Strong U.S. dollar means travel bargains for seniors and everyone else

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David Kotok catches -- and releases -- brown trout on a fly rod near San Martin de los Andes in Patagonia. (Courtesy: David Kotok)

The U.S. dollar is enjoying a 14-year high against other currencies, amid hopes that President Trump’s economic plans will bolster growth and allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more aggressively.

Who are the winners? American travelers, particularly seniors and retirees who have the time and money to go abroad. And there are deals aplenty in countries that have experienced extreme currency devaluations — Argentina being a prime example. 

U.S. Dollar in Argentine Pesos

Monthly closes for the five years ending March 31, 2017.

Staff Graphic

“Argentina is a low-cost and superb vacation right now,” said local investment manager David Kotok of Vineland, cofounder and chairman of Cumberland Advisors and a frequent overseas traveler. “The Argentine peso [exchange rate] is 16 to the U.S. dollar. I remember when it was one to one.  The finest five-star hotel in Buenos Aires is now 400 pesos a night.”

A trip to Patagonia — the sparsely populated region at the farthest end of South America that is shared by Argentina and Chile — is “the bargain” of current times, Kotok said. He favors fly-fishing and recently snagged some brown trout there on catch-and-release near San Martin de los Andes, Argentina.

Websites such as Kayak.com and Travelocity.com bear that out. Packages offered recently included a flight plus two weeks' stay (May 6-20) in a hotel for two people in San Martin de los Andes for just $1,800 to $2,000, including taxes and fees. All-inclusive packages ranged from $2,000 to $3,000 for two weeks.

Other low-cost destinations can be found in South Africa or Central America.  Central and South America are easy flights without many time zone changes. South Africa demands much longer travel time, but with the rand dropping against the U.S. dollar, it's a tempting trip.

Seniors should watch for exchange rates that play in their favor. Australia, for instance, isn’t a bargain right now, based strictly on the exchange rate of the Ozzie (Australian dollar) versus the U.S. dollar.

U.S. Dollar in British Pounds

Monthly closes for the five years ending March 31, 2017.
Staff Graphic

Great Britain, on the other hand, is a bargain these days. Last year's Brexit vote has made the U.S. dollar unusually favorable against the British pound, according to an AARP analysis.

Citing the website of VisitBritain, Great Britain's national tourism agency, AARP found that the United Kingdom was 13 percent cheaper for U.S. visitors at the end of February than it was the same period a year earlier. In mid-March, one dollar was worth 0.81 pound. In June 2016, pre-Brexit, the greenback traded at only 0.68 pound.

Canada is a 30 percent bargain right now, said Raymond Loewe, who with wife Sandy has visited all seven continents

“I was just in Canada, and right now, due to the currency fluctuations, the U.S. dollar versus the Canadian dollar is cheap,” about 70 Canadian cents to $1 U.S.,  said Loewe, who lives in Swedesboro. “I went up partially for business, but I took my wife and spent a long weekend in Toronto.”

There are lifestyle and other bonuses with Canada, too, he said. “The beauty of Canada is it’s safe, they speak English, and it’s a great place to go to, with landmarks like the Canadian Rockies. For seniors who want to travel and get a bargain and are worried about the world’s violence, it’s a really intriguing opportunity.”

U.S. Dollar in Canadian Dollars

Monthly closes for the five years ending March 31, 2017.
Staff Graphic

The couple were in Toronto in March, and they’re considering a trip to Montreal.

“One of my favorite places to travel to is Montreal. From Philly, it’s a day train ride on Amtrak. And it’s lovely," said Loewe, 75. "You get on Acela on the first leg of the train to New York. The train goes up along the Hudson for the first half. The second half is Lake Champlain. It’s mesmerizing. You get up and walk around, talk to people.”

Amtrak offers a senior discount, but it's usually available only if you travel during off-peak hours. For coach seats, a search on Amtrak.com from Philadelphia to Montreal showed a round-trip price of $122 for seniors, cheaper than the $144 adult price.

Just don't forget your passport, and possibly some other form of identification. Amtrak services that cross the U.S.-Canada border are subject to inspection by Canadian and American law enforcement officials. When making a reservation, you must provide your date of birth and country of citizenship.

Hotel discounts for seniors are worth asking for, Loewe said.

“I stay in a lot of Marriott hotels. They have a senior discount program, and it beats AARP and AAA many times. Check for the blackouts at your hotel chain, but planning ahead can get you a senior discount of 25 percent,” he noted.

Loewe doesn’t use online travel sites, instead going through a travel agent or companies such as National Geographic; Tauck, a high-end travel agency; and Viking Cruise Lines. “Those don’t really offer discounts, but you’re really pampered and taken care of,” he said.

Next up for the Loewes? The Baltics and St. Petersburg, Russia, in September on a cruise.