Seniors and retirees are a significant demographic in the Miles & Points scene, as they’re looking to combine a desire to travel in greater comfort at a lower cost with a near-limitless amount of time and appetite to travel the world.
I’ve received many requests from my older and wiser readers over the years to cover some strategies that might be of particular use to their demographic, so those are the angles we’ll explore in today’s post. How might seniors and retirees approach their Miles & Points strategies differently, given their particular needs?
Use Flexibility to Your Advantage
The more flexible you are when redeeming miles, the greater your chances of booking the exact flight at the best deal that you’re looking for – and there aren’t many people with a greater degree of flexibility than retired folks who are free to book travel on any day of the week. Remember to use this to your advantage as you’re hunting for award availability on the most coveted routes.
For example, let’s imagine that you’re planning a summer trip to Asia and would like to fly in the most comfortable way possible, and that you have your heart set on using your Alaska miles to book Japan Airlines First Class on the outbound flight.
Working professionals with less flexibility may be locked in to travelling during one particular time when they can secure their vacation days – say, the first week of August. But as a retiree, with free rein throughout the summer schedule, you could plan your trip anytime in June, July, or August, and therefore you’d have the freedom of searching for any available flights in JAL First Class during that period and booking your trip around those dates.
Even once you’ve narrowed down the general window of dates for your trip, having the flexibility to travel within a span of two or three days will still go a long way.
For example, imagine if you wanted to fly the much-acclaimed EVA Air business class back to your home base of Toronto on the Sunday at the end of the month, but you find yourself faced with only a flight to Vancouver followed by a red-eye flight to Toronto on that day.
A working professional may have to simply accept their fate and show up bleary-eyed to work on Monday morning – I know I myself had made this choice several times back when I worked at my office job – or pick a different routing altogether.
However, as a retiree, you may also check for availability on Monday and Tuesday, where the more convenient direct flight may well be available (since, as a general rule, weekdays tend to be typically less hotly contested in terms of business class availability).
Overall, flexibility is your greatest advantage as you plan your travel, as you can easily adapt your travel schedule to fit whatever flights the airlines decide to make available.
Along the same lines, you’ll likely have more time on your hands to pursue mistake fares and well-priced flight deals as well, since those may have restrictive dates and inconvenient fare rules (e.g., a round-trip flight that must include a Saturday night stay at your destination).
Direct & Convenient Routings
On a related note, while I’ve always enjoyed fitting in multiple connections and trying out many different airlines when travelling on points, most senior travellers that I’ve spoken to have said that they much prefer the comfort and convenience of taking direct flights instead.
Illogical routings are a somewhat bittersweet reality in our style of travel: as a result of the limited flexibility that most of us have, we may resort to accepting multiple connections along the journey, and some of us have taken that to the extreme by pushing the boundaries of the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) and squeezing as many cool flights in there as possible.
By and large, however, senior travellers simply want to get to their destination as quickly and comfortably as possible. If that describes you, then make sure to familiarize yourself with the best airlines and redemption sweet spots for convenient direct flights out of Canada.
In terms of redeeming our Aeroplan miles on Star Alliance, most of us know the usual favourite airlines of Turkish Airlines (out of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver), Swiss (out of Montreal), Brussels Airlines (out of Montreal), TAP Air Portugal (out of Toronto and Montreal), Egyptair (out of Toronto), EVA Air (out of Toronto and Vancouver), and ANA (out of Vancouver).
Then there’s always the fallback option of redeeming miles on Air Canada, if you find the fuel surcharges to be worth it for the convenience.
But don’t forget about United, too: in addition to Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, they serve many of Canada’s smaller cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Halifax as well, linking them with their vast international network with only one connection along the way.
Of course, United doesn’t have as stellar a reputation as the other global airlines, but a visit to the Polaris Lounge along with a lie-flat bed can easily make your journey a more polished one.
Outside of Star Alliance, some more routes I’d like to highlight include the Toronto–Dublin direct flight on Aer Lingus, which can be booked for as little as 13,000 Avios in economy or 50,000 Avios in business; Montreal–Casablanca, which recently became a viable redemption option for Canadians thanks to Royal Air Maroc joining Oneworld; and American Airlines’s route network as a similar one-stop alternative to United that you can unlock by transferring RBC Avion points to American AAdvantage.
Medical Insurance for Travellers Over 65
The topic of medical insurance on credit cards is another a commonly asked question among my senior readers, and rightly so: most credit card insurance policies will only cover those under a certain age (usually 65 years old) and only for a certain amount of time (e.g., 15 days from the date of departure for your out-of-province trip).
Travellers aged 65 or older will need to look a little harder and read the fine print to see which credit card insurance covers them. Thankfully, there are actually quite a few of credit cards available that offer coverage to seniors with relatively short trip durations.
One of the strongest offerings in this segment of the market is – would you believe it? – National Bank’s most premium credit cards.
The National Bank World Elite MasterCard and National Bank World MasterCard both offer 15 days of emergency medical coverage, while the National Bank Platinum MasterCard offers 10 days of coverage, which is valid for travellers above the age of 65 but no older than the age of 75 on out-of-province trips.
Two other generally overlooked issuers also stand out in this regard: Meridian and Desjardins. The Meridian Cash Back Visa Infinite and the Desjardins Odyssey Gold Visa both offer 23 days of coverage for those aged 60–64 and 15 days of coverage for those aged 65–75.
If you’re choosing between these two cards solely for the insurance policy, I’d go with the Meridian Cash Back simply for the lower annual fee of $99 compared to Desjardins’s $110. Unfortunately, they, like National Bank, will not cover those aged over 75.
If we look at the more mainstream issuers, Scotiabank stands out for its insurance coverage for travellers aged 65 and above, although the durations are shorter: the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite and the Scotiabank Platinum American Express both offer 10 days, while the Scotiabank Gold American Express and base-level Scotiabank American Express offer three days of coverage. Moreover, Scotiabank products don’t impose an upper limit on the traveller’s age, so they could be a good solution for travellers aged over 75 embarking on shorter trips.
Note that most credit card insurance policies will exclude any pre-existing medical conditions, and that the coverage period usually isn’t very long for senior travellers. If you’re going on a longer trip than the coverage period or would like to have your pre-existing condition covered as well, I’d definitely recommend purchasing a separate travel insurance policy to be on the safe side.
What About Cruises?
Statistics in the travel industry indicate that seniors appreciate cruises the most out of any age group, and many of my older readers have commented that they enjoy cruising and would be interested in using points to book cruises as well.
Let’s start with the bad news: getting a good deal for cruises directly using points is an unlikely occurrence. Most cruise companies don’t offer traditional airline- or hotel-style loyalty programs, and therefore it’s almost impossible to book a cruise with points for outsized value the way you would book a flight or hotel.
However, you can still use fixed-value points currencies like Scotia Rewards or HSBC Rewards to either cover the complete cost of a cruise or at least offset a large portion of your expenses. And other than charging the cruise directly to your credit card and offsetting it directly using your points, you can also consider cashing out your points in clever ways – such as the current 2cpp redemption option on the Amex Platinum Card – to achieve a higher value and then, in turn, use that cash to book your cruise.
Additionally, if we consider the overall expenses of a cruise expedition, the costs would usually include flights to and from the departure and arrival ports, as well as hotel nights before and after the sailing. These can easily make up a significant amount to the overall cost of the trip, and are more easily bookable using points.
For example, booking one-way flights or open-jaws – flying into Rome and out of Barcelona on either end of a Mediterranean cruise, for example – can be favourable when redeeming points compared to booking a similar trip using cash.
And since it’s always prudent to fly into your port of departure at least one day before your cruise departs, you can put your Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors points to good use and book a hotel close the port for your overnight stay.
In addition to all of the above, don’t forget about the general travel advice that may apply to the older segment of the population too, such as taking advantage of senior discounts whenever you can or ensuring that any special requests you might need (e.g., wheelchair assistance) are communicated to your travel providers well in advance.
Senior travellers may prefer direct flights and face a more limited set of credit card insurance options, but that’s also outweighed by their key advantage of having a much higher degree of flexibility than the average traveller. Age is just a number after all, so never it that hold you back from taking advantage of all the opportunities at hand to see the world.
As for the rest of us who are not yet retired, we’ll have to either take a sabbatical to achieve that same level of flexibility, or wait until we’ve acquired enough wisdom in our lives to reap the same rewards.