Ways to save on travel
Summer vacation is almost a rite of passage for many families. And while it can be a bit tougher for military families due to things like deployments and limited time off, there are still a number of special deals and discounts that can save them money on their next trip.
Where to go
There are numerous places to visit that offer some sort of discount for military members. (Note this isn’t an all-inclusive list—be sure to ask about military discounts wherever you go!)
- Paths Across America—The DoD has campgrounds and RV parks all across the nation, so if you’re okay with not having room service, then this could be a great option. Some places even offer cabins for those who don’t have an RV or find tents a bit too rustic. Prices vary, with some places offering free spaces and others only charging a few dollars, and each has different requirements of who can stay (e.g., some also allow government employees, while others are military-only). Website.
- Disneyworld—Walt Disney World has been a family-favorite destination for years, and the Shades of Green resort is a fantastic way for military families to enjoy the Magic Kingdom. Located in central Florida, it is the only stateside Armed Forces Recreation Center and finds itself just a few minutes from the amusement parks. Operated by the Army but open to all branches, it covers 28 acres and has special deals throughout the year—you can get all the details at the Shades of Green website. Note that Disneyworld itself also has some great deals for military families, from tickets to lodging. More information can be found on the Disney website.
- Amusement Parks—If taking roller coasters and thrill rides are your thing, many parks offer discounts and special packages for military families. For a comprehensive list, with details and links to each individual offer, check out this article on military.com.
- Sandals—Looking for a romantic getaway? Perhaps taking a honeymoon to the Caribbean? Like to vacation in style? If so, then Sandals resort is worth checking out. While it might be a bit pricey for the average E2, they do offer a 10% military discount all year round.
- Armed Force Vacation Club—The AFVC is a private company that offers special deals on “space available” lodging throughout the world. They offer several different booking options, from flat-rate deals in the off season (and at just $349 plus tax—for the entire week!) to peak-season discounts, to short stay options. Their FAQ section goes over the travel alternatives, who is eligible, and even how to get a refund in case of a military contingency (e.g., you get deployment orders).
- Veteran’s Ticket Foundation—The goal of this group is to reduce stress for military families by helping them attend events that those families might not otherwise be able to attend. Their website allows you to sort by location and get more information on each individual event, making it quick and easy to find something fun to do in your area.
- National Parks—There are National Parks in every area of the nation, and checking out one of these amazing places won’t cost a dime—U.S. military members and dependents receive free admission! Access can be obtained by going in person to a Federal recreation site and showing your Common Access Card or Military ID. (More information can be found at USGS website.)
How to get there
While travelling first class would be ideal, that’s not exactly feasible for most people. Thankfully, there are ways to get to where you’re going without spending a lot of money.
- Driving—While flying to your destination will usually save you time, the cost of tickets can be prohibitively expensive for many. There’s also the growing popularity of “staycations” (e.g., travelling closer to home) thanks to their lower cost. If you do decide to drive, having a service such as AAA can make it easier with trip planning assistance and discounts, and its roadside emergency service can provide peace of mind.
- Flying—If you plan on flying a commercial airline, many of them offer deals for military members and veterans. And that’s in addition to the numerous sites that offer discounted tickets, such as Kayak and Travelocity. Regardless of how much you pay, make sure to use the Transportation Security Administration’s pre-check-in feature to save time.
- Space-A—Space Available Travel (Space A) is an inexpensive way to travel and is coordinated through either the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) or through the Navy’s Air Logistics Office (NALO). The cost to fly on military aircraft is typically free, while the cost of seats on civilian aircraft chartered by the military is minimal. The important thing to understand about Space A is there aren’t set flight schedules like with commercial airlines, and flights might not always have predictable takeoff and landing times. So you’ll need to be flexible and patient.
Every location has its own registration process, and you will be prioritized based on what category you are in. While the specifics of all the categories can be found in the Department of Defense Air Transportation Eligibility manual, here are the basics for each one:
- Category I—Reserved for Emergency Leave Unfunded Travel or those who have an emergent reason to get to a location for typically humanitarian reasons.
- Category II—For Environmental Morale Leave (EML) for active-duty military and dependents. EML would be typically granted to those who are stationed in remote locations and allows them to go to a more suitable geographic/cultural location to take leave.
- Category III—This is for Active Duty Ordinary Leave, house hunting TDY, Medal of Honor Recipients, and dependents of service members who have been deployed more than 365 days.
- Category IV—Reserved for unaccompanied dependents on EML, or dependents whose http://store.usgs.gov/pass/military.htmlmilitary parent/spouse has been deployed 120-364 days.
- Category V—For Unaccompanied Dependents of active duty, Permissive TDY (non-house hunting), and students.
- Category VI— Retired service members and their dependents, reserve service members, ROTC cadets/midshipmen, and other officially sponsored groups such as US Navy Sea Cadets or Junior ROTC units.
When searching for a vacation destination, make sure to ask any travel or booking agent about special military deals, or check their FAQs if using a site such as Travelocity or Kayak. Almost everywhere has some sort of discount for those who have served, including the National Guard and reserves, so always make sure to check, as it might save you a few hundred dollars. USAA also provides a wealth of travel-related services, including discounts on rental cars, cruises, and more.
No matter where you spend your time off, make sure to get the most of out it by finding all the discounts you can. Doing so can help you make great memories at a great price.