Air travel costs are escalating, but that doesn't have to get in the way of seeing the sights during your golden years. With proper planning, insider deals and savvy packing to save on baggage fees, seniors on a budget still can afford to fly the friendly skies.
"Be flexible. The biggest advantage seniors have is time," says Lauren Monitz, spokeswoman for iExplore, named best adventure travel website by Forbes magazine for seven straight years. "With few to no weekly work commitments, you can be ready to take off at a moment's notice to capitalize on some of the best last-minute deals."
For the best deals, travel in the offseason and fly midweek.
"Airlines still raise fares during school and popular public holidays," says Andy Trache, spokesman for Adventure Center, a group adventure travel company with more than 2,000 global itineraries. "Seasonality depends on what the best time is for a destination. For example, the high season for Europe is from May to October, whereas the high season for South Africa is November and December."
Caribbean destinations and Rocky Mountain ski resorts tend to see a lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the fares will be reduced to match demand. Flights to Europe tend to be least expensive in winter and early spring.
Tuesday and Wednesday flights generally have the best fares, often with savings of up to 50 percent, whereas flights on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays tend to be the most in demand -- and the most expensive.
"Airlines and travel operators often offer last-minute packages if they have unsold seats," Monitz says. "By having the flexibility to go anywhere in the middle of the week, there are plenty of good options out there. It also lets you be spontaneous; with no set destination in mind, it's an adventure."
Book online or through a travel agent. Don't assume that one is cheaper than the other.
"Don't just trust one source," Trache says. "Often travel agents receive special fares from airlines that are far lower than published rates. However, sometimes airlines put on sales that are lower than the lowest agent fare you can find. The trick is to source out all avenues before buying."
Likewise, don't presume that the major travel websites automatically offer better fares than the airlines themselves. Hit the Internet and shop around.
"Utilize technology. A lot of seniors are hesitant to take advantage of all the tools out there, but by taking the time to compare and contrast prices and schedules on Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, etc., you will get a great deal somewhere," Monitz says.
Airlines often charge $25 for the first checked bag and $20-$45 each way for the second bag, which can really add up. Skip the extra fees -- and the lost luggage -- by packing less and carrying your bags with you.
"This is where you can save real money," says Susan Foster, author of "Smart Packing for Today's Traveler." "I can pack for a three-week Europe trip in a 22-inch carry-on bag. I just take less and plan to do laundry."
Start with a small bag and make use of all the available space, Foster says. Pack travel-size toiletries, and opt for mix-and-match outfits. Take only the essentials; forget the "what-if" items.
"Pack more casually, and pack less," Foster says. "Let go of the idea of wearing a different outfit each day. Pack interchangeable pieces based on one basic color, and plan to wear each piece more than once."
*Look for Insider Deals
In addition to frequent flier programs and credit card miles, several airlines offer members-only deals.
Spirit Airlines' $9 Fare Club, for example, entitles members to drastically discounted fares -- as cheap as $2 -- and reduced baggage fees, but you have to be flexible and act fast. The reduced fares are available at select times only and often sell out quickly.
Last year, JetBlue Airways offered the "All You Can Jet" pass ($500 and up), an unlimited travel pass for the month of September allowing passengers to fly as many times as they wanted to any of the 60 cities in the airline's itinerary. It was the second year for the program, and the company may offer a similar promotion in the future.