grandchild 2 to 11 years of age. The continguous 48 states and Puerto Rico are included. Four coupons cost $473 and eight $790. Travel is possible seven days a week, but there are blackout dates. Reservations must be made 14 days ahead. information, call any USAir reservations office.
American Airlines sells the Senior Traveler domestic coupon book to people aged 62 and over. The line recently lifted its requirement for two coupons on one-way flights of 2,000 miles, but the line said its price was going up on Jan. 15 to match Delta's. The current price is $473 for four coupons and $791 for eight coupons. On Jan. 15, the prices will be $516 for four and $896 for eight. American allows coupon flights in the contiguous 48 states and Hawaii seven days a week and to and from Puerto Rico on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. (800) 433-7300.
Delta's Young at Heart domestic coupon book now costs $472 for four coupons, $720 for eight, with prices rising to $516 and $896 this Wednesday. Two coupons are required for one-way travel to Alaska or Hawaii. Travel is available seven days a week. Reservations must be made at least 14 days in advance and are permited as long in advance as a year. (800) 323-2323.
Northwest's Ultrafare Coupon Books come in regular and off-peak versions, with off-peak travel limited to Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. There are blackout dates in both cases. In the off-peak version, four coupons cost $432, eight $724; in the regular version, four coupons cost $472 and eight $790. Alaska and Hawaii require two coupons in each direction. Reservations must be made no later than 14 days before the flight but Northwest permits the coupon book to be purchased on the day of flight. (800) 225-2525.
America West offers the Senior Saver Pack books of four coupons at $430 and eight coupons at $720. Two coupons are required for a one-way trip to Hawaii. Travel days are Monday noon to Thursday noon and Saturday. Reservations may be made at any time. (800) 247-5692.
Continental, in addition to the passes described above, also sells coupons, called Freedom Trips. Four coupons cost $449 and eight $749. Two coupons are needed for Alaska or Hawaii trips. The schedule shows a rise in the number of blackout dates for 1992. Continental is not selling these to people under the age of 62. (800) 441-1135.