Sunday, April 18, 2010


It sometimes seems as if everything this side of maternity hospitals offers a senior discount these days - and, with the way technology is going, the maternity hospitals may get into the act before too long.

With these attractive deals, however, come some vexing ethical issues, one of which is raised by a reader from Ohio who is a senior citizen and takes advantage of the appropriate discounts whenever possible.

"The problem is that, when I take my daughter or friends to the movies, I buy the tickets under the senior rate," he writes.

This bothers his daughter, who isn't a senior citizen, so much that she would rather buy her own ticket at the full price.

My reader doesn't see it. His position is that, since he is treating her to the movies, he is entitled to buy the tickets at the discount rate offered him because he is older than 60.

"No, dad," she tells him, "you are cheating them."

His response: "As long as I am buying the tickets, so what?"

He uses a similar approach when he plays golf, my reader adds: He gets the senior discount for his greens fees, covering both himself and his non-senior playing partners, who then reimburse him for the discount price.

In a nutshell, my reader feels, he's entitled to the senior discount for the things he buys, and it's nobody's business but his what he does with them afterward.

"So what?" he concludes. "Am I a crook?"

It would be overstating things, I believe, to call him a crook. Nonetheless, his practice doesn't measure up from an ethical standpoint.

This question is one that comes up not only for senior citizens, but also for anybody who is offered a discount on goods or services based on his or her particular situation. Besides seniors - and children, of course - who receive age-related discounts, employees of department stores, airlines and car dealers usually receive employee discounts. Some businesses also offer discounts to military personnel, veterans, police officers or members of organizations such as the American Automobile Association.

In some cases these offers extend beyond the immediate person who is entitled to the discount. Employee discounts, for example, often extend to other members of the employee's family. In such cases, of course, there is nothing wrong in sharing the discounts to pass on the savings.

In cases in which there is no specific policy authorizing an extension of the offer, however, the assumption is that the price break is for the person who falls into the favored category, and only for that person. Using it for the benefit of individuals outside the favored category, whether or not they then pay back the expenditure, is wrong.

In some cases it is actually illegal to do so - for instance, an adult can't legally buy cigarettes, alcohol or other age-restricted products and pass them on to someone who is underage - but it is always ethically beyond the pale.

When his daughter was a child, I daresay my reader never would have entertained the notion of having her buy tickets for both of them, at the children's price, and then paying her back. The same principle should hold true now, when he's the one that can buy tickets at a lower price.

It's generous of my reader to take his adult daughter to the movies, but the right thing for him to do is to pay full freight for her until she qualifies for the senior discount herself. And, unless his golf course explicitly allows senior citizens to pay fees for their entire foursomes at the senior price, his golf buddies should pay their going rate.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Phil Clutts said...


I think that if the reader proposes to treat his daughter or his friends to a movie, he is not behaving unethically if he buys all the tickets at the discounted rate. After all, he is bringing more customers to the theater. If, however, they mutually agree to go to the movies and he buys all the tickets at the discount rate and is reimbursed by them (as he is with the greens fees), then he isn’t “treating” them; he is in effect acting as their agent to defraud the theater or golf management of legitimate revenue.
If, as appears to be the case, the daughter is fully capable of paying her own way and sees her father as just taking advantage of his discount, the “treat” becomes a guilt trip and embarrassment for her, and she should not let it happen anymore.

Phil Clutts
Harrisburg, NC