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For nine years, I’ve routinely asked airlines if they had any discounted fares for active duty military. While most US flagged carriers have very generous baggage, fee waiver and boarding policies for military, I’ve only ever found discounted airfare available on JetBlue and United through the Veterans Advantage membership program.

This changed a few days ago when I needed to alter the return date of my family’s Baltimore-Phoenix round-trip itinerary with Southwest Airlines. I called Southwest to see what the fare difference would be for my wife and I and was quoted $151 per person. (A quick reminder: Southwest doesn’t charge a change fee — you only need to pay any fare difference to change flights.) From my online searches prior to calling, this was the expected price and while tough to swallow, I intended to use my Citi Prestige Card‘s annual airfare credit to cover the majority of the $302 total fare difference.

Before the agent processed the change, she asked if I was active duty military. I said yes and she responded, “Oh OK, let me see if I can put you on a military fare for the outbound and return flight and maybe that will save you money.” She came back after a brief hold, confirmed the traveling party of my wife and son were active duty dependents and said after she switched us to a military fare my total charge per person would be $8.50! The agent taking time to ask if I was military ended up saving me $285.

Southwest Military Fare Basics

I spoke with a few more phone agents as I checked availability on military fares and then reached out to Southwest to see what info the airline could provide. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Military fares are available to active duty military and their dependents (even if the service member is not traveling with them) during their active duty service as well as the 7 days after their discharge date.
  • A valid United States Uniformed Services Active Duty Identification Card or a copy of discharge orders must be presented at the time of check-in for military personnel. Dependents, other than dependents traveling with a discharged military member within seven days of the member’s discharge from active duty, must present a United States Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card marked Active.
  • Military fares are not available on every flight and are not available on Southwest.com. You have to call in and check with a phone agent for availability.
  • I found military fares on 75% of the itineraries I queried with phone agents. The flights I asked about ranged from trips departing within 48 hours of my phone call all the way to the end of the available schedule.
  • Military fares will not always be cheaper than Wanna Get Away fares available online.

Bottom Line

Admittedly, since I’ve lived in Japan the last three years I’ve not flown Southwest in a long time. I thought maybe I’d missed the proverbial train on the Southwest military fare deal. However, I came to work and asked many of my coworkers if this was a well-known policy and a strategy they often utilized. All of them said it was not, but they sure would be calling Southwest in the future.

I know the legacy carriers have dedicated military desks, which I’ve often asked to be transferred to with hopes of scoring a cheaper fare, but I’ve never had any luck getting a discounted ticket. A big thanks to Southwest for making this available to active duty military and their dependents and for saving me almost $300.

Have you saved money using Southwest’s military fares? 

Know before you go.

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