How To Travel The World Super Cheap In The Military
Being in the Military is a hard job, that’s no secret. But with all that stress comes a lot of benefits. In the world of COVID-19, travel isn’t what it used to be, but take note of these travel hacks now so you can take advantage later on. And before you ask, this isn’t some click bait article meant to sell you anything. These are real ways that you can travel for fractions of the cost of a civilian.
What’s The Catch?
Some methods of cheap travel take quite a lot of planning and forethought, and require a great deal of flexibility. Semper Gumby. But really, companies and government services offer ways to get awesome discounts on travel because they genuinely want to support the military community, which is awesome for you.
The two biggest costs of travel are airfare and accommodation, and you’ll find ways to save money on those broken down below. I’ve also included some lists and tables that will help you out, as well as some bundling services that can bring your costs way down.
Finally, you’ll find information on rewards programs, and how they can help you to take a free trip.
If you’re in the military, you’ve probably PCS’d before, and if you haven’t, obviously you will. If you’ve PCS’d, then you’re probably familiar with what’s known as Space-A flights from the Air Mobility Command. For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, the Air Mobility Command, or AMC, is part of the Air Force. They’re constantly operating flights, and any active duty military member can hop on one for free if there’s space available, hence the name, Space-A.
The issues arise when you book your flight, plan the rest of your trip around it, only to get to your terminal and find someone on emergency leave has taken your spot. Or worse, some Colonel came along and was given preference. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate your risk, which are outlined below. (Some of these tips are from military onesource)
- Sign up for flights that don’t coincide with school breaks
With parents working a full-time job and the kids attending school, families just don’t have time to travel during a normal week. It makes sense that they’d take advantage of school holidays to get some much-needed R&R. But as a traveler hoping against all hope that you can have a seat on this flight, family vacations are very bad for you. Not to mention, many school holidays happen during peak travel season. You’ll definitely want to avoid that, which leads me to the next tip.
- Fly during the off-season
Every travel blogger and their mother preaches this tip, and for good reason. Traveling during peak seasons means more crowds, higher trip costs, and generally just a bigger headache. But it’s especially important to travel during the off-season when you are fighting everyone else to get space on a flight. Less demand for the flight leads to less competition, making the likelihood of you successfully getting to your destination a lot higher.
- Don’t book your flight on drill weekends
This tip goes hand in hand with the last one, since military drill weekends are usually really busy for Space-A flights. People with orders take precedence over your leisure travel, so plan accordingly.
- Be super early to check in
The most important thing you can do on travel day is to check in early. I’m talking at least 3-4 hours early, especially if your flight leaves from a commercial airport. Once you’ve checked in, you have a lot less to worry about. It’s still possible that you could get booted from the flight, but much less likely.
- Keep in contact with the base terminal
Every few weeks after you’ve booked your ticket, get in contact with the base and make sure they still have a record and you’re assigned to the flight. It’s important to get all of that documented in case they try to pull a fast one on you. Occasional contact also helps to keep you in the loop in case the flight is cancelled or you’ve been booted. That way you at least have some advance notice and can make other plans.
Yes, Space-A flights can be a huge pain, but they’re free, so what more can you ask for? Get in touch with your base travel office to get some more information.
-Contact The Airline Directly
If you’re not willing to risk taking a Space-A flight, make sure to contact airlines directly and get some trip quotes. Many airlines have an undisclosed military discount which you can only get over the phone. I recommend American Airlines, because their military perks are second to none. The cost of the flight will likely be higher than if you bundled your trip, but to each her own. You can get deals by simply giving them your DOD ID number, but there are better rewards if you are a member of VetRewards from Veterans Advantage (keep reading for more on that)
|American Airlines||Up to 10% off tickets, 2 free checked bags, entry to lounge|
|United Airlines||5% off all fares, free checked bags, entry to lounge|
|JetBlue||5% off all fares, 2 free checked bags|
|Alaska Airlines||5% off all fares|
Now that we’ve covered airfare, accommodation is our next biggest expense. Sure, you can book yourself a nice, fancy hotel and live it up, or you can travel hack your stay and have money to burn. You have two great options here, AFVC trip packages or on-base lodging.
-Armed Forces Vacation Club
I mentioned this in a previous post about the best military discounts, but they have such great deals that they deserve to be mentioned again. The AFVC provides R&R vacations to military members starting at just $250. Essentially, you can stay at a hotel for a week for not much more than the cost of some AirPods Pro.
Considering that some hotel chains charge $250 for a single night, you can see just how much of a savings this is. Also, the AFVC offers all-inclusive packages, in which you pay an extra fee and are provided meals throughout your stay.
The AFVC has connections all over the world, so whether you want to visit the next state over, or fly a couple thousand miles, you can find a great deal with them.
Going this route will be much more expensive than AFVC deals, but there are some other factors that play in. First and foremost, much like in civilian hotel chains, the price of your stay is very dependent on the location of the base. For example, a room for one person at Navy Lodge Naples costs $114/night, whereas a room at Navy Lodge Kings Bay, Georgia, costs $68/night.
Still, if you’re planning to travel to a pricey destination, you can save a lot of money by staying on a nearby base. It’s basically like staying at a hotel, except for it’s half the cost and you have access to all the amenities you enjoy at your home base. Think the exchange, gym, on-base restaurants and activities, etc. Another thing to note is that you have access to medical services if the need arises, which is a huge win.
-American Forces Travel
There are a few websites out there that offer travel savings to military members. American Forces Travel is one that claims to give great military discounts on hotels and flights.
Following in the footsteps of many commercial travel sites, AFT saves you money by packaging your vacation. The only difference is these packages come with a huge military discount – or so they say. I decided to put it to the test. Hypothetically, say I wanted to travel from Orlando, FL to the UK – we’ll choose London for simplicity.
I’ll be traveling from September 7 through the 14 of 2021.
The cheapest option for my trip on the AFT website came out to $997. Granted, the flight would probably be at 0300, and I’d likely be staying at the crappiest motel London has to offer, but that’s round trip, including taxes and fees. What a steal.
Now, if I were to book that same trip on Travelocity’s package finder, the lowest price for the trip is… $847. That’s not at all what I was expecting.
But that can’t be right! How can there be a $150 difference between the two? Let’s try another trip, and maybe this time, we’ll compare prices in the peak of season.
On this trip, I’ll be traveling from New York to Bali, Indonesia from July 1-8.
On the AFT site, the cheapest price for my trip totals at $1803. Surprisingly, the place looks pretty decent, but never mind that.
I pulled up the Travelocity page, and imagine my surprise when the cheapest option came up to just $1489.
To be fair, it seems that commercial travel packages include accommodation at hostels, whereas the AFT doesn’t really downgrade past a motel. Still, if you’re just trying to get there and simply have a roof over your head, hostels are a great way to go.
Frankly, I only included AFT on this list to debunk the myth that military travel sites always give you the best deal. Sure, they may come in clutch sometimes and give you a sweet discount, but the lesson to learn here is to always scope out all your options.
Keep in mind, Tripmasters is not a military-specific website. But it offers such great deals, that I think you need to know about it. Tripmasters allows you to book a flight, hotel, and local activities all in the same place. I’ve built a few test trips on it and the prices are shockingly low. The only catch here, is that the flight origin has to be in the United States. You can’t fly from one foreign country to another.
Still, you can create a vacation with a separately booked flight, and it’s so much easier to have an itinerary already in place for the activities you want to do while traveling.
Expedia is a pretty popular travel website, and for good reason. They offer great deals to everyone, regardless of military status. Every now and then, they’ll run a promotion where active duty military and veterans can qualify for gold status on their site. The benefits of gold status are:
- Regular member deals
- 30% more points (which can be saved up to pay for future travel)
- Free room upgrades at select hotels
- Free perks at select hotels
CheapTickets is a sister site of Expedia, and they also claim active duty military can save up to 18% on select hotels if you sign up. And yes, it’s free.
Veterans Advantage is a rewards program that can save you money everywhere, not exclusively on travel. But we’ll focus on the travel section today. For $5/month, you can get access to exclusive military discounts on flights, hotels, car rentals, and activities, but the real kicker here is the travel insurance they offer.
For only an extra $20 per person per year, you can have these awesome safeguards:
- $50,000 medevac insurance
- $5,000 accidental death and dismemberment insurance
- 24/hour medical assistance (keep in mind, this doesn’t cover medical costs, it’s more of a “help you find a doctor” service than a “help you pay for a doctor.”)
- ID theft services
- Emergency travel assistance
- and more
Unfortunately, they don’t include medical coverage for if you get sick or are injured. But you can choose a supplemental plan from a company like USAA, which offers barebones travel medical insurance for 1% of the cost of your trip. Alternatively, you could give yourself extra insurance and buy a whole package from another company. That way you’re good to go if one company covers an issue the other one doesn’t. I mean, it’s 20 extra bucks. Travel insurance is an absolute must. You probably won’t need it, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Technically, yes, your Tricare coverage goes with you, but all the red tape makes buying extra coverage worth it. Imagine you have food poisoning, you’re vomiting your guts out, and you have to wait on the phone with Tricare to see if you can get urgent care. It’s kind of ridiculous.
Wyndham Rewards: as a bonus, Veterans Advantage members get up to 20% off Wyndham hotels and resorts, as well as a complimentary upgrade to gold status with their rewards program. It’s nothing crazy, but you can earn points a little faster, which you can put towards a future trip.
-Credit Card Points
With hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt offering credit cards with connections to their rewards programs, you can earn points with every day purchases. The big perk is that, as active duty military, you can get the annual fee waived from the card. You’re basically earning points for future travel for buying things you were going to buy anyway. So do some research, and find the best card for you. You’ll want to build good credit first, though, as many of these cards require very high scores.
There you have it, if you mix and match these ways to save, you can significantly cut the cost of your travel. Now you can stretch your budget to go more places and do more things! It’s crucial to shop around and check out your options before booking a vacation, and you have many. If you need some help, make sure to contact your base travel office, as they can help you plan your vacation and find deals that might not even be publicly advertised.
Did I miss anything? Share your travel hacks in the forum!Share this: