Monita McGhee's moment of truth came as she checked out of an Austin, Texas, hotel. She happened to see a co-worker's bill and noticed that...

Share story

DALLAS — Monita McGhee’s moment of truth came as she checked out of an Austin, Texas, hotel.

She happened to see a co-worker’s bill and noticed that it was 15 percent less than hers, even though both rooms had been the same.

“My colleague had requested the senior discount, and I hadn’t,” the Dallas woman said.

Since turning 50 more than a year earlier, she had resisted asking for any of the thousands of discounts available to 50-plus adults.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

McGhee, the new director of the Area Agency on Aging, didn’t want to take advantage of special offers that she thought were needed more by elderly consumers.

“But I’m not reluctant any longer, even at Denny’s,” she said.

The nation’s 38 million baby boomers who have passed their 50th birthday are discovering that with age comes privilege. The generation that turned up its nose at anyone older than 30 is lapping up the bargains that begin at 50.

Nor are most businesses intimidated by the prospect of slashing prices for many of their customers.

On the contrary, they’re tweaking sales pitches, dropping “senior” from promotions to appeal to boomers who like the deals but don’t accept the moniker.

“Most companies realize they can’t compete without discounts,” said Joan Rattner Heilman, author of “Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can’t Get Unless You’re Over 50.”

Senior discounts aren’t gestures of goodwill. Their value as marketing tools has grown as companies target aging boomers’ pocketbooks.

Many of the best senior discounts are for travel, said Tom Parsons, publisher of bestfares.com.

“Although the airlines have dropped many of their senior fares, practically every hotel chain and car rental company has something special for older travelers, some as young as 50.”

AARP members, for example, save up to 50 percent of published rates at Westin hotels.

Fast on the heels of the travel industry in handing out senior discounts are restaurants and retailers.

“This is about building loyalty,” said Brent Green, who advises businesses about marketing to boomers. “Boomers aren’t particularly loyal to a brand or company. They need some added incentive for choosing one over another.”

AARP’s “member privileges” are considered the granddaddy of senior discounts.

A half-century ago, the National Retired Teachers Association, the forerunner of AARP, won reduced health-insurance premiums for its members.

Today the organization has partnerships with about 75 businesses that offer discounts and other member privileges on such things as home-security systems and Internet service.

Because AARP advertises those deals to its 35 million members, the partnerships are highly coveted.

AARP officials acknowledge that many boomers initially scoff at joining the organization but later do so mainly to qualify for the discounts.

As more companies court the gray-at-the-temples crowd, one marketing expert warns of a possible backlash from other generations resentful about paying full price.

“Younger generations have always thought that boomers get more than their fair share,” said Cheryl Russell, editor of the American Consumers newsletter. “Discounters need to guard against that.”