No matter how well you plan, my recent trip showed me that you still encounter gotchas and snags—some general, some specific to seniors. On the other hand, if you need assistance, regardless of age, you can usually find it.
Hidden Age Limits: I rented a car in Bari, Italy, through RentalCars.com, which seemed to have the best deal. During the rental process, the only age information the website requested was to make sure I was over 25. The rental turned out to be with Enterprise, which shared a desk with subsidiary National at the Bari airport. But when I presented my reservation information and ID at the counter, the agent told me that Enterprise did not rent cars to anyone over age 71. This was my first inkling of that limitation. The agent went on to say that National could rent to older drivers, but that it did not have a car available. My arrival was in the late evening, so I took a taxi to my hotel, near the airport, and got online to book a replacement through the Avis website. Next morning, I showed up at the Avis counter, got my car, and went on my way.
I've been aware for many years that some companies, in some countries, refuse to rent to anyone over 70; Ireland is notorious for its maximum age limits, as well as its refusal to accept credit card collision coverage. But I had never observed this problem in Italy, so the refusal to honor my reservation came as a shock—both from a planning standpoint and a financial one, because my Avis rental cost a lot more than the original arrangement.
In retrospect, I would have been better off renting from one of the big multinationals directly or through AutoEurope by phone. AutoEurope's agents are very knowledgeable about details such as age limits and insurance coverage.
Hidden Hotel Problems: Over the years, I've been a big fan of arranging hotel accommodations through the opaque agencies Hotwire.com and Priceline.com. I have back problems, and I try to avoid stairs wherever I can. So to avoid unpleasant surprises, I normally book 3.5- to four-star accommodations. And I also usually book only one night in case of a problem, figuring that I can usually extend a visit by a day or two, at the same rate, if the hotel meets my requirements. This trip, I bid for a 3.5-star hotel in London, figuring it would be fine. Sadly, however, when I learned which hotel had accepted my bid and checked it out, I found that the hotel had no elevator, and an external picture showed a half-story flight of stairs to get from the street to the entry. Clearly, that wouldn't work, so I rebooked a different hotel through Booking.com. I'm still arguing with Priceline about a possible refund, but I'm not banking on it.
Although common among senior travelers, problems negotiating long stairs are not limited to seniors. And these days, many travelers of any age demand no-charge Wi-Fi. If you have any physical limitation or special requirement, consider very carefully before you risk a nonrefundable opaque hotel bid. And if you go ahead, bid for just one night, check out the hotel, and ask to extend your stay or re-bid only if the hotel meets your requirements.
More on Back Problems: You don't have to be in a wheelchair to want to avoid stairs or require special assistance. Major hub airports—even those with people-movers—can still require extensive schlepping. Don't be embarrassed to ask for a wheelchair or golf cart on arrival. Set it up through your airline, at least 72 hours in advance.
Public transit can also pose a problem. These days, many transit systems post online lists or maps that show which stations are accessible and where to find elevators and escalators. Just Google the name of the transit system and "accessibility." You won't get results everywhere, but it works in lots of places.
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This article was published by SmarterTravel under the title Travel Snags and How to Avoid Them. Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.