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THE MATURE TRAVELER

Airline Coupon Books Offer a Good Way to Fly

November 18, 1990|BILL HUGHES

It's important to comparison-shop when purchasing airline coupon books, which can be a good deal for the mature traveler.

Nine carriers now sell the discount coupon books to those age 62 and older.

Each coupon, sold in four- and eight-coupon books, is good for a one-way coach trip at significantly reduced rates. Most can be purchased at an airline office or by mail. Travel agents can accept orders but cannot issue books; they must be sent by mail.

There are restrictions on the coupons and significant differences between the coupons offered by various airlines.

Like all deep discount fares, senior coupon travel is "capacity controlled," which means only a limited number of seats are reserved on each flight for use by coupon holders. Thus, early reservations and the flexibility to shift travel plans are important.

In general, reservations must be made 14 days in advance, travel is restricted to midweek and the coupons are not valid on holidays.

A coupon is good for each one-way flight, including connections, only on the issuing carrier and its affiliated commuter lines. And the coupons are good for a limited period of time--usually one year from date of purchase.

Just because a coupon book has the lowest price tag doesn't mean it's the best buy. Check the carrier to see if it flies to the places you are most likely to travel.

Don't use a four-coupon book for travel to Hawaii from the West Coast. Since all carriers require two coupons each way, other Hawaii package trips usually offer a better deal.

Due to the fact that some carriers put a 2,000-mile cap on each coupon, you must use two coupons for long flights, such as from the West Coast to the East. Continental does not have a mileage cap, nor do Delta, Northwest and USAir. TWA imposes a mileage cap from mid-May to mid-September.

Here's a brief list of the nine carriers and major variations:

American Airlines: Four coupons for $420; eight, $720; 2,000-mile cap; two coupons for flights from Los Angeles to Hawaii and Alaska.

America West: Lowest priced, with four for $348; eight, $598. This competitive edge is offset by the fact that America West serves fewer destinations than any of the other airlines offering coupon books.

Continental: Four for $384; eight, $640. No mileage cap. Two coupons for flights to Hawaii and Alaska. May be purchased through travel agents, but books come through the mail 10 days to two weeks later.

Delta: Four for $420; eight, $720. No mileage cap, two coupons required each way for travel from Los Angeles to Hawaii and Alaska.

Eastern: Four for $368; eight, $616. Good in the continental United States, plus San Juan and the Virgin Islands. Seniors can also purchase books for a companion of any age, as long as they both travel together.

Northwest: Four for $384; eight, $640. Good in the continental United States and its Canadian destinations. Two coupons for travel to Hawaii and Alaska. You may also purchase one $96 bonus coupon for a companion of any age. To purchase coupons, you must be a member of Northwest's World Horizons Club, but the $50 membership fee is returned in a flight coupon.

TWA: Four-coupon book for $379, with optional fifth coupon for one round-trip flight to Europe at $449 or $649, depending on the season. Mileage cap only in summer. No coupon travel to Hawaii from May 15 to Sept. 15; two coupons per flight, otherwise.

United: Four for $420; eight, $704. Mileage cap and two coupons per flight for Hawaii and Alaska.

USAir: Four for $420; eight, $704. No mileage cap but two coupons per flight for Hawaii and Alaska.

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