One of the major barriers to accessible travel for people with disabilities is cost. If you’re a wheelchair user like me, life is more expensive because of our additional needs – from adapted vehicles to accessible homes, medications and wheelchair repairs. These expenses make saving for a vacation more difficult.
Earlier this year, I shared 7 Tips for Planning an Affordable & Accessible Vacation. If you haven’t read that article, check it out!
I touched briefly on discounts offered by attractions, but I’d like to go a bit farther in describing discounts that are available to wheelchair users across the travel industry. The discount opportunities shared here may surprise you, but I use each of them frequently. As someone with a disability, it’s important to save every penny that you can!
If you live or are traveling in the United States, Amtrak offers a 15% discount to passengers with disabilities. The discount is applied automatically during the booking process for those who request special assistance. Amtrak’s disability discount applies to both short and long journeys and to tickets in all classes of service (including sleeper cabins). Get ready to save on every trip you take!
Rail companies around the world also offer special discounts to wheelchair users and people with disabilities. Eurostar’s wheelchair fare places travelers in a higher fare class, sometimes at a savings of hundreds of dollars. Check out these screenshots for a Eurostar trip from London next month (top/left image is standard fares, right/bottom image are wheelchair fares):
As you can see, I’m able to book a ticket for $70.00 in either Standard Premier or Business Premier class. While there are a few Standard fares of $70 offered to the general public, they are limited and at inconvenient times (for my schedule). The wheelchair fare is $70 across the board – I can select any departure time I want, plus score a free upgrade from the lowest class of service to Business Premier. If you book Business Premier (which you should!), you get a fully refundable ticket in the train’s best car for a $359 discount!
Other European railways also offer wheelchair and disability discounts, so be sure to ask about any that you may be eligible for!
Only a few air carriers offer discounts to children or seniors, and none offer a disability discount. But there is one discount offered by British Airways to AARP members that is notable.
Most people assume that AARP membership is limited to the elderly, but any adult—of any age—can join! For just $16 a year, you can sign-up with AARP and open up a world of discounts and special offers.
The British Airways AARP discount allows you to save money on round trip tickets from the United States to the UK and beyond. You’ll be eligible to save:
- $65 on World Traveller (economy class) tickets.
- $130 on World Traveller Plus (premium economy class) tickets.
- $400 on Club World (business class) tickets.
- $400 on First Class tickets.
Want to bask in the outdoors? The National Park Service has got you covered with the America the Beautiful Access Pass. The pass is free to all U.S. citizens and residents who have a permanent disability. Since my legs won’t be growing back, I was eligible – and I wasn’t even required to submit medical documentation (the Florida DMV could take that as a lesson).
The National Park Service Access Pass entitles holders to free admission at national park sites around the country. The pass covers a single vehicle at per-vehicle admission fee areas. At per-person sites, the pass will score complimentary admission for you and up to three adult guests/companions.
You’ll also be eligible to receive discounts on things like camping sites, swimming, boat launching and guided tours. To learn more about the Access Pass and for details on registration, visit www.usgs.gov.
Sightseeing Bus Tours
One of the easiest ways to get around the attractions & sights of a major city is on a City-Sightseeing hop-on/hop-off bus tour. I’ve used these tours in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, saving myself the frustration of navigating between destinations.
Although not all cities offer discounts to wheelchair users, many do. Applicable discounts aren’t advertised on the website, but you can call to request information. The best deal I’ve found anywhere was in Moscow, Russia – my companion and I were both eligible to receive a free day pass!
Museum & Attractions Admission
Previously, I have written about the wheelchair accessible museums in Paris that offer free admission to people with disabilities. But Paris is not the only city that offers such discounts. In London, many of the most popular national museums are free to everyone, regardless of ability.
Recently, I visited the RMS Queen Mary, a 1930s ocean liner permanently docked in Long Beach, California. Due to the fact that the entirety of the tour was not accessible, I received a 50% discount on admission.
The lesson here is simple: always ask if a discount is available. For a long time, I was embarrassed to ask for a discount, but learned that saving money is the #1 virtue in a life with disability. Don’t pay more than you have to – by reducing costs, you’ll be able to travel and experience more!
Pro Tip: If you are visiting one of the major cities in the United States, purchase a CityPASS bundle to save on attraction tickets. Last month, I wrote about the Chicago CityPASS, which saves you up to 53% (more than $100!) on attractions like the Willis (Sears) Tower, Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum.
If you do have the luxury of old age, you’ll be able to take advantage of senior discounts all around the world. Transportation providers, hotels, museums, attractions and more all provide discounts to those who are over 60, 62 or 65, depending on their policy. A government-issued ID card will be required to take advantage of these discounts.
Ultimately, I’d like to see an expansion of senior discounts to include all people with significant disabilities, regardless of age. Which leads me into the following…
More discounts are needed. Here’s why.
Businesses might say, “discounts for disability are handouts.” But I disagree.
Just last week, I took a sightseeing cruise in Long Beach. I paid the adult ticket price of $12. Unfortunately, the ship was much less than fully accessible. Wheelchair users could only access the fully-enclosed lower deck, which was not air conditioned. It was a roaster. As the able-bodied passengers enjoyed the tour from the open-air upper deck, I sat alone downstairs. Poor quality speakers made it nearly impossible for me to follow what the guide was saying. In effect, I received “less than” the other passengers, but had to pay the same amount. That’s just not right, and doesn’t make sense.
I can repeat many other examples like this – amusement parks with inaccessible rides, museums with inaccessible galleries, hotels without pool lifts, etc.
Surely businesses and tourist attractions can adjust ticket prices for the disabled to account for the limitations of their offering. That’s not unreasonable.
Discounts also make sense from a business perspective, as reduced costs make things more accessible to those with a limited or fixed income. And for those who must travel with a care assistant, that discount can make all the difference.
Let’s figure out a way to make the travel and tourism industry more accessible, both through adaptations to the built environment and an equitable pricing structure.