Traveling is amazing, but that price is often more like “YEESH!” Active duty military and dependents can grab cheaper flights using these tips and ideas. Learn how you can score flight discounts and lower the cost of your next vacation.
Consider Non Traditional Airports
Everyone knows about flying out of Reagan National in DC or Boston’s Logan Airport, but have you considered looking at Richmond or T.F. Green? These smaller locations, off the beaten path, can be true hidden gems!
Personally, I love a smaller, non-traditional airport! There are shorter lines at TSA and typically cheaper prices on snacks in the terminal. Getting through security and to your gate is, honestly priceless sometimes.
Since these smaller airports are out of the way, getting to them can be easier than heading into the big city or a major regional hub. Getting to Reagan, Logan, Kennedy or Newark all involve getting into or through major cities with traffic before you even enter the actual arrivals roads. Meanwhile at T.F. Green, near Providence, RI, it’s right off the highway and has a super simple entrance/exit setup. So easy to get in, out and on your way.
Plus, parking is often much cheaper or sometimes free! This is unlike bigger, more popular airports where parking is at a premium, in terms of availability and consumer price.
Sometimes, these smaller, regional airports can serve as micro-hubs for low-cost airlines, like Spirit. There might be super specific routes that are flown for a relatively cheaper price.
On the downside, there may be limited options for flight times and fewer flights generally. However, if you play it right, you could score huge savings overall once you factor in flights, parking and traffic.
Track Flight Prices
Before you make your reservation, definitely track pricing on flights to your preferred destinations. Google and several popular travel booking websites offer flight tracking services — free! And you can set up alerts for the major airport plus those smaller locations, too.
When you create your price alert, you can also adjust it for number of passengers, layovers and airlines as well as checked plus carry-on baggage options. When prices are lower, you’ll be notified so that you can quickly book your tickets.
Find Military Discounts Online
Smaller airports and tracking flight prices help you score discounts without leveraging your military status. However, you can stack the savings by seeking out a special military rate with different airlines or through military-friendly services.
Most major airlines offer military service members, and sometimes qualified dependents, discounted airfare or other perks.
Here’s a list of discounts and perks for military-affiliated folks from US airlines:
- Delta Airlines: up to two checked 50 lb. bags plus discounts on Delta Vacations vacation packages
- Southwest Airlines: exception to two free checked bag policy when traveling on orders
- United Airlines: military and veterans can claim a 5% discount when booking through Veterans Advantage
- Frontier Airlines: claim two free checked bags when you present your CAC identification
- JetBlue Airlines: military members get a 5% discount on flights when you book with Veterans Advantage
- American Airlines: Veterans Advantage members score 10% off, plus different free baggage benefits for active duty troops traveling for any reason as well as dependents traveling on PCS orders
- Hawaiian Airlines: get your 5% discount on Veterans Advantage
- Alaska Airlines: visit their website for discounts, baggage deals and information about lounge access
Joining Veterans Advantage, ID.me or GovX can help you find deals and discounts on flights or other vacation purchases, like hotels and rental cars. To sign-up, you’ll need to verify your military affiliation.
An important note: different discounts on baggage apply depending on the purpose of your travel. Military personnel on leave for leisure travel will qualify for fewer free checked bags. However, you (and your dependents) might qualify for additional checked bags in you have official travel orders, like if your family is moving.
Find Military Discounts With Phone Calls
Some airlines might offer sweeter deals when you take the time to call them as opposed to booking online. Your first step should always be to search your preferred airline + military discount online.
However, if you’re not finding what you are looking for, call their customer service line and politely ask. Sometimes, customer service reps might be able to finagle a cheaper price for you. It is important to note that politely asking about military fares for personal travel is essential. You will always catch more flies with honey that with vinegar! So be kind and you could be pleasantly surprised!
Find Military Benefits At The Airport
You might be surprised about the extra perks military troops and their family members can use at the airport.
When you check-in at the counter, show your active duty or dependent ID. Sometimes, just showing your ID will score you a free carry-on bag. Sometimes, you might get complimentary bags checked for free, too. Now, it might not happen every time, especially if you are dependent traveling without your active duty spouse, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
Next, military personnel, including National Guard and Reserve, can use TSA Pre-Check for expedited security screenings. As a special bonus, military troops can bring their dependents under age 12 with them into the fast lane.
Airport lounges have been clutch for my family during travel. The lounges often provide free food and drinks (including alcohol), plus quiet spaces to relax. The biggest perk, for me, is spotlessly clean bathrooms and sometimes luxurious showers. You can also get free access to elite airport lounges with your military ID and boarding pass.
Airlines offering access to airport lounges for military members:
- American Airlines Admirals Club: bring your military ID and same-day board pass to the lounges at San Diego and Honolulu
- Delta SkyClub: there are no official rules posted, but there is a history of individual lounges allowing military members with ID and travel orders access – it might not hurt to ask!
- United Club: military personnel and their family members traveling together are welcome to use these lounges, as long as they have United boarding passes and military ID
- Alaska Lounge: military traveling on orders can get a day pass to these lounges with ID, a boarding pass and official orders
If you’re not sure or want to know about possible airport lounge access with other airlines, it’s best to call the airline directly and politely ask.
Many airlines will also offer priority boarding to military troops. At your gate, listen as they call the boarding groups. The gate attendants will often include military troops and veterans at the same time as families traveling with young children.
Troops traveling in uniform might often be shocked with unpublished benefits, from airlines and from fellow travelers.
My spouse has experienced the following when traveling in uniform and/or on official orders:
- Free or comped meals and drinks– from individual restaurant (and from fellow travelers)
- Free snacks on the plane– especially when in uniform
- Seat upgrades–moving from coach to business or first class can be clutch
- Priority deplaning– leaving ASAP can be important if you need to make a quick connection
Built-In Military Travel Benefits
There are clearly a whole host of military discounts and perks available when flying commercial. But did you know that are are built-in flight options provided by the military?
Space available, or Space-A, flights are military operated trips to and from very specific places, typically military bases or hubs. For example, you can fly from Seattle to several stops in mainland Japan before ending your journey in Okinawa. There are also options that go to and from Europe and Hawaii, as well as within the US.
Now, free flights sounds great, but there are some considerations to keep in mind.
Potential travelers are grouped into categories based on military status (active duty, Reserve/Guard, retired, dependent) and travel purpose (official orders, emergency medical leave, leisure). Each category is then prioritized and given seats accordingly.
Now, you might show up to the airport and find that all seats are full for your category or for the whole flight. Space-A can be a gamble! If you’re opting to travel this way, it’s important to stay flexible and patient while you wait for a seat.
You’ll want to be tracking your category status and the flight options at your closest Air Command location.
Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!