Travel in the Golden Years: Miles & Points for Seniors & Retirees

Seniors and retirees are a significant demographic in the Miles & Points scene, as they tend 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.

In fact, many of our Points Consulting clients are retirees who are looking to utilize their stockpiles of points to fulfill long-awaited dream trips.

When it comes to award travel, how might seniors and retirees approach Miles & Points strategies differently than other demographics, given their particular needs and availability?

Use Flexibility to Your Advantage

The more flexible you are when redeeming miles, the greater chances you have of booking the exact flight you want at the best deal. 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 or any month of the year.

Indeed, this is one of the key factors to remember and use to your advantage as you’re searching for award availability on the most coveted routes.

Award availability tends to be at its greatest either far in advance or close to the date of departure.

Seniors and retirees are better able to forecast when they’d like to fly, since they don’t have to worry about taking time off of work or planning around school holidays.

Therefore, if an ideal flight in, say, Qatar Airways Qsuites becomes available far in advance, seniors and retirees can book seats as soon as they open up, and then worry about planning the rest of the trip.

Retirees can use flexibility to their advantage when booking award travel

On a similar note, without any commitment to a workplace, seniors and retirees can take advantage of last-minute award availability, too. 

For example, Australia is a common destination for many retirees, as it has a lot to offer. However, with such a long distance to cover, flying in business class might be necessary to make the trip possible.

The good news is that business class flights to Australia from West Coast hubs often appear within a few weeks of departure on Aeroplan. In fact, this is one of the only ways to get a good deal on Air Canada business class flights to Australia, as dynamic pricing usually skews the price much higher.

United often releases last-minute award seats to destinations in Australia

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 can 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. Unfortunately, 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, or pick a different routing altogether.

However, as a retiree, you may also check for availability on the days that surround that flight, when a more convenient direct flight may well be available.

Flexibility is the key to finding award space on the most preferred flights

Overall, flexibility is your greatest advantage as you plan travel, as you can easily adapt your travel schedule to fit whatever flights airlines decide to make available.

Direct & Convenient Routings

On a related note, while some travellers enjoy fitting in multiple connections and trying out many different airlines when travelling on points, senior travellers are more likely to prefer the comfort and convenience of taking direct flights instead.

Illogical routings are a somewhat bittersweet reality in award travel: as a result of the limited flexibility that most of us have, we may resort to accepting multiple connections along the journey just to score a deal. Some aviation enthusiasts might do this on purpose, by squeezing in as many flights as possible and taking the long way around.

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 North America.

Having a direct flight is an important consideration for many retirees

Luckily, many of the world’s best airlines offer direct routes to hubs in Canada and the United States, and nearly all of them can be booked with points. 

For example, you can use Aeroplan points to book direct flights in business class from North America to most parts of the world. While you’ll always have the most destinations to choose from when flying with Air Canada or United, you can also try out some other excellent airlines, including:

  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Swiss
  • Turkish Airlines

Outside of the Aeroplan and Star Alliance ecosystem, there are plenty of other airlines that operate direct flights to North America that are easy to book with points, too.

For flights to Europe, consider looking at Air France or KLM through the Flying Blue program. Between the two airlines, you can score a direct flight to Europe from most major cities in North America, and continue onward to other European nations with seamless connections if you wish.

Air France and KLM fly to many cities in North America

Many airlines in the Oneworld alliance also offer some great options for getting to different parts of the world directly from North America.

If you’re looking to go to the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, or parts of Africa, look no further than Qatar Airways and its industry-leading Qsuites business class product. 

For flights to Asia, be sure to give Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific some consideration, especially if you’re able to find seats in business class or First Class. You can use programs such as British Airways Executive Club, American Airlines AAdvantage, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan to search for and book these flights.

In any event, North Americans are spoiled for choice when it comes to airlines. The most difficult part is finding premium cabin award space; however, since seniors and retirees have nearly endless flexibility, the odds are more stacked in their favour. 

Medical Insurance for Travellers Over 65

The topic of medical insurance on credit cards is another a commonly asked question, 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.

(As always, you’ll want to give the insurance booklet a thorough read to ensure the coverage applies to your specific situation).

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One of the best all-around credit cards in Canada is the HSBC World Elite Mastercard. Aside from having no foreign transaction fees and a relatively strong earning rate, travellers aged 65 and older can benefit from 21 days of emergency medical insurance.

Most other Canadian credit cards don’t offer insurance to seniors, and the ones that do often come with an age limit of 75. Furthermore, 21 days is a very generous duration, as most other cards limit coverage to up to 15 days for seniors.

Aside from the HSBC World Elite Mastercard, National Bank offers three credit cards with solid insurance coverage for seniors between the ages of 65 and 75.

The National Bank World Elite Mastercard and the 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.

Some credit cards provide travel insurance coverage for seniors

Two other generally overlooked issuers also stand out in this regard: Meridian and Desjardins.

The Meridian Cash Back Visa Infinite Card offers 23 days of coverage for travellers aged 60–64 and 15 days of coverage for those aged 65–75.

On the other hand, the Desjardins Odyssey Gold Visa Card offers 31 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 and fall into the 65–75 age bracket, consider the Meridian Cash Back Visa Infinite Card simply for the lower annual fee of $99 compared to Desjardins’s $110. For travellers aged 60–64, the Desjardins card gives you up to 31 days of coverage, and is likely the better option.

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 Platinum American Express Card offers 10 days of coverage, while the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card and the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card 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.

Scotiabank Credit Cards
Credit Card Best Offer Value
40,000 Scene+ points $355 Apply Now
40,000 Scene+ Rewards points $310 Apply Now
60,000 Scene+ points $161 Apply Now

Note that most credit card insurance policies will exclude any pre-existing medical conditions that aren’t stabilized, 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, consider 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 older travellers might 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 TD Rewards, Scene+, CIBC Aventura, or HSBC Rewards to either cover the complete cost of a cruise or at least offset a large portion of your expenses.

Use fixed-value points currencies to offset the cost of cruises

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 of the overall cost of the trip, and are more easily bookable using points.

For example, booking one-way flights or open-jaws – perhaps flying into Rome and out of Barcelona on either end of a Mediterranean cruise – can be much more 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, Hilton Honors, or World of Hyatt points to good use and book a hotel close the port for your overnight stay.

Conclusion

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 a key advantage of having a much higher degree of flexibility than the average traveller. Age is just a number after all, so never let 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.