It used to be a joke that when you got the AARP mailing, you were officially crossing the “old people” threshold. Of course, that was a joke because people used to qualify for AARP at 50, which is, as some say now, “the new 40,” if not younger. Thet AARP mailing was the first sign of aging for many people of my parents’ generation, but sometime in recent years, something quietly changed, and joining AARP became a sign of being smart rather than old.

AARP has removed its age requirement; therefore, anyone can join. The first year of AARP membership is $12. Each year thereafter is $16. Let me give you a visual of why you should be a member right now. These are rates at Hilton hotels I pulled up as I was composing this. I randomly pulled up rates for July 14-16 at hotels near DFW airport and in downtown Chicago. It’s easy to see how even a one night stay in some cases will recoup the annual membership fee for the first year. In fact, not long ago, I needed a two night stay at the last minute near DFW. Point costs were not worth it for me with any of the hotels I had enough points to use, so I checked Hilton’s AARP rates. I saved close to $20 on a two night stay by paying $12 to join AARP, netting me $8, and qualifying me for AARP rates on every other Hilton stay the rest of the year. In fact, if you read my post a tale of two hotels chains, you saw I had booked an excellent rate at a Hilton in summer, about half that of most Magnificent Mile hotels (even though I didn’t end up having to pay). The AARP rate was part of the reason why. (Hint: the discount at Hilton Garden Inn is a bit higher than other Hilton properties, and they are very nice, so take advantage of it!)

AARP members score discounts on hotels from Best Western, Wyndham, Comfort Inn, and more, certain car rentals, and AARP vacation services, plus more. Then there’s food! AARP cards get you discounts at Landry’s Seafood, Outback, Carrabba’s Italian, sweetFrog Frozen Yogurt, Denny’s, Chart House, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., McCormick & Schmick, Corner Bakery, Saltgrass, Joe’s Crab Shack–and yes, there’s more. Definitely, these are not only your “grandparents’ restaurants.”

AARP members also get discounts on British Airways, at least in theory. This one is a bit more sketchy, if you ask me. It really only pays off in some cases, as you’ll see below. But I suppose if you’re not booking through American, even though a flight may be operated by AA, and you don’t have another way to take a free bag (such as an airline co-branded credit card–which you most definitely should have, with no balance ever carried on it, of course), it could pay off. I don’t think it would help me much, unless I were flying premium economy, but here’s a comparison of the “discount” in economy of the same flight on the same dates, with and without the discount. What the first fare actually is, is basic economy (note the lack of choosing a seat and no “hand baggage”–carry ons) rather than economy. So the discount is negligible.

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If you’re flying in upgraded classes, however, the discounts are pretty helpful. My recommendation for this flight would be, use a co-branded credit card, book directly with AA, since you’re flying on an American plane anyhow, and book economy (or premium economy if you can swing it–I’ll review that soon, as I love it and it’s seriously affordable as a step up from economy and down from business of first).

You can either be embarrassed to carry an AARP card because you are under 50, or you can smart enough to carry an AARP card because you are under 50. I, myself, enjoy having the extra cash on hand.