British Airways has announced two new programs for the mature traveler age 60 and over. One is a comprehensive membership program with discounts and many other advantages, the other a basic senior economy-class fare to London.
Both are good and well-intended, but the joint announcement has caused confusion that will take some weighing of options and restrictions as to which is best.
The airline's "Privileged Traveler Program" offers free membership and provides 10% savings on all air fares between the United States and Great Britain, from advance purchase economy to first-class, even for flights on the Concorde. There are other advantages and services (more on those later).
The 10% discount is not applicable to the new low senior fare that is open to all mature travelers age 60 and over and does not require membership.
Another major factor to consider is that the membership program includes a waiver on all penalties for pre-trip cancellations or changes of reservations on any flights except the new senior fares.
Savings and Restrictions
The complications come with the airline's new senior fares, which provide up to 30% off the normal APEX fare. They provide bigger savings than the 10% discount, but have some major restrictions.
To wit: The regular 21-day advance purchase economy round-trip West Coast fare to London is $698. Privileged Traveler members would get 10% off, or $629, and no restrictions and a waiver on penalties.
BA's new senior fare on the same route is a 14-day advance purchase economy round trip of just $549 on the same route, probably even the same plane. That rate will be available only through March when it will still be discounted, but less so.
The $549 fare has restrictions, the biggest being a $75 charge if the ticket is canceled or changed during the 14-day period. (This can be returned upon proof of illness from a doctor.)
It is also limited to travel to London Sunday through Wednesday, returning Monday through Thursday. Again, the Privileged Traveler discounted $629 fare has no such restriction.
One other point: Both the new senior fare and the Privileged Traveler program allow the passenger to take along a companion 50 or older at the same price, as long as they travel on the same itinerary. This doubles the pleasure but also doubles the possibilities of penalties, if one or the other has to cancel or change plans using the lower $549 fare.
Your travel agent can explain finer points about taking out cancellation insurance and whether the saving from the lower fare could be wiped out by requiring an extra day's hotel stay to join a tour.
In any case, the mature traveler would be wise to sign up for the Preferred Traveler Program anyway. It is free before April 30. Even then, applications or membership renewals of $10 will be waived if the member flies on British Airways during the life of the card.
In addition to the 10% across-the-board savings on all BA air fares to Great Britain for the member and companion, and the waiver on penalties for pre-trip cancellations or changes, other advantages include:
--A 10% saving on hundreds of land arrangements offered in British Airways' 130-page "Holidays London Plus" brochure, including evening tours of London, theater, sightseeing and hotels, plus two- to four-day excursions through Great Britain and longer tours of Europe.
--Similar 10% discounts on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, and selected sailings on Cunard cruises aboard the Vistafjord and QE 2.
Preferred Travelers will be able to check in at the airline's Club Class windows rather than the longer-wait economy class check-in; get a membership card and be in BA's computer files for meal preferences, seats and medical assistance, and have access to a special phone number for BA reservations and information.
Preferred Traveler brochures, applications and more information can be obtained through travel agents or by calling British Airways toll-free at (800) AIRWAYS.