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You’ve heard of senior discounts at cafes or for entrance fees at the museum, but what about airfare? If you're a member of AARP, you can get up to $200 off some British Airways itineraries. If you're 65 or older, you can potentially take advantage of senior discounts at three major U.S. carriers: Delta, United and Southwest.
In the case of Southwest, you’ll only be able to take advantage of senior fares through Dec. 11, 2019. Generally speaking, most seniors will be unlikely to feel any negative repercussions from this decision. Originally, the senior fare entitled senior travelers to a fully refundable ticket at a fraction of the cost, as opposed to Wanna Get Away fares, which are also heavily discounted but not fully refundable for cash. So the biggest difference will now be the type of refund to which customers are entitled.
Discounted Southwest fares (Wanna Get Away fares) still exist for all passengers.
» Learn more: Southwest Rapid Rewards program: The complete guide
Retaining senior fare benefits through Wanna Get Away fares
Many of the benefits of senior fares are still available through Wanna Get Away fares. Southwest still offers free checked bags and reusable funds when a customer cancels a trip. Those “reusable funds” refer to Southwest credit rather than cash.
Generally speaking, this change shouldn’t make much of a difference unless there is a considerably large, specific demographic of senior travelers who cancel their flights and have no plans to use their Southwest credit. That's pretty unlikely.
In fact, senior fares are generally not cheaper than Wanna Get Away fares anyway, so with a lack of incentive to purchase a ticket that is fully refundable for cash, senior travelers may save more money on completed itineraries under the new system.
Deadline for booking Southwest senior fares
If you do want to take advantage of senior discounts and full cash refunds, you have until Dec. 11, 2019, to do so. While you’re at it, you might as well consider signing up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Program and/or applying for a Rapid Rewards credit card — that is, if you haven’t done so already.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Program allows members to earn points on all Southwest flights as well as purchases with their partners, which include Marriott, Best Western, Hertz, Avis, various retailers and more. You don’t have to be a credit card holder to take advantage of the Rapid Rewards program. It is, however, much faster to earn Rapid Rewards points if you choose to sign up for one of the Rapid Rewards credit cards.
» Learn more: Which Southwest Airlines credit card should I get?
Southwest credit cards
Southwest offers three consumer and two business credit cards to suit a variety of needs within their customer base. All of the consumer cards come with similar earning benefits; cardholders earn 2 points per $1 on direct Southwest Airlines purchases as well as 2 points per $1 on hotel and car rental partner purchases. For all other purchases, cardholders earn 1 point per $1 spent.
Southwest personal card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the highest tier consumer card and has the highest annual fee at $149. But it also comes with up to four annual upgraded boardings, 7,500 annual anniversary points, an annual $75 travel credit, 20% back on Southwest in-flight purchases and no foreign transaction fees.
Southwest business card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card offers 2 points per $1 on Southwest and partner purchases and 1 point per $1 on everything else. This card also comes with 6,000 anniversary points and no foreign transaction fees.
However, it may be worth the higher annual fee to go with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card instead. With this card, customers earn 3 points per $1 on Southwest and partner purchases, 2 points per $1 on select business categories and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. Additionally, cardholders receive 9,000 annual anniversary points, a TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee credit, four annual upgraded boardings and in-flight Wi-Fi credits.
The bottom line
Loyal customers likely won’t feel any sting from the end of the senior discount. With cheaper fares available anyway and with a host of ways to earn and redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards Points and credit, it’s likely that Southwest customer satisfaction will remain among the highest in the industry. And if it doesn’t, it won’t be because of the discontinuation of senior fares.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card