By Carol Church
Being a member of the military can be extremely challenging at times, but fortunately, it also has its perks and privileges. These privileges often come to the fore when it’s time for service members to enjoy some time off from their hard work. Many private companies have taken it upon themselves to offer valuable discounts and savings to service members, while government entities, nonprofits, and military itself also offer opportunities and savings. Following are some ways that service members can save money and even enjoy free benefits while also enjoying time off and time with their families.
- Try a free military family retreat.
The National Military Family Association offers FREE family retreats for service members and their families in beautiful locations. Families will spend time building memories, enjoying the outdoors, and building communication skills.
- Enjoy free event tickets with Vet Tix.
This organization donates tickets to music, sports, and family events to veterans and their families. There may be a small fee for shipping.
- Benefit from a National Park Pass.
America’s spectacular national park system offers a free annual pass to current U.S. military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Reserve, and National Guard. The pass gets service members into national parks along with Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service sites. It’s worth looking into the camping and lodging options at these sites—they offer excellent value, and not all are rustic. However, they fill up early.
- Enjoy Disney at a discount.
Disneyworld and Disneyland have been providing significant discounts to members of the military for some years now, and 2017 is no exception. General military ticket discounts can be viewed here, or those considering a longer stay can take advantage of the Armed Forces Salute prices available here. Be aware that there are blackout dates and restrictions.
- Get free tickets to theme parks.
The Waves of Honor program provides active duty military with up to 4 free tickets a year to Busch Gardens, Sesame Place, and SeaWorld attractions. Legoland Florida also offers free admission to service members.
- Consider an Armed Forces Recreation center vacation.
The five AFRCs (located in Orlando, Honolulu, Tokyo, Korea, and Germany) offer comfortable and even luxurious accommodations in compelling locations. Rates are based on pay grade and rank. The Orlando resort is likely to offer a more budget-friendly option than most Disney hotels, but service members should make sure to compare.
- Try out a DOD campsite or RV site
The military operates a network of RV sites and campsites across the nation which offer an inexpensive option for those with this interest.
- Look into Space-A flights and on-base lodging.
These options may not be the most convenient or comfortable, and taking advantage of them (especially the flights) requires time, planning, and know-how, as well willingness to be flexible and to plan well in advance. However, they can save families a significant amount of money (Space-A flights are typically close to free!) and typically the level of service is very acceptable. To learn more, visit these pages:
- Check out the many other discounts available.
While the above are some of the more significant and popular freebies and discounts, there are many other military discounts available on travel, hotels, and lodging, and of course, they change often. Here are some sites compiling travel and recreation discounts available to servicemembers:
Vacation Budgeting Tips
- Start saving ahead of time in a dedicated fund. For many families, it is relatively frictionless to set aside a small sum of money every month. One possibility to consider is a separate savings fund, so that the money is clearly designated and hands-off. Though the interest rate may not be high, the psychological effect can be important.
- One of the biggest expenses for many vacations may be just getting there. Check out this Fly or Drive calculator to make that big choice, and don’t rule out taking the train; service members receive a 10% discount from Amtrak. If flying, be sure to compare ticket prices on multiple airfare price aggregators such as Kayak.com, Airfarewatchdog, and Google Flights. Try the flexible date option for best results.
- Choose a hotel with free breakfast, rent a house on VRBO or Airbnb, or rent a hotel room with a kitchenette to save on food costs.
- Visit sites like Groupon and Living Social ahead of time and look for deals on tourist attractions in the arae of interest.
- Just as with other coupons, families should remember not to purchase any of these options simply “because” they are discounted. Instead, they should consider whether or not they are the right choice for their family, and whether the price point is what they wanted to spend (even if it’s a “great deal”).
- When in doubt, always ask if there is a military discount! It may exist, but not be obvious, mentioned or advertised.