Air travel can be expensive even with a solid points and miles strategy. But more importantly, it can be uncomfortable and very exhausting. That combination is enough to make you question why you spent that small fortune in the first place. You pay a premium, just to then stand in long lines, are forced to walk without shoes while going through a full body scanner, get questioned by less than pleasant TSA personnel, only to then sit in the middle of a crowd without power outlets and slow Wifi, waiting to be packed into a pressurized tube with barely an inch of shoulder space between you and the person next to you. Seems pretty depressing when viewed from that angle, and explains why so many travelers opt for a road trip instead of air travel. Fortunately, travel experiences vary and just a little preparation before heading to the airport can go a long way in making your travel experience that much more enjoyable. Personally, I try to target smaller airports, as those are generally less of a hassle. Award flight prices are also typically the same at small airports as they are at their larger counterparts. But as military personnel, we can do more to improve our travel comfort and it’s absolutely free.
How much we pay for the ticket determines how much we have left in our budget to make our vacation truly unforgettable. Thankfully, most domestic airlines offer some sort of military pricing. The discount usually saves us around 10% of the actual fare. But that’s only if the airline does not currently offer any other promotions, as those will most likely beat any military price. The only way to know for sure is to call the airline and to ask for their military price for that particular flight. If you decide to go with the military fare, you’ll have to book over the phone. Ensure to ask the booking agent to waive any phone booking fees, which are usually between $20-$30. You should always ask to have that fee waived, regardless of the reason for you to book over the phone, because agents do have the liberty to waive the fee and they sometimes will. But if you had no other choice but to call and book over the phone, such as website issues or to receive the military rebate, there is absolutely no reason not to have the fee waived. If the agent refuses, ask for a supervisor. That same military discount generally applies to hotel stays and rental cars as well.
I consider this one to be one of our most biggest benefits. When you enter your DoD ID number into the Known Traveler Number (KTN) section when booking a flight, or anytime up to the point of actually checking in, you should find a TSA PreCheck symbol on your boarding pass. TSA PreCheck is a system for vetted travelers to use separate security lines at select airports. Not only are PreCheck lines usually much shorter, but you’ll also be allowed to keep your shoes and jacket on, leave your laptop inside its bag, and pass through a traditional metal detector. That alone could sometimes mean the difference between making it to, and missing a flight – as this last summer has shown us when security lines at major US airports left thousands of travelers stranded inside the terminals. Better yet, although not all airports have the PreCheck system in place, those that don’t tend to still offer some sort of “expedited security” for PreCheck personnel. TSA PreCheck costs $80 and is good for 5 years, but is absolutely free to military personnel just by using the DoD ID number. As an added benefit, certain airlines will give you Priority Boarding as well when entering your DoD ID number. I don’t have a complete list of carriers that do, but American Airlines has always given it to me in the past, whereas Delta hadn’t. Priority Boarding is usually a benefit reserved for travelers with elite status with the carrier and/or have a credit card that offers it as a benefit. Priority Boarding allows you to use a dedicated section when boarding the plane and to be in the first group to board. That almost certainly guarantees you some space in the overhead bin, plus another line you can skip.
Similar to the military discount, most domestic carriers offer free checked bags to military personnel and their dependents for leisure and official travel. All you have to do is present your CAC and/or dependent ID cards at the check-in counter and you’ll be able to check up to two bags per person for leisure and up to four bags per person when traveling on official military orders. The actual number varies from airline to airline and is subject to change, so make sure to check on the carrier’s website before each trip. Keep in mind that the airline will normally only extend that benefit to dependents if the sponsor is traveling with them. There could be exceptions if the sponsor is away on deployment or other type of hardship tour. You should contact the airline in those cases and be prepared to have orders on hand at the counter.
This benefit could save a service member hundreds of dollars per trip. It could (and should) also influence your choice of credit cards, as one of the biggest selling features of those is free checked baggage.
Every major airline has airport lounges. American Express has its network of Centurion lounges. Then there are Priority Pass lounges and Airspace lounges. Airport lounges can turn any layover into a pleasant, relaxing, and even productive experience. This is why I value USO lounges so much. They are absolutely free of charge to us and, while maybe not as luxury oriented as their traditional counterparts, can offer a safe haven from the noise and general lack of privacy in most airport terminal. Additionally, you’ll often find complimentary snacks, refreshments and Wifi inside a USO lounge. And did I mention they’re completely free? You can’t beat that if you ask me. Click here to find a USO lounge near you.
Space Available (Space-A) travel
Space-A flights are form of standby flights offered by the Air Force Air Mobility Command (AMC). I’ve only used this service once for leisure travel but as with any standby travel, flexibility is key. Priority is primarily determined by the nature of your trip. Dependent travel is also limited when not accompanied by the sponsor. Space-A flights can take you to most countries that have some sort of US military presence, but only to a US Air Base or other type of hub that services AMC. Prices are very low and are usually well under $50. This makes Space-A travel an incredible benefit to us, even if it requires some level of flexibility.
There is no reason for a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine to not take full advantage of the travel benefits offered to us. There is also plenty of opportunity to give back to some of these organizations that give us so much. I signed up as a volunteer at my local USO center and I can only encourage anyone to do the same.
Are there any benefits to add to this list? Please share your personal experience in the comment section below.
I’m looking forward to giving you a detailed review of some of the amazing credit card benefits out there that will truly take your travel comfort to the next level. Always stay informed by subscribing to our weekly newsletter and social media pages.