One of the most popular questions we receive is about travel discounts for military members and veterans. While there are some excellent discounts available for eligible military members and veterans, some other discounts can be more difficult to track down, and may not be worth it once you find it. Many companies don’t have express policies for military discounts, and the companies that do may have limitations on availability (for example, the discounts may only apply to active duty members traveling on official military orders).
Let’s take a look at some of the travel discounts out there, and how you can save on your travel, even if you aren’t able to score a military discount.
Military Travel Discounts
To make things easier, let’s break these discounts into categories, including air travel, lodging and resorts, and everything else.
Discount Airline Tickets: Most airlines offer a military discount, but you won’t find these offers listed on travel websites. You will need to visit the airline website or call their customer service department to get the discounts. Many airlines also waive the checked bag fees for military members, especially when they are traveling on orders. One of the most important things you need to know about military discounts is that they are often only available for active duty or members of the Guard/Reserves, and are sometimes only available when the member is traveling on official orders. Many military discounts for airline travel are also given as a flat percentage off the full-price fare and may not be the best price available. In many cases you can find a better deal through discount travel websites.
Space-A Travel. Space available travel is great in theory, but may be limited in practice. As the government continues to downsize, the availability of Space-A travel becomes more and more limited. In general, Space-A travel is only open to active duty military, members of the Reserve Corps, retirees, and dependents of these groups. There are some scheduled trips which happen like clockwork and can be easy to jump onto, but in general, it is hard to reliably plan on using Space-A travel unless you live close to a participating unit, you have a flexible travel schedule, and you have a solid backup plan (which may include buying a last minute ticket on the economy if your Space-A flight falls through). According to the Air Mobility Command (AMC):
The best resource is to either visit the AMC Travel Site, or contact the nearest military passenger terminal (a list of Passenger Terminals is available on the AMC Travel Site). The terminal staff will have the most current information. If you plan to travel Space A, contact the passenger terminal(s) where you plan to depart from.
Here is the Space-A Travel Handbook (pdf) from the AMC.
Discounts on Lodging and Resorts
Hotel Discounts. I have found that most hotel chains will offer military discounts, provided there isn’t a major event going on (for example, you will be hard pressed to get a military discount at a hotel chain in NYC over New Year’s Eve, or a similar time when most hotels are fully booked). Many hotel chains are also willing to cap their rates at the local per diem rate, which can equal a substantial savings, depending on the hotel chain and location. Rates capped at the per diem rate may require official orders, and almost always require an active duty or Guard/Reserve ID card.
Base Lodging. Most decent size bases have lodging available. It is generally available to active duty, retirees, members of the Guard/Reserves, and dependents of these groups. Base lodging is generally much cheaper than hotels on the economy and are usually very clean and well-maintained. Some bases may be off the beaten path in terms of where they are located, but depending on where you are traveling, the cost savings may be worth the small inconvenience.
Military Resorts. The Armed Forces Recreation Centers offer exceptional discounts off comparable locations. Some popular resorts include the:
- Hale Koa Resort (Hawaii)
- Shades of Green Military Resort (Disney World),
- Dragon Hill Lodge (Korea)
- Edelweiss Lodge and Resort (Germany)
- New Sanno Resort (Japan)
You can find more information at the Armed Forces Recreation Center website. Other options include the Armed Forces Vacation Club website and Veterans Holidays website. Some of these vacation plans offer exceptional value. Be sure to double check eligibility before making any reservations. In many cases, eligibility is limited to active duty, Guard/Reserve, retirees, and surviving spouses, and the families of those members.
Other Military Travel Discounts
Rental cars. Many rental cars have negotiated rates with government agencies. If you are traveling on official orders, you should be able to get a great rate. You may also be able to get a similar rate if you are on personal business and have a military ID card or retiree. These rates aren’t usually available for those who are no longer serving and didn’t reach retirement.
Savings through the travel websites. Personally, I usually find the best deals by using the travel websites like Travelocity, Priceline, Hotels.com, Expedia, and similar sites. They typically have the best inventory and you can often compare prices between multiple airlines.
Credit cards and rewards programs. Using a travel rewards program can help you earn points and benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding, free flights, free nights at a hotel, and other perks. These are even better when used in conjunction with a credit card rewards program. Some of the more popular travel credit cards are a joint offering between a credit card company and a specific airline or hotel chain. Many come with a sign up bonus equal to a free flight or several nights stay at a hotel. Some of them have an annual fee (usually waived for the first year, depending on the credit card issuer), and some come with additional perks, such as bonus points for purchases on a branded airline/hotel, free checked bags for you and your party, priority boarding, discounts on flights and merchandise, and other benefits. Some even come with a free flight or free night stay as part of the annual renewal fee, which essentially cancels out your annual fee. Here are some lists of the current credit offers you may find helpful: military credit cards, airline cards, travel cards.
As with all credit cards, be sure to read the fine print before signing up for any deals, and be sure to pay your card in full each month to avoid any fees or interest.
Finding the Best Travel Discounts Takes Time
In my experience, booking the best travel deals requires a little legwork and a lot of patience. If you are traveling on military orders, always check with your unit before booking travel. They may have access to special offers, or may have other requirements.
If you are traveling on your own, then start with your itinerary, and determine whether or not you can work some of the military specific travel options such as Space-A, Armed Forces Recreation Centers, or base lodging into your plans. If you can, then you can usually save a substantial amount of money on your trip. If you aren’t able to work one or more of those into your itinerary, then you can always go look at the travel websites mentioned above. Worst case scenario, you get the same deal everyone else gets.
Best of luck, and safe travels!