/ Travel & Leisure

Too old to travel?

Elderly man's face

Ever been told you’re too old to travel? There can be few things more annoying and frustrating than being told you’re too old to do something you want to do. Being told you can’t go on holiday takes the biscuit.

Three in 10 Which? members aged 65 or older told us they’d been excluded from a holiday or travel activity because of their age.

They told us about being stopped from taking a walking holiday, being barred from hiring a car, being blocked from taking an activity holiday, and not being allowed to sit in exit-row seats on flights.

Positive changes for older people

In some good news, our ‘Too old to travel?’ investigation has led to three positive changes being made by the travel industry.

Cultural tours provider Martin Randall Travel has dropped its ban on over 80s joining its activity tours after we again highlighted how members felt that it was unfair.

Car hire firm Sixt has agreed to scrap its block on hiring cars to drivers in the UK who’re aged over 75. Prior to our investigation, 76-year-olds could hire a Sixt car in Europe and America, but not the UK.

And Europcar is reviewing its processes to make age restrictions on its site clearer after a Which? member was stopped from picking up a car he’d booked and paid for.

Age and the law

Frustrating as it may be, if a holiday company treats you differently because of your age, it won’t necessarily be breaking the law. In fact, the law allows companies to discriminate based on age in certain circumstances. This includes companies promoting holidays to over 65s or under 30s.

But that doesn’t make it any less infuriating if you’re the one barred from doing something you want to do simply because of your age. But there are ways to fight back.

What to do if you’re told you’re too old

Car hire: Check the terms and conditions before you book. If there are no age restrictions but you’re stopped from picking up the car because of your age, the hire company may well be in breach of contract. You can claim back any losses you have as a result.

Extra legroom on flights: If you’re told you can’t buy exit row seats because you’re too old, don’t accept it. Point out that according to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules, you are allowed to sit in those rows as long as you are fit and able.

Travel insurance: Insurers can use age as a basis for setting premiums, and you may have to pay more, particularly for sports cover. However, there are insurers who will provide good-value policies.

Travel insurance and bank accounts: Consider switching to another account if your travel insurance is removed or you’re asked to pay more for it. The Clydesdale Bank Signature Current Account (£13.50 per month), Nationwide FlexAccount (free) and Flex plus (£10 per month), and the Yorkshire Bank Signature Current Account (£13.50 per month), all allow you to keep your travel insurance until your 75th birthday. Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and TSB Platinum account (£17 per month) offer travel insurance up to the age of 80.

Walking holidays: Shop around for a travel company that will accept you on its tours. Explore asks travellers aged 80 and over for proof of insurance and a doctor’s note. Ramblers Worldwide Holidays suggests that over 75s have a doctor confirm fitness before travelling and it may ask for proof of this. Exodus said it was rare to exclude anyone for any reason.

Have you ever felt like you’ve been discriminated against in travel because of your age? Did you try to fight it?


I fear that this article is actually opening a can of worms in that some people say they are fit who manifestly are not.

But first things first – how big was the survey, and how was this 3% distributed across the areas raised? As in 2.5% was walking tours …..

It is a fact that the elderly walk slower and slower as they age. Somewhere or other I have the figures which were prominent when BJ wanted to reduce the panda crossing times allowed for, in London.

Incidentally I am not quite sure why Sixt should not choose their own terms of rental in the UK. They may have found the accident rate excessive particularly as the areas where they hire cars may be tourist and traffic dense. There are plenty of other car rental companies available.

I have been on guided tours where people selfishly or deludely do not recognise that they seriously impinge on the value of the tour for others as the speed drops to their pace.

Does the tour guide care. Not a lot. Could tour companies do more to stream the walking abilities of the people on the tour? Or do they just avoid the work involved.

On a tour to Petra with around three hundred people the coaches were loaded in random factor and the tour guides therefore had a mix of mobility and fitness in each group. Suffice to say that many of the promised sights were not reached.

The mix of people who had flown from the UK the day before and people who had been in the tropics for 6 weeks and the physical fitness aspect was compounded in the 30C+ temperatures. Four members of our coach were in such distress that our coach had to go to collect them. Others were assisted up the hill to our coach. Believe me it takes a lot of shine off your visit if you have tour members looking as if they are about to expire.

The cruise line/tour company with the tiniest bit of forethought could have improved the experience by not mixing those with one days acclimatisation to temperatures 10-15C above their norm with those who had weeks of experience of 30c+ temperatures.

Arranging the guides at the viewing spots would mean people could get to them at their own pace. With nine guides not a problem. As it was the time allowed for the time in Petra was inadequate and the advertising blurb for the £150 badly misleading. I am going to pursue this via arbitration/courts.

Incidentally lovely as Petra is when our distressed ladies were paying $60US for a 0.8 kilometre horse and cart ride back to the exit – each – you will appreciate that the image of the Bedouin tribes making money from passing caravans is not entirely historical.

As an air traveller I would much rather have younger folk in the exit row seats than elderly. As for the CAA ruling I believe that the airlines should see that you are fit and able which I am not sure can occur as you book over the net. Using age as a proxy seems sensible. Of course if we put enough heat into this campaign perhaps the airlines will roll-over and allow anyone to book the seats to the detriment of safety.

Grumpy old man 60+

I’m with you on this one Diesel. There does come a point when people are not fit enough for some of the more ambitious excursions, especially if the climatic conditions are becoming intolerable. As for the exit row seats on aeroplanes, they don’t give you much more space and since you have to put all your hand luggage up in the lockers during take-off and landing – and be ready to open the exit hatch in an emergency – I don’t think they are worth the extra expense. I tend to agree there would be some sense in airlines ensuring the people in those seats are fully capable. Having said this, though, there are plenty of good and suitable holidays available that older people should be able to enjoy without being prohibited, penalised or surcharged and I support any moves to do away with such inappropriate discrimination. One of my uncles was fully compos mentis, fit and active right up to the age of 99 and enjoyed lots of foreign travel in his later years. It was a bee sting in his own back garden that led to his ultimate demise.

“Three in 10 Which? members aged 65 or older told us they’d been excluded from a holiday or travel activity because of their age.”

So can we have examples of what restrictions are being applied from age 65? Or is 65+ just the final age band used for your survey?

And if it’s bungee jumping I won’t be able to do when I reach 65, I can’t say I’m too bothered!

Excellent point Em.

I see I have garnered two thumbs down which is fine but it would be nice to know why people disagree!

There are a lot of Petra camel operators who subscribe to Which?

I just wish old people would realise when their driving days are over and not continue until it’s too late.
That seems far more important than worrying about travelling on holiday.

Brian 65+ says:
30 August 2014

There are far more young people killed and injured in road accidents. Older people remain safer as an age group than younger drivers. So, to turn this one on its head, perhaps young people should recognise the risks they take for themselves and others, and choose not to drive!

Suggest we now return to the subject of age restrictions

Dr Cornel Fleming says:
10 September 2014

There is no medical reason why older people cannot keep on driving unless they develop certain conditions. There is no way one can say”You are now xxx years old so no more car!”

” Research carried out by the University of Manchester, commissioned by the Department of Transport in 1997, revealed that older drivers have fewer accidents per year than any other age group but they do have more accidents per mile driven. Older drivers as a group are relatively safe – most drive conservatively, travel fewer miles overall than other drivers and do not deliberately drive unsafely. – See more at: http://www.devon.gov.uk/index/transport/roads/road_safety/drivingsaferforlonger.htm#sthash.TkkqoSCk.dpuf

From the point of view of running a rental car fleet the statistics may bear this out particularly for cosmetic bumps and shunts which cause no injuries but means the hire car is off being fixed and not available for renting.

I know people in their 80s who are mentally and physically in good condition and there are others in their forties and fifties in a poor state of health. Obviously people generally deteriorate as they get older but perhaps there is a good case for flexibility, perhaps with the onus of the individual to provide evidence if there is any doubt.

I absolutely agree. I was recently unfortunate to follow a lady onto a plane who could hardly walk. Was she old? Absolutely not. Was she overweight? Absolutely yes.

JohnGW says:
30 August 2014

Nationwide BS will provide cover on their FlexPlus account with no upper age limit and including winter sports, for an annual supplement of £50 per account and an annual health screening over the phone.

bechet says:
31 August 2014

Seems quite reasonable for travel companies to take account of age and fitness when providing activity holidays ~ I wouldn’t want to try to keep up with a bunch of 20 ~ 40 yr olds. And for insurance companies to set premiums based on risk ~ which is what insurance is about. But I object to subsidising free travel insurance for under 75s, and banks providing such insurance are ripping off all their 75+ customers.

Having done plenty of group walking holidays I havenot found that the older walkers are the ones having problems. It is nearly always those who think that the ocaasional flat walk to the shops and gym session is all that is required to make them able to walk 8/10 miles on 5 successive days on rough paths with some hill work !
The older members may not have the sprint ability but they know their own capabilities and dont take walkng holidays beyond them.

However I agree with bechet that I ( in my 60’s) would not choose a activity holiday aimed at “fit” 20-40 year olds.

John1357 says:
2 September 2014

I have to confess I am puzzled about insurance and maybe someone can enlighten me. I thought insurance was based on the pooling of risk. In a sufficiently large group only a very few will suffer whatever is insured against. On that basis shouldn’t travel insurance just be exactly the same rate for everyone, irrespective of age and fitness, and based on the population size and the specific hazard. Isn’t it only when some smart Alec in insurance realised he could load the dice in his favour by cherry picking who he insured, that the problem began? Similarly with all insurance. Or have I missed something?

If there were but one holiday insurance company then everyone could pay the same rate, similarly if there were but one insurance company who charged the same rate across all drivers and cars.

However as the multiple insurance companies are capitalists and want to make profits they need to reduce risk of payouts aginst income received. At this stage you enter into the world of actuarial risk and potential reward.

SO if we have a driver who crashes frequently, or a holidaymaker who gets inebriated and injures himself or loses valuables you would expect a loading. In fact the general public would expect there to be a loading as it is innate within humans a sense of justice. We do not see why we should pay for idiots. : )

Would you also advocate that everyone pays the same for motor insurance, irrespective of age, experience and claims history? I don’t believe that this is any more reasonable than what you have suggested.

I believe that it makes sense to make premiums approximate to the risks involved. As I said above, there is a good case to look at older people as individuals because some old people are better risks than others who are much younger.

For premiums to be the same not only do the risks need to be similar, but so do the potential losses.

The earliest form of insurance as we know it today was marine insurance; merchants wanted to insure against a total loss of their cargo. Take two ships of similar size and construction following similar routes around the Med at the same time of year. The risk of either ship being lost in a storm is almost identical. But if one ship is carrying 500 jars of olive oil and the other 1000 jars, the potential loss of the second ship will be twice as expensive, hence twice the premium is needed to provide insurance on an equitable basis.

Even if premiums are fixed, you really need a smart Alec to ensure only ships carrying 500 jars of oil are insured, otherwise you could start to make big losses.

Please don’t have a campaign that frightens airlines into letting just anybody sit in the exit rows in case of appearing ageist. Regardless of who books those rows online, if the person turns up and is not fit and able they should be moved to another seat. I have already travelled on a flight where an old lady who had to use a stick was in the exit row – scary and the flight attendants did nothing about it.

I bank with HSBC as a “Premier” customer and until a few years ago there was no age limit on the travel insurance that was available, albeit as a purchase, with annual cover for a charge of less than £100. It even covered me as a sailplane pilot flying in Europe.
Then the policy was “improved”. Age limit of 70 and no cover for activities; still it was included free with the account. Worse still there was no offer to replace the cover, even at a premium, so we were just abandoned. All my protests were in vain, and I continued these up to quite a high level in the bank.
I still hold a full European medical certificate for light aircraft and gliders, so perhaps the risks are not fully assessed, but based on ignorance and prejudice.

Why has this taken so long?
A bank account should not discriminate re age. We have to advise of any illnesses otherwise we are unable to make any claim on this ailment.
The majority of YBF incidents are not the elderly.
So please see this through

raymond bennett says:
10 September 2014

I have a few health problems but all are in a controlled state as stated by my doctor, but the insurance providers don’t want to acknowledge this and still charge excessive premiums for any holiday I wish to take.This has prevented me from going abroad this year.

Micjaq says:
11 September 2014

What really annoys me is that most insurance companies put restrictions on the length of trips based on age rather than state of health. Suddenly a 65year old is apparently not able to go away for more than 30 days, for example.

I have now discovered that there is none major carhire company which does not have an age restriction. The company is Avis. All the others will not deal with drivers over the age of 70.

Useful info about Avis. I think Hertz might do too. But neither appears to operate in North Uist, Outer Hebrides. The upper limit is 75

We’ve just returned from the Outer Hebrides choosing to get there by public transport. My husband is over 75 (78) – too old to hire a car there. Lucky that I am under 75. He has to renew his licence every year so if the DVLA think he’s OK to drive, why don’t the hire companies? At 80 we’ll have to insure our travel for each journey. I think that is fair because fitness can change rapidly the older you get. However, the premium should reflect the short period.

Older people are far fitter and more active than previously. Is this being reflected in the figures that actuarialists are using?

I have just returned from a short visit to Shetland, travelling alone. I am over 80 years. I recently discovered hat there is one large car hire company – Avis – who do not have any maximum age restriction. It did not appear that there was any extra fee levied because of my age. There were no problems whatsoever at the Airport on arrival or at departure. All I had to do is produce my fully valid UK driving licence and credit card.

Hi we usually travel to tenerife for 3 weeks in the winter and this year I’m looking at going for 4.

I am still looking for any deals going but the prices are coming out really expensive.it appears they look at 2 weeks and double it even though we are only flying once each way.

I have only looked on line and wondered what other Which conversation readers do?

I am assuming you are looking for a package deal.

Have you tried looking for flights and accommodation separately? If you are not travelling over Xmas, you can sometimes get some good deals.

I think it would be logical that two weeks would be half four weeks. A plane crashing is not a significant element of travel insurance so the risk per week is what counts.

oops ! As you may have guessed I was for some reason answering a point not made by SallyG.

I had a look at a holiday tour supermarket and yes the most they will quote to is three weeks/22 days. I wonder if there is some Spanish bye-law at work.