Military families have unique travel opportunities—whether it is during a long PCS move, an overseas duty station, or an annual visit to see family. When planned correctly, these trips can be fun and affordable. However, there are costly mistakes to avoid for military travel.
Tips for traveling as a military family
Always get traveler’s insurance. There are many reasons to change or cancel your travel plans: sick kids, bad weather, or work responsibilities. Service members can encounter additional unexpected problems. Leave can be revoked, the unit could receive surprise deployment orders, or the service member could be sent to training or a school during the planned trip. Traveler’s insurance won’t cover you if you voluntarily cancel your flight because of your spouse’s schedule. However, it will cover you in the case of bad weather or airline delays.
Plan your budget. You will anticipate obvious costs like plane tickets. But don’t forget about hidden costs like getting a rental car, paying for airport parking, checked baggage fees, paying someone to watch your pets, and spending more than usual to eat at restaurants. Be sure you have saved enough to cover all these expenses before you plan a trip.
When traveling on orders, save all receipts. If you are traveling on a PCS move, you are allowed to mix business and vacation time. However, the military will only reimburse specific costs — lodging, fuel, and moving supplies. You will need every receipt when requesting reimbursement, so save them in a designated envelope. Use military discounts for lodging. Military families can stay in base lodging at military bases across the country. Every base has a hotel for service member families. Priority is given to those PCSing or on a school assignment, but there are often additional rooms available. Active duty families also get free access to National Parks. This is ideal for a summer vacation or warm-weather PCS move. You may need to pay a small fee to reserve a campsite, but that is nothing compared to hotel prices.
Use Space A flights if possible. Space-A stands for ‘space available.’ It is an option on some military flights from one base to another. Priority is given in five categories, depending on whether the passenger is traveling on orders, is active duty, or if they are military dependents or retirees. Space-A travel is essentially free, but it does require advance planning and patience. First, you need an approval letter from the service member’s command. Flight dates change often, and availability is only announced the day of the flight, so it is possible to wait at the base airport for hours and then be denied. If you have flexible travel dates, Space-A can save you lots of money.
For emergency travel, call the airlines. In case of a death in the family or other unexpected emergency, some airlines offer bereavement tickets to military personnel. These rates are not available on their websites. You must call the airlines customer service and clarify that you are a military family. Not all airlines offer these tickets, but it is always worthwhile to ask and see if you can find a hidden discount.
Don’t make these travel mistakes with military travel!
Don’t use the government charge card unless it’s authorized. Service members are now issued a government charge card for PCS moves. This can only be used for specific expenses, which will be reimbursed by the military. It cannot be used as a regular credit card for personal expenses, so pay attention when you swipe, and save all your receipts.
Don’t travel without leave approval. A service member should never travel away from base without having leave approved. There is a process to request leave, and it requires several stages of signatures, so a service member should request leave as much in advance as possible. Plane tickets will not be refunded if leave is cancelled or not approved. So try not to make large travel investments without the unit’s approval.
Don’t use Space-A without a backup plan. Traveling Space-A can save you money, but there is also a chance your return flight will be cancelled or you won’t have high enough priority to board. This can leave you stranded at your destination for several days. When planning to fly Space-A, always have a backup plan of friends you can stay with, rides to the airport, and options for other flights and bases you can try instead. Most military airports have a Facebook page where they post anticipated dates and times for Space-A flights. Follow all the relevant pages, and call airports to get the most information.
Don’t forget to plan for your pets. Whenever you travel, always plan ahead for your pets! Whether you decide to bring them with you or board them in a daycare, there will be additional costs for your trip. If you ask a friend to help, set them up for success by discussing payment and walking them through the routine in advance, leaving plenty of food and pet supplies, and staying in communication with them throughout your trip.
When planned correctly, military travel can be fun and affordable for military families. Following these travel guidelines will help your next trip go smoothly without unexpected costs.